Michael Rodriguez has lived in Athens his whole life and is now a senior at Clarke Central High School. Rodriguez is 18, and he’s just registered to vote in his first presidential election.
“The vote, if we do not embrace it, it will be wasted,” said Rodriguez. He sees voting as a right and an important expression of free speech.
On a recent spring afternoon, Rodriquez was one of a group of Latino students walking back to campus from lunch. He’s also part of an increasingly important group of potential voters. The number of Hispanic voters has grown in Clarke County, Georgia, and in the U.S.
Hispanics now make up about 12 percent of all registered voters in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, but in past elections they have gone to the polls at lower rates than white or black voters.
Political experts say they will be a major force in the November election if they go to the polls on Nov. 8, and both Republicans and Democrats have been courting them.
Immigration and the economy are tops issue for Rodriguez, whose parents came to Georgia from Mexico before he was born. If the next administration restricts the number of new immigrants, he believes that will have an adverse effect on the economy because labor costs will rise.
Immigration is also a hot issue for Luke Rosario, a classmate of Rodriguez He describes himself as “half Mexican” and he strongly disagrees with Donald Trump’s ideas, which he says would keep people from becoming legal immigrants. “The fact is that they do not come to America and live for free,” Rosario said. “They come here and work hard, just like all of us every day.”
Jenny Vargas, 25, who works as an attendance clerk at Clarke Central, is a legal immigrant from Mexico. She just got her citizenship in June this year and the upcoming election will be her first time voting. Far from being a drain on public resources, she says that “immigrants are helping this country.”
These young people treasure their right to cast their own vote for a presidential candidate, rather than having their parents decide.
Vargas and her mother both became U.S. citizens earlier this year, and both will vote in the upcoming presidential election. Although Vargas says her decision is entirely her own, most other Hispanics will probably vote as she does. “I am sure that our minority does not want Trump to be the president. I feel like if I can contribute to that, it will also be to my advantage,” said Vargas.
Rosario said he would also vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8. Although he and his father did not go to the polls for the Super Tuesday primary, his mother voted for Trump.
He doesn’t plan to follow his mother’s lead. Rosario says he’s done a lot of research and he’s confident about his choice. “Once you vote, that is your president, that is the person that you put into the office,” said Rosario. “It is your choice; it should be nobody else’s decision.
Alyssa Yuhouse graduated from the University of Georgia in May and now works at Clarke Central. She’s a college adviser who helps students plan for college or other post-secondary training. This is her first job.
Tax policy is her top issue, and she’s skeptical about some of Donald Trump’s promises “He tells people that he will lower taxes, but literally people cannot know whether it will pass the Congress,” she said.
Yuhouse registered to vote as an independent, but she did not vote in the March primary partly because she was busy with work, and partly because she did not think her vote would impact the final result. But she’s definitely going to the polls on Nov. 8.
Georgia residents who want to register to vote can do so before Oct. 11 by going to https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/welcometoga.do#no-back-button Absentee ballots are also available, and registered voters can vote early at selected polling places between Oct. 17 and Nov. 4.