PENSACOLA, Fla. — Lillian Ekiss, a 19-year-old first-time voter, waited over an hour and a half to cast her ballot at Pensacola State College on the first day of early voting in the Sunshine State.
She is eager to see big changes on a variety of social justice issues that have heavily colored President Donald Trump’s first term in the Oval Office and have been at the forefront of the national conversation since Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd in May.
“I want fair treatment for Black people and more protections for the LGBTQ community,” she said, speaking through a mask that displayed the “no justice no peace” slogan, a chant that has become a rallying call for supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I’m not happy the way things are.”
Snaking lines and long waits greeted voters at locations across the pivotal swing state as a record 350,000 ballots were cast on the first day of early voting, according to state officials. The state has only failed to back the winning president twice since 1928.
Early voting in Florida, which will continue until Nov. 1, is trending younger compared with the four years ago, according to a CNN data analysis. There has been about a 12 point uptick in early voting by those under the age of 65, whereas the share of those voting early aged over 65 has dropped from 64% to 52%, the analysis shows.
That may be in part because of nationwide efforts at trying to increase the number of young voters.
Brandon Shelby, 20, who is also voting in his first presidential election, said that the age of the candidates was a big issue for him. “Trump and Biden have nothing in common with young people,” he said. “I would like to see a much younger president who understands our needs.”
Paisley Macauley, 25, another first-time voter waiting in the Pensacola State College line, said healthcare had recently become his biggest priority. “What’s going on in this country right now proves that we need to take care of everyone,” he said, referring to the pandemic that has so far infected 8.2 million people and killed 225,000. “And there are also lots of false judgments around people who need free healthcare, as if they are less than other people. Other countries manage healthcare fine. We can too.”
The issue of healthcare has come into focus in recent weeks as Congress fights over the vacant Supreme Court seat left by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died Sept. 18. Democrats are concerned that President Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge, could see the court strike down the Affordable Care Act, potentially leaving millions of Americans without healthcare in the middle of a pandemic.
Macauley’s friend, Cody Williams, 23, who is voting in his second presidential election, agreed that healthcare is one of the most important issues in the election, but added that disinformation on social media had clouded the judgments of older generations.
“I remember back before the 2016 election, my mom sat me down and showed me a website that said Obama had imported 10,000 guillotines from the Middle East,” he said. “How didn’t she know that wasn’t true?”
He added: “I have some sympathy for those people who post things like that and QAnon on their timeline because they don’t know what’s true or not, they just see it online.”
QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges that a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is plotting against Trump.
While it’s expected that social justice issues are likely to influence younger voters, the coronavirus pandemic could be pivotal given the disproportionate economic impact it has had on young people.
People aged 16 to 29, for example, accounted for a third of the unemployment rate between February and the peak jobless month of April, according to a Brookings Institution report. However, that age group only represents a quarter of the workforce. In addition, nearly 30% of 16 to 24-year-olds were neither working nor in school — double pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, a majority of 18 to 29-year-olds were living with their parents for the first time since the Great Depression, according to Pew Research Data.
“My generation is the first who are poorer than our parents,” said Teniade Broughton, 41, who is running for a Pensacola City Council seat. “We struggle with issues like homeownership, insurance and student loans.”