The 2016 US Presidential Election was my first time voting, I'm hoping history won't repeat itself

A young American voter who cast their ballot during two of the most divisive voting periods in US history nervously waits for the results of a momentous Presidential election.

statue of liberty, my first time voting was 2016

Voting for the first time is exciting – and it should be. It’s a stretch of freedom, testing out your newfound adulthood and voicing your opinion on the kind of country you want to live in and be proud of. I was 20 years old, a junior in college, living in the deep south in the state of Georgia, and it was my first time voting.

This election felt historic – we had a woman running for president – and it felt like I was going to be a part of history for voting a woman into the White House. It was 2016 and I was hopeful.

I can remember election night 2016 so vividly as all of our friends gathered in our crummy little apartment with the 12 of us spread out across black carpeting and ugly green furniture, watching the results roll in. We were from all over the country and the world: Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Charleston, and Nassau. Those of us who had voted had sent in our absentee ballots back in our home state, we had all voted for the same person. Now we were just waiting for her to win.

At the beginning of the night, we would all joke that if the election didn’t go the way we wanted it to, we all had an hour to pack before high-tailing it to the Canadian border. As the night went on, it didn’t feel like a joke anymore. By midnight the results still weren’t in. We all had class in the morning so we called it a night and went to bed. At 4am I jolted out of a sound sleep and grabbed my phone to see if the election had been called. My heart plummeted into the bottom of my stomach as I scrolled through the news.

How? How could this happen? I started crying because for the first time I didn’t feel safe in my own country.

A few hours later I shuffled into my 8am class and everyone had the same look on their face, like they were just told the Easter Bunny isn’t real, that their grandfather was a nazi, that their brother is a racist and homophobe, and their parents were getting a divorce, all during breakfast. And that was just the beginning.

The past four years have been exhausting. And most of us have been waiting since November 9, 2016 at 4am to vote Trump out of office. So, just like four years ago, I mailed my ballot in early, and when election night (last night) rolled around, I knew better than to stay up because the results wouldn’t be known for days.

I went to bed early, but just like four years ago I jolted out of a sound sleep around 5am and grabbed my phone. No news. And as of 9:30am EST as I am writing this, there is still no news. We are just waiting for seven battleground states, one of them my own – Michigan, to finish counting all the ballots.

This time around feels like there is more at stake, like the ballot was heavier in my hands. So many are saying “We’ve survived four years of Trump, we can survive four more.” To them, I say: Not everyone has. A quarter of a million people in this country have died of COVID-19, so many immigrants have died at the border, people have died to gun violence and a rise in white supremacy.

More young voters registered and voted this year than ever before, convinced that our voice matters and our vote counts. The numbers between Biden and Trump are so close, it is by a tenth of a percent. What happens if it doesn’t go the way we want a second time? Come the 2024 election, will my generation and the younger generations whose first time it is voting, not vote at all because we’ve been so discouraged?

The line from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney keeps running through my mind: “History says Don’t hope on this side of the grave“.

All I’m holding on to right now is the shoe strings of hope. Because for the past four years hope looks like Black Lives Matter marches and Pride parades, it looks like mask-wearers, and pins that demand ‘Time’s Up’. Hope looks like little boys wearing princess dresses and little girls dressed up like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween.

I don’t know how this election will end, but I pray that the next line from the poem The Cure at Troy is true: “But then, once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.”

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