“I registered to vote on my 18th birthday, and the first presidential election I voted in was Bush versus Kerry,” said Patrick Forbes of Discovery Bay. “I wasn’t impressed with either of them, so I voted for someone else, but I can’t remember who.”
Antioch resident Mark Machado, on the other hand, does remember the names he voted for. And sometimes, it’s just plain Bob.
“Bob, Joe, Ken, whatever pops in my head,” said Machado, who utilizes his write-in strategy when no candidate on the ballot has earned his vote. “I live with my two roommates, so we all do the same thing.”
Machado also participates in the not-uncommon practice of voter rebellion, filling out his ballot with opinions that fly in the face of his parents’ beliefs.
For others, there was less impetus to vote passed down by their elders.
“I grew up in a cynical family that didn’t see the value of voting,” said Megan McGee of Brentwood. “My parents figured: what are two votes out of millions going to do? But in high school, when I studied the suffragist movement, and I learned that women risked life and limb for the opportunity to have their say, and it completely changed my perspective. Voting is a privilege that I take seriously. It’s my duty to honor those who came before me by casting my vote. It’s only one voice, but it’s my voice.”
Like many, Antioch resident Johnny Unpingco, 23, has used his parent’s beliefs and values to shape his life, but when it comes to voting, he has his own criteria for selecting candidates. He uses his strong desire to better the world for the nation’s youth to guide the way he votes.
“The future of America is what inspires me to vote,” Unpingco said. “Whatever I feel is right for the youth.”
Carrie Williams of Oakley hopes her dedication to marking a ballot carries over to the next generation.
“My daughter is voting for the first time this year. Her father and I used to take her and her younger brother to the polls with us so they could see the process in action. Sure, it was a little boring for them, but I think it planted the seed.”
On the other hand, some strong opinions don’t result in a trip to the polls. Personal beliefs prevent Kimmi Silverthorn, 24, of Antioch from voting at all: “I believe politics and religion is taboo, so I don’t vote,” she said.
Jennifer Hicks of Oakley said she can’t remember exactly which election she first voted in, but as a young voter in her 20s, it can’t have been too long ago.
“To be honest, I can’t remember when I first voted,” said Hicks. “But I like the debates best because you are actually able to see the candidates, their reactions and their facial expressions that aren’t seen in the newspaper, or on any other paper.”
Pati Gonsalves recalls her first voting experience and said she does extensive homework before she votes, sometimes with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek.
“I remember it was the 1980 election, between Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter and Republican opponent former California Governor Ronald Reagan,” said the Discovery Bay resident. “I am very diligent in my research prior to any election. I just rely on all those factual, non-biased Facebook posts. They are sooo persuasive. Actually, I read as much as I can stomach, watch the debates when there are no playoff games, read my riveting voter pamphlet and then vote by mail.”
For Brentwood’s Cindy Lukens, it wasn’t so much her first trip to the polls that comes to mind, but one that came later.
“The first time I voted was in Connecticut, and they used electronic voting machines,” said Lukens, 54. “It always blew me away that when we got to California and they used pencils. Really? Pencils?!”
Some people remember exactly whom they voted for … and are somewhat less than happy about it. Jimmy Doheny of Oakley said he first voted in the 1972 election – Nixon versus McGovern – and is chagrined to admit he voted for Nixon.
“I pretty much just voted the way my family did, which was Republican,” said Dohen, who is now a registered Independent. “Wish I hadn’t, though. Didn’t turn out very good.”
Heather Knight of Brentwood said deciding how to cast your ballot has never been easier, even if mom and dad’s advice won’t work for you.
“With all the access to information about candidates and propositions, I don’t think you have an excuse for not voting,” she said. “There is so much information online. I sat down this weekend at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, my sample ballot, my voter’s guide and my laptop.”
College student and Brentwood resident Steve Donnelly, 23, wasted no time waiting for his opinion to be felt at the polls when he turned 18. He remembers voting for Mitt Romney in the primaries in 2008, and John McCain five months later. Voting for the first time was memorable for him, but only for the fact it was the first time his voice was heard in an election. He leaves nothing blank when he votes, and uses websites, mailers and anything else he can get his hands on to decide his positions on the issues.
“I read everything,” Donnelly said.
The upcoming election will be the first for many, including Brentwood’s Greg Dodson. “This will actually be my first time voting,” he said, adding that he doesn’t care how others will vote. “I don’t think I know anyone who is going to go against whom I’m voting for just to cancel my vote. I think voting is a private decision and you don’t have to pin yourself with buttons or put a sign in your yard to make a point.”
And for some of us, just casting a ballot is enough to make us feel good, especially if we do it the old-fashioned way.
“I’ve voted at the polls and I’ve voted by mail,” said Discovery Bay’s Forbes. “I prefer to vote by mail because of the convenience, but there is something about getting that little ‘I voted’ sticker when you go to the polls. It’s like a badge of honor. And I like to think that it serves as a reminder to others to go vote.”