Young, 1st-time voters in Routt County let their voice be heard heading into Election Day | SteamboatToday.com
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Young, 1st-time voters in Routt County let their voice be heard heading into Election Day

Lucia Howard, of Steamboat Springs, voted for the first time Monday. She drops off her ballot at the 24-hour drop-box located at the Routt County Courthouse. (Photo by Alison Berg)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hannah Murphy couldn’t wait to register to vote when she turned 18 in October.

Murphy, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, preferred Joe Biden from the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls during the primary, due to his working with former President Barack Obama, then his pick of California Sen. Kamala Harris for his running mate.

“I felt like what they did together was super powerful,” Murphy said.

She submitted her ballot early this election cycle and was excited to participate in the voting process, particularly in helping elect a woman to the second-highest office in the country.

“It’s easier to see yourself doing things when you see other women doing it first,” she said. “Seeing a woman in a position of power is motivational to me.”

While Murphy voted Democrat down the ballot, other first-time voters in Routt County used their first voting experience to vote for President Donald Trump.

Jacob Palansky, a 20-year-old first-time voter in Steamboat, cast his vote for Trump because he believes Biden “will not be very good for America.” He considers Biden’s policies to be communist.

“Things have been going well with Trump,” Palansky said, referring specifically to lower taxes and unemployment rates. “I just think Biden is going to take us down a direction we really don’t need to go.”

While young voters are traditionally less active at the polls than their older counterparts, younger voters nationwide this year have turned out in “historic numbers” according to an NPR report.

Party leadership in Routt County attribute the larger turnout to hotly-contested issues represented on this year’s ballot, such as COVID-19 and climate change.

“I do believe there are a lot of young people who are tired of the lock downs and want to get on with life,” said Pete Wood, chairperson of Routt County Republicans, in reference to the COVID-19 restrictions. “I think we’ll see a significant portion of young people voting Republican because they don’t think the drift towards socialism is what they want to see in their future.”

Catherine Carson, chairperson of Routt County Democrats, attributes the high number of young people mainly to climate change and the consequences of lack of climate action young people will inherit.

“If they want to have a country where they can have clean water and clean air, where they can raise their children, they want to stand up and do something,” Carson said. “This is the generation of children that have grown up and seen the changes in the climate.”

Routt County voter registrration data.

While many young voters showed up primarily to vote in the presidential election, others were more invested in local ballot initiatives.

This election will be the first for Lucia Howard, who moved to Steamboat from Slovakia 10 years ago but became a U.S. citizen this year.

Howard is voting for Biden, primarily due to her strong dislike of Trump, but she said the local ballot measures mean more to her.

“I don’t think Trump is a good president in the way he represents our country,” she said, “but I’m more interested in voting for the local stuff.”

Of the 21,579 registered in the county, about 9% are 24 years old or younger. While a large portion are unaffiliated, 21% are registered Democrats while 19% are Republicans, according to data from the Colorado Secretary of State.

Alyssa Frost, a 21-year-old Steamboat resident voting for Trump, said her reason for voting this year was the chaos she sees from both sides of the political aisle.

“I think there’s a lot more hatred on both sides, it just seems like a bigger deal this time around,” she said. “It feels important for the country to vote.”

While many have registered to vote for the first time in 2020, others have been long-time voters but switched political parties or voted for different candidates than they did in 2016.

For Oak Creek resident David Wolfson that meant voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, Gov. Gary Johnson in the presidential election and Trump in the 2020 election.

Wolfson is Jewish and believes Trump’s policy towards Israel is worth giving him a second term. But he dislikes Trump’s rhetoric and many other policies.

“I don’t like him as a person,” Wolfson said. “I wouldn’t be his friend.”

Still, he believes Trump has performed better “than he’s given credit for” on many of his policies.

Randy Schwarz, a Steamboat resident, voted for Trump in 2016 but will be voting for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson in 2020, as he believes a vote for a third-party candidate this cycle will help other parties gain more traction and eventually be taken more seriously.

“We’re such a divided country and if we keep with this two party system, we don’t have a chance to adapt or improve,” Schwarz said. “Might as well vote for something completely different if we have a chance.”


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