Alanna Elder is a Report for America corps member focusing on Latinos in central Pennsylvania and the 2020 elections, how the growing community will make its influence felt, what barriers to voting exist and how it might affect this battleground state. Previously, she was deputy editor and podcast producer for the Latin America News Dispatch while pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. She has also worked for NPR member stations in Petersburg, Alaska and Laramie, Wyoming.
(Harrisburg) – Shelice Stewart grew up in Central Pennsylvania and now attends Howard University – the alma mater of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
“With one of the running mates going to my university, it is kind of an exciting time for me. And it just goes to show how far as a Black woman we can go in making a change for America,” she said.
Stewart was one of four college students who spoke as part of WITF’s Toward Racial Justice series the day after a grand jury in Kentucky announced its decision in the Breonna Taylor case. That decision is on Stewart’s mind as she prepares to vote.
“These things are just being passed over in the judicial system which are supposed to provide us with justice,” she said. “It’s almost insulting.”
This will be her first time voting, as part of a generation that is more diverse than its predecessors and makes up a tenth of the electorate. An oft-cited statistic illustrates the importance of young Latino voters: every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18-years-old. This past August, analysts were making the point that turnout among Black voters under 30 could be a defining factor in this year’s results.
As personally invested as she feels in the election, Stewart is uncertain as anyone about what comes next.
“I do kind of feel insecure about it, like I really hope that people who are listening to this or people in general realize that this isn’t vote isn’t just for 2020 through 2024. But this is a very real thing for the foreseeable future,” she said.
Veronica Ruiz of Elizabethtown College said, given the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, voting feels like a show of respect for past generations of women.
“If Gen Z doesn’t go out, that’s just a disgrace,” she said. “That’s not only a disgrace to her memory, but just to all of our ancestors and to all those who fought in the women’s suffrage movement and all these different things.”
Kendelle Durkson, who is attending Swarthmore College, agreed that voting is necessary to honor his own grandmother’s struggles during the Civil Rights movement.
“We would be letting down the people who can’t get out and fight anymore,” he said. “I mean, this is something that’s extremely heavy, emotionally draining, soul-wrenching work. And if we have the capacity to get out and do something, then we should absolutely do it.”
Justin Walton, a student at York College, organized a protest this past summer and joined young people across the country who took on leading roles in the movement that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He said he hopes others who participated in protests will vote, though he worries some may not, due to “misinformation.”
“I personally just found out about how important it is to get the state and local positions filled with people who are going to bring a change,” he said. “And being an education major I’ve seen a lot of things that are really shady. So, even your school board members are important.”
Walton plans to become a high school teacher and education is one of his priorities as a voter. He voted in the Pennsylvania primary last June, which gave him new insight into local politics as well as subtle deterrents that exist at polling stations like his.
“It was in a majority white area and I was probably the only Black kid who has ever been in there. It wasn’t even suppression. It was just uncomfortable, and I felt like something was wrong, even with me showing up,” he said.
Still, for the general election, he plans to cast his ballot in person.
“I know I’m getting real, tangible things and it’s not going to get lost in the mail or something crazy’s going to happen to it,” he said.
The group of was split on that point, with some wanting the familiarity and ceremony of voting in person. Others said they felt it would be safer for their health and their vote to cast a mail-in ballot.
During a past election, Durkson said his grandmother’s name was left off the books at a polling place she used for years. Against the country’s ongoing history of voter suppression and amid Trump’s attempts to cast doubt on the integrity of the process, he said the “paper trail” that follows a mail-in ballot “will ensure my autonomy over my vote.”
WITF’s Alanna Elder is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.