In an era of stark political division, what’s it like to vote for the first time?

What might seem like a routine task for an experienced voter, no different from going to the bank or the doctor’s office, can be downright intimidating for first-time voters.

With concerns swirling nationally about voter suppression and intimidation at the polls, voting in Rhode Island is generally recognized as safe and relatively easy. Although some early voters face lines outside city and town hall offices, most wait times are relatively short, especially when compared to many other states where voters are forced to wait 8-10 hours to cast their ballot.

You might be surprised then, to hear that even in Rhode Island, many first-time voters are anxious about the experience.  

Maggie, an 18-year-old from Newport, shared her thoughts.

“As you can imagine, I’m nervous,” she explained. “There is so much information flying around all the time; especially as a teenager who is constantly on social media, it is hard to know what to believe and what not to believe and keep up with everything.”

“Then there is the actual process of voting,” she continued, “which isn’t as difficult as finding the right information, but, as a new voter, it can be intimidating to walk into a polling location and cast your vote.”

Still, she looks forward to voting Tuesday. “Aside from my feelings of nervousness and intimidation, I am beyond excited to take part in this civil duty for the first time!”

Another first-time voter, Kendra, 35, of Middletown, admitted she’s been nervous in past elections. “I’ve been very intimidated. This year I felt like I would be doing my family and friends a disservice if I didn’t vote,” she remarked.

Lewis, a 24-year-old RI native living in Florida, shared his thoughts.

“I feel as though I allowed myself to be disillusioned in the 2016 Presidential election and as a result did not vote; otherwise that would have been my first. I am disappointed in myself for this but the only way to move forward is to vote in every election from here on out. I feel very privileged to vote.”

We also queried new voters on the issues – what matters most to first time voters? From the sample we spoke with, we found that local concerns are just as much a priority as national issues.

“Local issues are more important because I feel like I am directly affected by them. I am against regionalization of schools and I voted for those who have the same views as me,” explained one respondent from Middletown.

“As an eighteen-year-old in Rhode Island, local issues are things that I am able to change more effectively with my vote,” explained Maggie in Newport. “I believe that the most important issue in this upcoming election is Covid-19. I hope, with the election, comes a better approach to stopping the spread of Covid-19.”

Another first-time voter expressed concerns about an issue facing the nation.

“I think the issue of human rights is the most important in the coming election. As we have seen this year this country still has a long way to go to heal the wounds caused by its past. But more than that, these fundamental issues need to be addressed now, when they are more under attack than they have ever been in our history.”

Note: If you are voting for the first time this year, please e-mail mrabrams@aol.com and let us know how the process went for you. We’ll update this story as needed.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.