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First-time voters find a voice through civic engagement

Election judge and volunteer Stephanie Curtiss assists Zach Miller with his voter registration on election night at the Silverthorne Pavilion in Silverthorne on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

FRISCO — At 34 years old, Alexandria Carns voted for the first time in her life in the 2020 election. 

“I just had this perspective of like ‘meh, it doesn’t matter what i have to say,’” Carns said of her decision not to vote in the past. “But being here and living in Summit County, it really has inspired me because I see how important community is.”

Carns joined 3,357 other Summit County voters who registered for the first time in 2020, according to County Clerk Kathleen Neel. It’s not uncommon for registrations to uptick during a presidential election, but the importance of this election was not lost on everyday people. 

Carns founded Solidarity Nation, an organization that has hosted monthly Solidarity Talk events throughout the community. She said she went on a journey this year, in which she discovered the importance of her voice in government. 

“All of these various conversations led to some type of elevation of my current perspective and it just inspired me in so many ways,” she said. 

Despite the high-profile presidential election, Carns said a major motivation for her was voicing her opinion on local candidates and local issues. Specifically, Carns said she voted for Rep. Julie McCluskie and County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence. 

“I love how transparent they are and how willing they are to have conversations,” Carns said. “I feel like they’re really here for the people. It makes me feel heard, valued and appreciated when the people who lead our town and town decisions are there and they’re present at events.”

Alexandria Carns, right, listens to a speaker during the Solidarity Talk event on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Carns said she decided to vote for the first time after seeing the value of community through the Solidarity Talk events.
Photo by Elaine Collins

Zach Miller, another first-time Summit County voter, said he was surprised to learn how many local decisions are made through voting. 

“I didn’t realize how much, especially just in Summit County, you have a say in as a voter,” he said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

Miller, who is 21 years old, just missed the cutoff for the 2016 election. He said he wanted to make his first time voting special, so he decided to honor the tradition of Election Day by voting in person at the Silverthorne polling center. 

“The people that were running the polling center in Silverthorne they were just really excited to see me,” he said. “So they already brought a high level of energy to voting.”

Miller said the enthusiasm of the poll workers helped him feel less intimidated by the process overall. 

Miller is part of the “young voter” demographic, which consists of people aged 18 to 29. That demographic has historically had low turnout at the polls, but this year young voters made their voices heard. 

Nationally, around 49-51% of voters aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2020 election as of Nov. 6, an increase from the 41-44% of young people that voted in 2016, according to data from CIRCLE, a research center dedicated to youth civic engagement at Tufts University in Massachusetts. 

“The younger generation is really realizing that the way things are headed is a place that we don’t want to grow up in,” Miller said. 

Miller said voting also served as an educational opportunity for him. He said he learned more about where he stands politically as well as what’s happening in his community through the process of researching candidates and ballot issues. 

“I realized I have a very mixed preference on politics when it comes to taxes and when it comes to education,” he said. “I discovered a little bit about myself.”

Carns and Miller said they both plan to vote in future elections. 

“It allows our voices to be heard,” Carns said. “It allows us the opportunity to shape our nation. We understand and we realize that everyone has a different perspective, but if we can all work together and all voice our opinions, that can create a stronger nation.”


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