My husband and I received an all-caps text one recent Sunday morning, the day our oldest daughter turned 18.
“I’M OFFICIALLY ABLE TO VOTE,” she typed to us.
She’d been waiting for this day for years, since she realized that under Massachusetts law she could pre-register to vote as long as she was 18 before Election Day 2020. She’d registered online weeks before her birthday, and now that she was a legal adult, her status as a voter was cemented.
Early voting in Boston is limited, though my husband was able to go on a Sunday afternoon last month. Jordyn and I, meanwhile, waited until Nov. 3. After her first online class of the day ended, we walked to the school that serves as our polling place, feeling giddy.
As we got closer, she admitted to butterflies.
Admittedly, I didn’t have quite the same feeling the first time I voted; I don’t even remember where I cast my first ballot or if it was in 1996, which would have been my first presidential election. I knew my parents voted, but it wasn’t something we talked a lot about, and I hadn’t yet absorbed just how hard it has been for Black Americans to take part in democracy without penalty or fear or disenfranchisement.
But if there has been any silver lining in the last four years, it’s that so many more people have become civically engaged and made aware that our government is supposed to be shaped by us — the citizens — and that if we don’t participate, things can’t change. (Let’s be honest: Even when we do participate we’re sometimes ignored)
Inside the voting location, the quintessential, early 1900s New England school gymnasium where the three-point line and the mid-court line for basketball games almost touch, we went to the table for our precinct. One of the women looked at Jordyn, noted how young she is and asked if she was a first-time voter.
Both of us proudly said yes, that she’d turned 18 just days earlier.
“First-time voter!” the poll worker shouted, and nearly everyone in the room began to clap.
For a girl who is usually uncomfortable with such attention, Jordyn beamed. She later told her nana it was an “exhilarating” feeling.
Voting for the president this time was a lot more personal than usual for many of us. Joe Biden might not have been our preferred candidate, but he was far better than the alternative, especially for a Black family like mine.
Especially for a young, Black, queer woman like my daughter.
I still remember four years ago, when just before the 2016 election, Jordyn looked at me and asked, “What happens to people like me if he wins?”
I had no idea what to tell her.
In the years since, Jordyn has become engaged in movements and protests. She and her classmates have held several rallies and class strikes for climate change, and this summer she was at the front of a march through Boston chanting “Black lives matter” in the days after George Floyd’s death under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
And she is not alone. For years, Democratic leaders, in particular, have lamented low turnout among younger voters, but growing concerns about the state of the planet and the rising climate, gun control, racial injustice, college debt and LGBTQ issues, as well as the pandemic, have led to a sharp increase in participation among that age group this year.
According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, roughly half of 18- to 29-year-olds, cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election — and they are projecting that after all is said and done that number could be as high as 56 percent.
By comparison, CIRCLE says youth voter turnout in 2016 was around 42 to 44 percent.
Not surprisingly, young people of color, who have seen their communities and families impacted by COVID-19 at higher rates, overwhelmingly voted for Biden, despite the suppression efforts in many predominantly non-white precincts that led to hours-long wait lines.
After we slid our ballots into the machine and headed back outside, a woman from the local NAACP branch asked to take our picture, again celebrating my proud first-time voter.
Before walking back home, we did the most 2020 thing we could: put our “I voted” stickers on our jackets, touched our heads together, did our best Tyra Banks “smize” through our face masks and took a selfie that we posted to social media — me to Instagram and Jordyn to Snapchat.
As a parent, you always wonder what is and isn’t getting through to your kids, but as we chatted during the few blocks to our house, hopeful that we’d see the result we so desperately wanted, I knew my husband and I had gotten at least one thing right.
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