The Experience of a First Time Voter


Nov. 8, 2016. It’s Election Day in the United States, and Americans from coast to coast are lining up to vote for the next President of the United States of America. Will it be Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump? While the answer to that question is to be determined, first time voters have other anxieties on their minds, perhaps the most important being: Can I even vote?

For Ali Eaton, a Biology major with a Pre-Medicine concentration and a double minor in Neuroscience and Psychology, this was exactly the case. Eaton, who is from a small town of 1,152 people called Stonington, was registered to vote in her hometown, but not in Orono, her hometown away from home. For Eaton, voting has always been an extremely important responsibility for the American citizen. She told me, while chatting in the third floor common room of Cumberland Hall, “I’m really excited to vote. I’ve always been excited to vote, I think it’s really important as an American citizen.”

So one can only imagine the horror of waking up on election day and being registered to vote seventy miles away, but not where it really counts. Eaton had been worrying about this all week, and with time running out, on Thursday, Nov. 3, there was not much left to do, other than what every other college student would do: she called her mom.

Unfortunately, Eaton’s mother wasn’t of much help from her home in Alaska. All she could do for her distressed voter was order her some fancy shampoo from and have it sent to her dorm. Luckily, Eaton ran into a group of UMaine students at Wells Dining Hall who told her that, unless the piece of mail was an official document, it wouldn’t work. The friendly group told her she could also print off a screenshot of her MaineStreet portal showing her University address. So she did, and she was well equipped to register to cast her vote.

When asked whether she was excited or nervous, the former greatly ruled out the latter. Her face lit up as she talked about her excitement to exercise her privilege as a citizen, and darkened only subtly when she discussed her anxieties. “I’m really worried that Donald Trump will win, because I feel like it will have such a negative impact on foreign relations, LGBTQ people, and basically anybody that isn’t white in our country.”

When asked if she was voting for Clinton as a “lesser of two evils” method, or if she truly wanted Clinton to be president, Eaton said, with ample confidence and a nod of her head, “I want Hillary Clinton to be president.” Eaton wasn’t at all timid about her political preference, and proudly informed me from the very first time we met that she would be voting for Clinton. She told me that even if Trump reigns that “It won’t be the end of the world. Just a couple steps back.”

At 5:00 p.m., after a long day of classes and, for Eaton, her work study job, we finally met at the New Balance Field House at the University of Maine, where the entire town of Orono casts their votes. Together, we marched into the field house to exercise our right as American citizens.

Inside, two people, a man and a woman, sat at a desk asking people to double check if they were registered to vote by sifting through a giant stack of papers clipped into a binder. Eaton, knowing she wasn’t registered, followed my lead into the main voting area. We were instructed to wait in the voter registration line, which wrapped around the field house, almost end to end, while still moving steadily.

Volunteers were walking up and down the line, passing out voter registration cards, passing out and collecting pens, and offering assistance wherever it was needed. One woman approached Eaton and I and asked if we needed any help, to which Eaton assured her she was “all set”.

I watched as the crowd, formed into a less than stellar line, balanced phones on their heads, dropped and picked up their bags, conversed with their friends about all things election and all things not, took their sweatshirts off and put them back on, and scrolled through their cellular devices buzzing in their hands. The anxiety in the room was prevalent and could be felt and seen by the body language and facial expressions and tones of voices of these first time voters. A girl behind us was confused on what to use as her current address, so Eaton offered help. Eaton told the girl that her dorm address will work, and the issue was quickly resolved.

While waiting in the extremely long line, Eaton decided she might not make it to chemistry, and then changed her mind when, five minutes later, we’d made it quite a lot closer to the registration desk. I watched as students and non-students asked questions and sought help filling out their cards, and I observed as Eaton scrolled through snapchat, looking at her friend’s snapchat stories and checking out statuses on Facebook. Periodically, she would give me a glimpse into her world as she showed me stories from her friends back home, or told me about actors starring in the upcoming Stranger Things series.

Her anxiety sometimes showed in her tone of voice, such as when she asked if I knew when the winner was announced. Since I didn’t, she googled it. She was shocked and annoyed to find out that the winner isn’t announced until 4 a.m. She discovered seconds later that the first results are released at 6 p.m. “If Trump is in the lead at 6 p.m., I’m just gonna shut my phone off,” she joked with me. More anxiety came when she mentioned that there could be an entire extra desk for voter registration. It was obvious that she was excited to vote and wanted to have the whole process and the election in general over with. “I am so sick of seeing politics on Facebook, it’s nuts,” Eaton said. We both laughed, and then realized we were right in front of the registration desk.

Finally, we walked the final stretch to the registration desk. Eaton handed the woman her registration card and nothing was said while she copied her information onto a separate card. When it was finished, she handed Eaton the card with a number attached to it, and we made our way to the polls corresponding to the first letter of her last name.

I wasn’t allowed into the booth with Eaton, but I watched from afar as she confidently filled in the oval next to Hillary Clinton’s name. She made her way to the machine where she dropped off her ballot to cast her very first vote, and, hopefully, make history. Eaton told me she was afraid she might have done something wrong, but that she was happy and excited to have voted. However, when she returned to her dorm, my phone buzzed. It was a message from Eaton, telling me that after that entire, tedious, painstakingly long process, she didn’t even get an “I just voted” sticker.