Friday, February 3, 2023

Hours before polls close, Gen Z voters seek last-minute support for their candidates

The night of Nov. 3, the UNCW College Democrats pitch a tent to educate undecided, last-minute voters on their party’s candidates before they enter the polls. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — As the sun set on Election Day, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington College Democrats were still posted at their tent near the Burney Center precinct, in hopes of garnering enough support in the final hours of open polling to turn their purple state blue.

Senior Kayley Medlin, 21, asked passersby, “Have you voted yet?” She handed out Gov. Roy Cooper pamphlets, offered Joe Biden buttons, even shared information on the policies of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners candidates.

Related: 2020 Election: County-level election results in the Cape Fear region [Free read]

Democrats were relying on young voters like Medlin as one of the demographics that could tip the battleground of North Carolina in 2020.

As of midday Nov. 4, data showed voters between 18 and 29 in the Tar Heel State made up 16% of votes and supported Biden by a 16-point margin, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

“If the younger generation comes together, then we have the potential to be a large voting block everywhere,” Medlin said. “We can really influence the election, not only on the presidential but on the local level as well.”

Medlin was working for Biden, or “the obvious candidate” as she called him. She said she got involved with the college political group following the 2016 election.

“That was a pivotal moment for me,” Medlin said “I realized politics does matter and our votes matter, and at that point, I realized I want to do everything I can to make sure that things are different come 2020.”

Sophomore Justin Holloman, 20, said he voted in the primaries for Bernie Sanders, but on Tuesday, he was campaigning for Biden.

“I think young people will show up enough to definitely make an impact on the vote overall,” Holloman said. “I still don’t expect it to be as high as other demographics, unfortunately, just because young people tend to focus, I think, in the moment, and they don’t plan out voting like older people do.”

Some of Holloman’s Sanders and Elizabeth Warren-supporting peers vowed not to vote in the general election after Biden won the Democratic nomination. Eventually, though, he said they came around.

His fellow sophomore friend, Jackson Wood, 22, also admitted he settled for Biden.

“He wasn’t my first choice, but I certainly think that he’s satisfactory,” Wood said, “and ultimately, he’s a lot better than the alternative.”

Biden won on Super Tuesday in North Carolina with 42.95% of the votes, although Sanders was the winner of the youth vote, with 57% of voters under 29 casting ballots in his favor, CIRCLE reported. Nineteen percent of young voters opted for Biden.

Senior Ethan Wagner, 23, was also at the UNCW Democrats tent. He was there largely because he said he cares for the environment; lowering carbon emissions, protecting endangered species and preserving wildlife. “If the planet suffers as a whole, then we end up suffering it. There’s no we win, they lose,” he said.

But Wagner wasn’t certain all young people voted his way. He said he believes, based on the interactions he’s had, people his age are split between Trump and Biden.

“There’s people who take it seriously and really think about not only themselves but how politicians affect other people and vote for them as well,” Wagner said, “and then there’s some people who I personally think vote for Trump just to make the other side upset.”

Then there’s a third group of people, Wagner suggested, who aren’t paying attention to issues and may just throw a vote Trump’s way.

“Really, it has long-lasting ramifications for the country,” he emphasized. “Like, years to come.”

Sable Bird, 20, swings an American flag at a roadside Trump rally. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

An 8-minute drive away from the UNCW campus, 20-year-old Sable Bird was swinging an American flag along Military Cutoff Road in front of a McDonald’s. Over the sounds of a rock ballad with lyrics about the “Trump Train” and the blare of passing cars’ horns, Bird explained why she’s voting to re-elect the president.

“He’s done so much for this country, just in general, you know?” Bird said. “Like, he’s got a ton of stuff he’s got going for African Americans, just people of different races, he’s really trying hard for them.”

According to CIRCLE, 96% of Black youth in North Carolina voted for Biden, while 54% of white youth voted for Trump.

This election was Bird’s first time voting. She said she recently became interested in politics as she followed the news cycle and dived into research.

Just a few feet away from the Bird’s crowd of patriotic Trump supporters, Evannes Edmonson and Kendall Bauer held signs that read “Fuck Trump” and “BLM.” Both are 18-year-olds who have been waiting for this day since 2016.

“I just feel like lives are at stake,” Edmonson said, who voted via absentee ballot.

Bauer agreed. “To call myself an ally, I feel like I needed to vote for the people that I care about, which are my LGBTQ friends, immigrants — I’m a woman, so obviously the right to choose is important to me.”

After being approached by two Wilmington police officers about the verbiage of their signs, the girls headed home. They said they’d already been out there for a few hours, anyway.

Just some feet away from a group of rambunctious Trump supporters, Evannes Edmonson displays a “Fuck Trump” sign on Military Cutoff Road. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

Earlier in the day, 22-year-old Brandon Panameno was downtown, sporting a Trump shirt under a zipped-down Lt. Governor Dan Forest jacket. He already early voted but wanted to show support for his Republican candidates.

“I like how they’re not your typical politician,” Panameno said of Trump and Pence. “I know that’s said a lot, but it’s true. I mean, yeah, he was a businessman, but it’s not like he was in politics for, like, 47 years and decided to run for president.”

Two hours before polls closed, Darius Vernon, 20, slid his first ballot into the voting machine at the Leland Cultural Arts Center. Vernon explained his parents urged him to go to the polls that night, but he’s “not into politics that much” and didn’t even plan on voting.

“I don’t like both of them,” he said of the presidential candidates. “That’s just me. I don’t speak for all.”

Vernon never did make a decision. He left both boxes blank.

“I hope the best man wins, though,” he said.


Send tips and comments to Alexandria Sands at alexandria@localdailymedia.com

Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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