Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

For many, voting started well before Election Day — for an election with many implications for Americans of color.

November 4, 2020

Students of Color Recount First-Time Voting Experiences

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As pandemic strains continue and political turmoil increases, the 2020 presidential election offers Cornell’s first-time voters a significant opportunity for change.

While students have exercised their right to vote, some are reflecting on how this year’s election affects Americans of color.

Prospective sociology major Valerie Hu ’23, who is taking classes from California this semester, submitted her ballot in a county drop box. While she described the process as simple and straightforward, she recognized the difficulties faced by many drop box voters across the country. 

“I think I’m pretty lucky in that regard, because where I live, there were a ton of drop boxes within walking and reasonable driving distance,” she said. Various states, including Texas and California, have made efforts to limit drop box locations in specific counties, supposedly to prevent voting fraud.

Hu said the election made her realize the importance of voting. 

“I’ve realized recently what a huge privilege it is to be able to vote. My mom isn’t a citizen, so she can’t vote,” she said. “People who were formerly incarcerated for a felony, once they’re released, cannot vote.”

With non-citizen residents unable to vote in elections that significantly impact their lives, Hu said she had a responsibility to participate where they cannot.

Asian Americans, particularly immigrants, experience various types of voter suppression according to the American Bar Association. These include inadequate civics education, limited language resources and difficulty obtaining citizenship in the first place.

For Hu, the voting process was also a valuable learning experience. She dove into research on state representative candidates and their positions, coming to the conclusion that her vote had more of an impact on a local level than on a presidential one. 

Leading up to the election, Hu said Cru Cornell, an organization that provides Christian resources and prayer groups on campus, played a major in preparing her for the outcome of the election. 

“We were praying against divisions in the country; praying for wisdom,” Hu said.

Hotel administration student Tara Jain ’23, like most Cornell voters on campus, cast her ballot by mail. As a first time voter, she expressed excitement for exercising her right to vote — a moment she’s been looking forward to since her senior year of high school, when she learned more about government processes.

Similar to Hu, she thought of her mother’s citizenship status when voting. “My mom wasn’t a U.S. citizen for the longest time,” Jain said. “She got her citizenship at least 10 years ago, I think.” Jain and her parents are Indian American.

Jain explained that the pandemic made an impact on her family’s voting choices. With family members working in the health care industry, she said she felt that the current administration’s policies harmed their livelihoods. 

She noted how the Trump administration proposed to slash pandemic response funding. People of color, especially women, are more likely to have their work deemed “essential” in industries including healthcare, increasing COVID risk.

Likewise, Aimee Candelario ’23, a mechanical engineering major, voted from Ithaca by mail. 

“I’ve been afforded a more well-off station in life due to my attendance at Cornell, an opportunity most people from my background don’t get,” said Candelario, a Latinx student from a working class background.  

She explained how the people she knows back home, including her father, would often miss the window for in-person voting due to working long shifts. Given these difficulties her father experienced, Candelario said she believes that mail-in voting should become more accessible, regardless of the pandemic.

 “I think accessibility is key to a fair election,” Candelario said.

All three students believe that voting is a vital responsibility, especially in 2020. “I felt like it was my civic responsibility, because so much is at stake in this election,” Candelario said.