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A First Time Voter’s Guide to Navigating the Ballot

Eighteen is a loaded number: These two digits call to mind a series of important life milestones, including the scariest of them all, adulthood. That’s right, once your 18th birthday rolls around you are handed a great big pile of privileges and responsibilities. After patiently waiting for my summer birthday, I FINALLY turned 18. I now wielded the power to buy lottery tickets, go skydiving, get piercings, and sign documents without parental consent. It was exhilarating … for about a day, and then I was back to feeling like regular old me.

Credit: Emma Kopelowicz

But, then I realized that there is so much more weight to that fateful number. As an 18-year-old, I am now an eligible voter. What a baffling concept! I can barely choose what shoes I want to wear in the morning, so how am I supposed to help decide who should be making the decisions for our country? Being 18 seems a lot scarier the more you think about it, but I’m not going to let the pressure of the important civic duties intimidate me from facing the adult world.

Credit: @_ellamasters_

Voting always felt so far away since I pre-registered two years ago, but once the ballot was actually in my hands it felt like everything was happening so fast. This moment marked one of my first instances of adulting! I was definitely scared but mostly exhilarated.

My mom brought me my ballot during Parent’s Weekend since I totally forgot about the whole “absentee ballot” concept. Honestly, I’m glad I did because it was nice to have someone there to guide me through the process. I tore into the envelope only to be met with a pile of papers. I mean what did I expect? Fireworks? Confetti? In all seriousness, I was ready to get down to business and exercise my newly acquired right to vote.

Credit: Teaching Tolerance

But, to understand the process, I am going to rewind a bit. Before I filled in the bubbles, mailed in my ballot, and slapped on my “I Voted” sticker, I did what every voter needs to do before hitting the polls or dropping off their ballot at the post office: I did research. There is no point in voting if you aren’t informed about the candidates’ positions and the propositions for your state.

It is easy to align yourself with your parents’ political views and just mark down what they put, but that’s not what democracy is about now, is it? You are an adult now! That means you are allowed to think independently and form your own political stances. If you agree with them 100% that’s cool, but if not everything they believe in aligns with what you think then don’t be afraid to go your own way.

Credit: Brit + Co. 

All of the information packets included in the ballot can be extremely overwhelming to a new voter. Some of the proposition descriptions are pretty easy to understand, while others are full of jargon meant to confuse and manipulate voters into believing they are voting for something they may not actually support. It can get really tricky, but fortunately, there are resources out there that can help you make more informed decisions about which propositions you want to vote “yes” on. 

Here are some nonpartisan sites that will guide you through what a “yes” or “no” means for ballot measures and each of the candidates’ positions:




State/Local/Judicial Candidates:


These sites should help you decide which policies and candidates you agree with, but if you’re still feeling a bit lost or conflicted about certain measures/politicians then I would recommend talking to your parents or friends about why they are choosing to vote for X person or proposition Y. What they say could potentially influence your decision or not, so just be mindful about staying true to what you believe.

As first-time voters, our choices weigh heavily on the political pendulum. We represent the next generation of people with the power to enact real change at the polls. To quote Uncle Ben’s most famous line from the (better) Spiderman movie franchise, “with great power comes great responsibility.” That means it is incredibly important for us young voters to educate ourselves about what our votes mean to our specific states and to this country as a whole.

You don’t have to be passionate about politics to want to learn more about the voting process and what’s on the ballot. Everyone’s a little political whether they want to admit it or not, so I will never believe you if you use the “I don’t care about politics” or “one vote won’t make a difference” excuses. Based on the recent political news, we all know that those statements are simply irrelevant and untruthful. 

Credit: Allison Romero

People see voting as a chore, but it’s actually one of the greatest privileges you have as a citizen of this country. Don’t let your vote go to waste on hasty research! That leads to blind bubbling in of people and policies that you know nothing about and, to put it frankly, a misuse of your rights.

Credit:  chelebelleslair

Voting is so much more gratifying when you actually know how your choices can impact the government and life in this country. You wield much power as a young adult voter, so be sure to use it wisely! Plus, we all know that you want that cool “I Voted” sticker, so once you do your research, form your own informed opinions, and fill out the ballot be sure to wear that cool token of your efforts proudly!


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Emma is a senior at BU studying Journalism and Gender and Women's Studies in the College of Communications. She's originally from sunny Los Angeles, California. She is an avid fan of local bakeries and making oddly specific Spotify playlists.
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