The message is everywhere: Be sure to vote.
And young people in the region are taking it to heart, keyed up to cast their first ballots in an election cycle that will determine who will sit at the Resolute desk for the next four years.
While every presidential election spurs discussion, excitement and a sense of patriotism, the coming election has had the nation buzzing more so than in recent memory. There is so much happening at the same time — between the pandemic, racial inequities, the economy and wide-reaching long-term issues such as the makeup of the Supreme Court — that voter participation in the area is expected to be higher than ever.
“Whoever’s up in that office is going to affect my life,” said Erin Cunningham, a senior at Apollo Career Center who lives in Bluffton. “Might as well have a decision in it.”
Cody Tabler, an 18-year-old Columbus Grove student, has decided who has his vote.
“Just recently, when it was getting closer, I decided to put more interest in it and look up all the facts and what everybody stands for,” Tabler said.
He’s watched the debates and videos from different rallies to gather information. He’ll be going to the polls with his parents on Election Day.
Zoe Stechschulte, an 18-year-old Columbus Grove student, is looking forward to doing in-person early voting this week with her mother.
“I’m not very nervous because I know who I think is fit to run a presidency, so I know who I’m voting for,” Stechschulte said. “I watched the debates, and I looked at the candidates’ values and their views in politics, and I looked at my own, and if theirs matched up with mine, I’m going to vote for them.”
Grace Selhorst, an 18-year-old Columbus Grove student, has also made up her mind and plans to vote with her father on Election Day. She watched bits and pieces of the debates — explaining the first one was hard for her to watch — and relies mainly on social media for information. But she knows there’s a danger there.
“Most times on social media, people tell you what they want you to hear instead of all the facts,” Selhorst said.
Lauryn Wischmeyer, an 18-year-old Columbus Grove student, hasn’t entirely made up her mind.
“I think I still need to do a little more research, but I have a pretty good idea,” Wischmeyer said. “Mostly through not only watching debates but looking at what I’ll figure out from watching other videos and looking up things about all the candidates and just seeing what views line up with mine.”
Cunningham hasn’t decided. A teacher at Apollo gave her a voting guide, which she needs to review. She has a gap in her schedule between school and work, and she and her mother plan to vote on Election Day.
“(Social media) makes it conflicting and confusing, at least to me,” Cunningham said. “I’ll most likely go to (candidates’) websites and see who has my best interests and see who I agree with more.”
Long-time listener, first-time voter
These young people are not alone in having not been to the polls before.
Registrations are mainly trending up in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties — and mailed absentee ballot requests and in-person voting are up considerably.
Allen County Board of Elections Director Kathy Meyer, Auglaize County Board of Elections Director Michelle Wilcox and Putnam County Board of Elections Director Karen Lammers agreed they expect voter turnout to be record-breaking.
“I think in ‘16 we had 82 percent, and I’m hoping 85 percent” this year, Lammers said. “We want people in Putnam County to come out and vote. We want to be No. 1 again.”
Wilcox believes so many people are voting early because of the inherent uncertainties of the year.
“You just never know what Election Day is going to bring,” Wilcox said. “People just are unsure if they’re going to feel well. … I think a lot of them just like to have it done, to be sure their ballot’s going to count and to have it over.”
Meyer said there have been new voters of all ages.
“I’ve had several people come in here and say, ‘I’ve never done this before,’” Meyer said. “It surprises me, but it has happened. … I think this year has woken a lot of people up.”
Wilcox advises people to be wary of bad information and to trust the process.
“Even worse than foreign adversaries is disinformation,” Wilcox said. “We do have a safe, fair and secure election.”
Arguments and discussions
Tabler discusses politics occasionally with his parents.
“We disagree sometimes on some things,” Tabler said. “We don’t get too heated. We accept each others’ opinions.”
He thinks the culture of arguing about politics is detrimental.
“It could scare some kids … not to vote,” Tabler said.
“There’s not a lot of listening,” Stechschulte said. “I think it’s hurting it because people are discouraged to have their own political views and it seems like they have the ‘wrong’ political views. So I think we should encourage people to research for themselves and find out what their political views would be.”
Cunningham explained in her family that her mother and aunt are on opposite ends of the political spectrum “so we try to avoid the topic,” she said. “They just agree to not talk about it.”
The first debate, which was derided as a shouting match, is an example of what not to do, Wischmeyer thinks.
“I think (arguing) would definitely hurt things because not only like we saw in the first debate when both candidates were arguing, it was really hard to get an idea of their views and what they would do for us,” Wischmeyer said. “I think people forget that part of communication is listening, and not just talking, and just hearing other people’s views out, even if you don’t agree with them.”
Wischmeyer credited teacher Kimberly Birnesser.
“Our teachers at school, especially my government teacher, instilled in us that it’s your constitutional right. And you also feel a sense of not only your right, but you should feel a sense of love for your country and wanting the right thing for it, that you should want to go and vote,” Wischmeyer said.