published Sunday, October 28th, 2012

First-time voters in the Chattanooga area engaged, aware of candidates, issues

Robbie Ervin, left, and Nathan Mileur, Silverdale Baptist Academy seniors, are both preparing to vote for the first time in November's presidential election.
Robbie Ervin, left, and Nathan Mileur, Silverdale Baptist Academy seniors, are both preparing to vote for the first time in November's presidential election.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

In the 2008 presidential election, about 20 million voters in the United States cast a ballot for the first time, including millions of young people who had turned 18 years old since 2004.

The Times Free Press went in search of young people who will be voting for the first time in a presidential election in 2012 to discover their feelings about joining the great American democratic tradition.

We asked them how they prepared to cast their first votes and what issues matter most to them.

NATHAN MILEUR

  • Age: 18.
  • School: Senior at Silverdale Baptist Academy.
  • How he has prepared: "I have been studying and researching both parties, and I've watched all the debates."
  • What it means to vote in his first election: "It's strange having the responsibility to vote, and I do consider it a responsibility."
  • Issues of importance: "The economy. I know families who have suffered. I'm looking for someone who can resurrect the economy."
  • Party affiliation: Republican.
  • Voting for: Mitt Romney.

ROBBIE ERVIN

  • Age: 18.
  • School: Senior at Silverdale Baptist Academy.
  • How he has prepared: "I have been keeping up with their websites. I have been studying Romney and his governing and Obama's presidency to give an unbiased vote, but a vote I believe is right for the country."
  • What it means to vote in his first election: "It's a privilege. I take it as a great honor to be able to vote for who's going to lead our country for the next four years and know that I was part of that decision."
  • Issues of importance: "The biggest issue is getting the nation out of debt so that my generation can have Social Security."
  • Party affiliation: Independent.
  • Voting for: Romney.

HANNAH LAZAR

  • Age: 21.
  • School: Senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
  • How she has prepared: "I watched the first two debates (missed the third one, though), and I've been keeping up with both candidates' stances through many different news sources. I also make sure to keep up with PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "The last election was so exciting and full of promise, and I feel like I missed out in having my voice heard. Now that I can put in my two cents, I'm really excited to do so."
  • Issues of importance: "This election is really interesting to me because it seems a lot more negatively oriented than the last one. Also, there's a huge focus on women's issues, which is something that's very important to me. ... Other issues that are important to me are the economy and student loans, since I'm planning on going to law school. I also care a lot about immigration, specifically about allowing children of immigrants a pathway to citizenship."
  • Party affiliation: Democrat.
  • Voting for: Barack Obama.

CAROLINE HETZEL

  • Age: 20.
  • School: Sophomore at Northwestern University.
  • How she has prepared: "I've prepared for my first vote by researching the candidates' positions on issues that are important to me. I also followed them through Twitter and Facebook and watched the debates to prepare."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "Voting in my first election is really important to me because I finally have a voice that counts. It's my chance to act on the issues I care about by voting for the candidate who most closely shares my views."
  • Issues of importance: Women's issues, education and other social issues such as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender rights and gay marriage.
  • Party affiliation: Democrat.
  • Voting for: Voted via absentee ballot, declined comment on her choice.

KYLE HIXSON

  • Age: 19.
  • School: Freshman at UTC.
  • How he's prepared: "I've tried to read everything I can on both candidates, I've read their websites, and I've watched all the debates."
  • What it means to vote in his first election: "That I have a chance to be heard."

Issues of importance: "First, the economy, encouraging businesses to come to the United States; second, health care."

  • Party affiliation: Republican.
  • Voting for: Romney.

CONNER KAPPERMAN

  • Age: 18.
  • School: Student at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
  • How he has prepared: "I've watched all the debates that have gone on. At our age, in class, we have a lot of discussions about ... different policies, why we vote and who we want to vote for."
  • What it means to vote in his first election: "I think it's very important. It's easy for people to say it's just one vote and why does it matter, but it does matter. We should appreciate the privilege to vote because it's not there in a lot of places. "
  • Issues of importance: "Energy. Now that I'm on my own and driving back and forth to home, gas prices and policies associated with that are pretty big for me. Also, immigration policies and what the candidates think about things like the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and deportation."
  • Party affiliation: Independent.
  • Voting for: Undecided but leaning toward Romney.

JENNA HAINES

  • Age: 21.
  • School: Full-time student at New York University in New York City and intern at Men's Fitness magazine.
  • How she has prepared: "I've been reading a lot about the election in the news and looking at both candidates' websites, watching the debates and fact-checking both parties on what they say."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "It's more significant to me because of the issues at hand, not because I'm a first-time voter."
  • Issues of importance: "I'm a woman, so the idea of having a right to choose [on reproductive rights]. The other issue is health care. Technically, I have a chronic illness, [and] even though it's extremely minor, once I graduate, I won't be able to get insurance because of it. With ObamaCare, in 2014, I will be able to get insurance."
  • Party affiliation: Independent.
  • Voting for: Obama.

JACQUELYN BENFORD

  • Age: 20.
  • School: Junior at Middle Tennessee State University.
  • How's she's prepared: "I don't feel like I know enough about it. I'll do research and listen to the debates, but they don't sound that different to me. I can't see the country being drastically changed either way. I wouldn't feel right voting because I haven't taken the time to educate myself, politically."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "I wish I could have voted in the last election. I feel like I would have been more likely to vote in that one than this one because I had more time to immerse myself in it. Now, it's significant, in a way, but not enough to make me feel any better about doing it uneducated."

Issues of importance: "Health care and student loans are the two things I feel come to the forefront for me, being a student and money-conscious."

  • Party affiliation: "My Facebook (profile) says 'independent.' Every year, I'm something different. Currently, I'm leaning toward Democratic."
  • Voting for: Supports Obama, undecided on voting.

SARA DAWSON

  • Age: 23.
  • School: Graduate student at Lee University.
  • How she's prepared: "I watched the debates, not that they really helped. Mostly I did some research and reading on my own."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "I've never been huge on politics, so it honestly doesn't mean too much to me. It's not an emotional moment. Last time I did not vote because I did not like either of the candidates. I did not want to put my vote behind either of them."
  • Issues of importance: "The economy. I don't think one issue is more important than the others. I don't think it's the issues as much as how the candidates handle themselves when put to an issue."
  • Party affiliation: Unaffiliated.
  • Voting for: Declined comment on choice.

KELLY SZEMBORSKI

  • Age: 20.
  • School: Junior at UTC.
  • How she has prepared: "I watched a lot of the debates, but it was mainly Internet searches on what each candidate stands for on the issues."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "I think it's exciting. I'm one of those people who tends to complain about everything I think is awful. It's nice to actually be able to have a chance at attempting to change something, to have an input in the way your country goes."
  • Issues of importance: Domestic economics and social issues. "A lot of the debates were foreign issues, which are important, and I feel like we've been focusing on that a lot. It's nice to be able to look up some other stuff, too."
  • Party affiliation: "I refuse either party. I don't even like the party system."
  • Voting for: Voted early, did not reveal her vote.

KATEY ALEGRE

  • Age: 19.
  • School: Sophomore at Belmont University in Nashville.
  • How she has prepared: "I read a lot of news articles on the topic, and I have watched and live-tweeted every debate."
  • What it means to vote in her first election: "The ability to vote in this election has given me a new perspective on politics. Previously, presidential candidates and the entire concept of campaigns have seemed silly, but now it feels like part of my American duty to understand and follow politics. It has become something that I am proud and excited to do."
  • Issues of importance: "The most important issues to me are marriage equality, women's reproductive rights and education."
  • Party affiliation: "I consider myself a Democrat."
  • Voting for: Obama

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284. Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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