One of three first-time voters NJJN spoke with said it was the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 dead last February that drove home how important it is for young people to vote.
“Thousands of high school students organized walkouts, marches, protests,” said Theo Deitz-Green, a senior at Golda Och Academy in West Orange. “But we weren’t able to vote. This is the election when that starts to change.”
The three — Deitz-Green and Sam Shulman and Genah Grossman, seniors at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston — talked about what it feels like to be able to vote and how they are deciding which candidates to cast their ballots for.
All three shared their enthusiasm for being eligible to exercise their franchise.
For 18-year-old Deitz-Green, of Montclair, the excitement comes from a longstanding interest in politics. “I’ve always been someone to follow current events and elections,” he said. The first election he tracked was the 2012 presidential race, when he was 12. For years he would get up the morning after a primary, he said, and “run downstairs to see who won the previous night’s election.”
“I used to be hearing about” the elections, said Shulman, 18, and a resident of Livingston. “Now I’m participating.”
Grossman, who lives in Springfield, turned 19 Oct. 24; last year, she said, the process overwhelmed her, and she felt she “didn’t know what to do.” This year she’s been paying much closer attention. She spoke to NJJN shortly after receiving her sample ballot in the mail, and said she had reviewed it very carefully. “I searched up each candidate online to see what they will do. It’s cool to look up and know exactly what they will help accomplish and to say this is the perfect person for me.”
All three remember going to the polling places with their parents.
Deitz-Green told NJJN he remembers pressing the button for the candidates. “It’s kind of exciting now that I’m the one who gets to pick and not just press the button,” he said.
“I just remember I thought it was so cool how my mom could have a say about what goes on in the country,” said Shulman. Grossman said she had a different experience. “I did go with them but I never understood what they were doing. No one in my family ever talked about politics until this year when I decided to vote,” she said.
Of the three, Deitz-Green is the only one who said he views this election as particularly weighty, beyond its being his first voting experience. “Over the past couple of years, when you watch local and national politics, the issues are the most important to people my age, and we have not had a say.”
Deitz-Green’s top issues include gun control, the economy, and values. “I was pretty disappointed in the 2016 election,” he said. “It kind of represented a betrayal of values I thought were very important to America. This is a chance to start to restore them.”
Shulman said he spent some time looking at the candidates’ views on Israel, but didn’t have a list of issues. In fact, he said, he made his mind up watching Democrat Mikie Sherrill and Rep. Jay Webber — candidates for U.S. representative of New Jersey’s District 11 — each speak, one at his synagogue, the other at his school. “There was no specific thing that stood out,” said Shulman. “I was just captivated by Jay Webber. He was more charismatic.” He acknowledged that he didn’t have the time “to go deep” and do more research on the candidates, but added, “I have a general idea of their platforms.”
Grossman is focused on the economy, schools and security, and safety, but she’s also looking for someone who is “loyal, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic and motivated to respond when someone asks” about an issue.
All three have found it a little easier to decide on a candidate in the bigger elections than in the hyperlocal ones. “I tend to follow events so I know the senators and representatives, but I never paid attention to Essex County elections, like the county executive race. I had to look at what people do and what people’s stances are,” Deitz-Green said.
He shared advice his father offered about the best time to vote: in the morning before school. Why? “Because, he said, you should run to do a mitzvah. And also so you can wear the ‘I voted’ sticker to school for everyone to see.”
Initiative focuses on Jewish imperative to vote