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First-Time Voters In Wisconsin Weigh In On Election Issues

NOEL KING, HOST:

Now we're going to hear some people from a very polarized state who will be voting for the first time this year. We asked young Wisconsinites with differing political views how they're thinking about 2020. We hear a lot about how hard it is to talk across political lines these days, but this conversation on Zoom started out cautious and diplomatic. They all agreed that the federal government has mishandled coronavirus. They'd all expected their lives would look very different than they do today. But then they started talking about race, and here the common ground began to erode.

MEMPHIS CLEVELAND: I think that this country definitely has had huge problems with race, not only in the past but in the present.

KING: That's Memphis Cleveland. She's Native American. She's a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Memphis is 19, and she's majoring in communications at Madison College.

CLEVELAND: Being Native American, you have to really look at the bigger picture. And I hope that, you know, this racism pandemic ends before, you know, the COVID one does.

CHARMEKA WELLS: If, like, America is the so-called great country and everything, why are people still fighting for their lives from police brutality ever since, like, the 1960s?

KING: That is Charmeka Wells. She's 18, she's Black, and she's studying atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

WELLS: Martin Luther King died for stuff like this, but we're still fighting for it today. And it seems like nobody is listening. Not to mention also that we have, like, this racist president, and it's making it, like, so much worse.

CARSON STENROOS: I'm definitely not the most educated person out there - there is politically, but I think the idea that President Trump is a racist has been kind of misconstrued since his campaign in 2016.

KING: Carson Stenroos is white. He's 20 years old and majoring in economics at Davidson College.

STENROOS: President Trump's build-the-wall anti-immigration thing, I think that's where people got the idea - oh, he hates Mexicans. You know, he hates people of color from other countries. To be anti-illegal immigration doesn't mean you are racist. I'm not going to say the others are wrong and say that he hasn't made a racist remark ever, but I'm not going to say that he is inherently racist at the same time.

CLEVELAND: OK, but also, you know, you have to kind of be living under a rock to say that, you know, oh, he might have only made a couple of racist statements. This is time and time and time again where he has shown, you know, truly racist actions. And if you are endorsing him, you are endorsing his actions. You're endorsing what he's saying. And coming as a person of color and coming as, like, the minority of the minorities, I just don't understand where the ignorance comes. I don't want to say you're ignorant, but I'm saying, like, where it comes - where people say that they can't see it at all. And I feel like we definitely have to have this conversation, and it is going to be uncomfortable. But it's there. The grounds are there.

STENROOS: So my political view is also misinterpreted by other people because when I speak in favor of President Trump, I definitely am not a lover of Donald Trump. I know he's definitely made a lot of questionable statements. But I do believe that he is probably the better of our two candidates, and I felt like that in the last election, too. And with my values, I believe that President Trump represents them more than Joe Biden will. And so people come at me - oh, you're supporting a racist. It's like, again, I don't love Donald Trump; I just feel like it's a two-party system, and I have to pick one.

CLEVELAND: I mean, I just want to know what grounds you're on about saying, like, you know, Donald Trump is more in favor of your views. Like, you know, if you don't mind me asking, like, I would just genuinely like to know.

STENROOS: So I come from a conservative family. So I would say my biggest reason why I am conservative is the Second Amendment. I grew up around guns. I don't view guns as a bad thing. Another thing that I really support is the Electoral College. I - coming from a small town in Wisconsin, I believe the Electoral College is very, very, very important, and it makes me feel like my vote really matters. And I know that a lot of Democrats have talked about getting rid of the Electoral College, and so that's something that really scares me because that makes me feel like my voice will no longer be heard.

WELLS: I can't deal with Trump anymore (laughter). Like, I can't believe he had the audacity to say the China virus. And I'm just like, why do you continue to say stuff like that? And then, like, his disrespect towards people of color and women and - I can't deal with that anymore. Like, if he wins again, our country is going to spiral so far down. It's going to be terrible.

KING: So, again, the premise of this is you are all first-time voters. Memphis, let's start with you. Who are you voting for in November and why?

CLEVELAND: So, originally, in the spring elections, I had voted for Bernie. But now that, obviously, we're coming up to this election, I'm definitely going Biden, mainly because his team had reached out to me, asking me how I felt as a young Indigenous youth. And that alone spoke volumes to me - volumes.

KING: Carson, who are you voting for in November and why?

STENROOS: I will most likely be voting for Donald Trump in November, partially because Donald Trump and the Republican Party better represents my values, personally.

KING: Charmeka, let's end with you. Who are you voting for in November and why?

WELLS: Oh, I'm voting for Joe Biden all the way because, one, he has Kamala Harris with him, and I think it's important that people of color have somebody to look up to that's just like them because not many of us do. And then, two, because he's been through some of the stuff that a lot of us have been through. He lost his daughter and his wife, and I lost my mom when I was a child. So I know what it feels like. No, he's not perfect, but I believe that with him in office, there will be so many changes. So yeah.

KING: That was Charmeka Wells, and we also heard from Memphis Cleveland and Carson Stenroos. They are all first-time voters from Wisconsin.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOCATIV'S "THE LOVERS, PT. 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.