A rite of passage: Seniors reflect on first voting experience


Matt Petres

Senior David Wolf arrives at the 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. polling station at Ray Elementary School, excited to vote for the first time.

Louis Auxenfans, News Editor

After using a Sharpie to fill in the last bubble on his ballot, senior Xavier Nesbitt stuffs his paper ballot in a privacy sheet protector and hands it to a poll worker. After the poll worker shows him the right way to feed a ballot into the Dominion Voting machine, two beeps signify Xavier’s vote has been properly collected. 

He then slowly exits the polling place at Ariel Community Academy. A wide beaming smile spreads across his face and he is unable to contain the joy from his first voting experience. 

For 18-year old seniors, the first time voting experience in the Nov. 8 election signifies a rite of passage on the path to become a more involved, engaged citizen and a moment of reflection on the cherished right to vote. 

But before casting their first ballot, seniors had to become registered Illinois voters. 

Some students like Maya El Shamsy registered online, while others like Jessica Daugherty participated in the Oct. 7 voter registration drive held at school.

It was an easy process according to Jessica, who lives in suburban DuPage County. 

“I just wrote my name and Social Security number down and just turned it in,” she said.

Afterward, seniors had to stay informed about political candidates, which was a simple process in the most expensive U.S. midterm election in history. Campaign ads were placed all over TV, the internet and social media. 

Zoe Stephens noticed that “A lot of, like, campaign ads, especially this year, were extremely aggressive. It was harder to avoid them than to see, so for the major elections it was easy to stay informed.” 

She also used the Democratic Sample Ballot and a website called Injustice Watch to learn about which candidates to vote for in judicial, legislative and local elections. 

In addition, seniors had to learn how to navigate misleading campaign ads where politicians were not forthright with their political affiliation. 

“There’s this trend of Republicans not saying they’re Republicans on these cards and in these yard signs. Like, there’s a Republican running in my neighborhood whose running and their yard sign’s blue, so there is this kind of coded language you see on them,” Jessica said. 

My mom just always taught me that you vote every time you can because, at least for African Americans, that wasn’t always a luxury that we have been able to exercise.

— Xavier Nesbitt

Many eligible seniors, such as Zoe, chose to vote because they wanted to exercise their voice in the political process and encourage others to vote.

“More of just trying to get my voice heard to get political candidates that I believe in, in office, and also to encourage more people to vote,” Zoe said. “Like, if everybody thinks, ‘Oh, not that many people are voting,’ then the poll turnout will be a lot lower, but if we keep this positive mindset and keep trying to push voter numbers higher, it’ll be beneficial.”

Also, exercising the ability to vote represented a newfound sense of responsibility for Jacob De Jong. 

“Well, I mean, when you turn 18 it’s a new part of your life, and I wanted to take part in that, I guess. It is sort of a rite of passage,” Jacob said.

For Xavier, who identifies as Black, voting for the first time also reminded him of the sacrifices that have been made to advance voting rights and the indispensable value of a vote to democracy. 

“My mom just always taught me that you vote every time you can because, at least for African Americans, that wasn’t always a luxury that we have been able to exercise,” Xavier said. “She came over at 6 a.m. this morning to remind me to vote, so she just stays on me about it. I know every time that I have the ability to vote or have the opportunity to vote, I will be voting that day.” 

Voting for the first time has given seniors a new perspective about the importance of the democratic process. 

Xavier said, “I think in order for, you know, your community, your state, to reflect the people in it, I feel like everybody who is able to vote needs to vote, so that, you know, our laws, our rules, our city, our state represents what other people want.”