Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

A First-Time Voter Makes Her Choice And Tries To Empower Her Generation

Marlene Herrera, an 18-year-old currently living in Mission Center, says the pandemic and recent protests have influenced her politically during her first year as a voter.
Adriana Heldiz / The World
Marlene Herrera, an 18-year-old currently living in Mission Center, says the pandemic and recent protests have influenced her politically during her first year as a voter.

For months, 18-year-old North County resident Marlene Herrera has been anticipating this moment. We’re chatting over Zoom, and she’s opening up the envelope sent to her from the state, revealing her double-sided ballot.

“It feels so weird grabbing it because I was like, 'OK, this is actually happening now. I actually have to fill in bubbles,'" Herrera says, looking over her ballot.

A First-Time Voter Makes Her Choice And Tries To Empower Her Generation
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

It’s filled with candidates for local races, local measures, and also, quite a few statewide propositions. She flips over her ballot, to see everything she’s about to vote on.


“There’s judicial races, there’s one for Valley Center Parks and Recreation, its Board of Directors, which is funny because I didn’t know Valley Center had parks,” she says, laughing.

This is her chance to have her voice heard, not only in this year’s presidential election — but on policies as far-ranging as labor protections for gig workers, affirmative action, and rent control. The first vote is the easiest for her — for president. After watching the first presidential debate, she says she’s seen enough of President Donald Trump.

“He was kind of just, ‘Let me talk, let me talk.’ He should have been more respectful, he should have given [Biden] his two minutes, at least,” Herrera says.

She was also shocked when the president campaigned shortly after his COVID-19 diagnosis.

“He’s putting other people at risk at this point. It wasn’t handled correctly to begin with. Now he’s returning to the White House without a mask on,” she says.


RELATED: For Latinos Ineligible To Vote, US Census Offers Path To Political Power

Marlene has family members voting for Trump, and she’s tried to understand why they’re doing that. She recalls one conversation she had with a Trump-supporting family member, but was unconvinced by his argument.

“He’s like, 'Think about it this way, he’s going to want to help his people first before he helps anyone else.' I think that made sense to him, but for me, that line bothered me a lot,” she says. “If you’re an American, you’re an American. It shouldn’t be, ‘I’m going to look after my white people,’ that shouldn’t be the case. That’s racism.”

It’s that racism that’s made it hard for Marlene these past four years. She felt like she had to hide who she was while in high school.

“I went to a very white school,” she tells me. “It made me so scared to speak up because I was a minority, and I think when he became president it made me watch what I said. I kind of just went into a corner where I didn’t want anyone to be against me and see in a certain light. Looking back, I regret doing that. I wish I would have spoken more.”

She also wanted to speak out more about the treatment of migrant children in Border Patrol custody.

“You never want to see kids in that situation, ever. They’re kids. They’re people. They should have at least a toothbrush. Or toothpaste. Clean water, somewhere to shower,” she says.

Marlene now sees her vote as half against Trump and half in support of Biden’s policies. Biden was never really her candidate — Bernie Sanders was.

“I’m very much hoping Biden holds true to his words. I don’t want another four years of unfulfilled promises,” she reflects.

Marlene wasn’t able to vote for Bernie Sanders back in the primary. She was 17 when California’s presidential primary took place, and ineligible to vote. Now she’ll be able to help other first-time voters in that situation. A proposal on her ballot makes 17-year-olds eligible to vote in primaries, if they’ll turn 18 by the general election.

“As someone who was 17 for most of 2020, not being able to give some sort of voice before the general election was very frustrating,” she says. “As a 17-year-old, I was keeping up with the presidential thing. Why wouldn’t we be given that vote?”

Another major proposition on the ballot this year is proposition 22.

This would overturn a new state law and change labor protections from workers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Door Dash, who have spent millions supporting the proposition.

Marlene has been inundated with advertising in favor of this proposition, but is letting the experience of her own friends and family guide her choice.

“There’s so many instances where Uber is not paying their workers, where Lyft isn’t paying their workers. They spent millions and millions of dollars on this campaign, and what about your workers?” she says, voting ‘no’ on it.

After some more research on a few of the more esoteric propositions, Marlene completes her ballot.

In February, when I first met her, Marlene told me she was determined to make sure her vote had an impact. She now feels like it does. She wants young people to change the direction of the country.

Over the next few days, she’ll be able to track her ballot online all the way to the county registrar’s office to make sure it gets counted.

She’s pretty exhausted by the time she completes her ballot, exclaiming, “Wow, this has been a ride!”