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First-Time Voters Reflect On Their First Presidential Election

Hialeah voting election November 2020
Matias J. Ocner
Miami Herald
People wait in line to vote at the John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah, Florida during the November 2020 election.

During the November general election, more than 77 percent of registered voters in Florida turned out to cast a ballot.That’s the highest voter turnout since 1992.

It was an election cycle unlike any other for both presidential candidates and voters who had to navigate obstacles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Election Day, WLRN heard from some first-time voters about their experience participating in their first presidential election.

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Three weeks later, President Trump still hasn’t conceded, despite several states ending their vote-counting process and President-elect Biden appointing new members to his incoming cabinet.

WLRN caught up with those first-time voters after the election to reflect on casting their votes in a historic election.

Miles Mariano-Ortilla, 19, Libertarian

When Miles Mariano-Ortilla, of North Miami, turned 18 last year, he registered to vote outside of an Office Max after a voter registration volunteer approached him. Like many of his peers, Mariano-Ortilla has been taking his courses virtually due to the pandemic. Out of an abundance of caution, he and his family members cast their mail ballots together.

That was his first time voting in a presidential election.

Miles Mariano-Ortilla first time voter in 2020
Courtesy Miles Mariano-Ortilla

WLRN talked to him again a few days after the race was called for President-elect Biden.

"Last week was like the longest week ever. It's kind of like watching the finals, the NBA finals, or something," Mariano-Ortilla said.

When Mariano-Ortilla heard about the results, his parents were sitting in their living room and watching Biden deliver a speech on TV. That's when he knew Biden had won.

"My parents were celebrating and like, drinking champagne on that day," he said.

But he could not share in their excitement.

"For a while now, I've been a really big advocate for third party voters, so whoever it was who won — Biden or Trump — I pretty much made it clear to myself and those around me that I can't really celebrate it,” he said. “I wasn't really disappointed, but just seeing it happen, I was like, 'Oh, man.' It's going to take a while for the two party system to end, and now, it might be even tougher. But, I mean, I have faith."

Cassidy Cosgrove, 21, Republican

Cassidy Cosgrove is the president of the College Republicans Club at Florida Atlantic University.

Cassidy Cosgrove, first time voter in 2020
Courtesy Cassidy Cosgrove

Before the presidential election, he had only voted in the 2018 midterms, but he was excited to participate in the "highest election of them all."

"I just felt I was actually participating in something, you know, having my voice heard," Cosgrove said.

When poll workers were still tallying up the nation's votes, Cosgrove knew the election was over once he saw states like Arizona and Georgia start to flip.

"They were like both so close," he said. "You couldn't predict who was going to win. Did Trump have a chance to, like, flip Arizona if the votes came in and they were in his favor? Yes, but like, Trump had a very slim chance of winning, you know, three days after Election Day. And so, it was like, OK., it's kind of over."

He didn't bother to keep up with the election results that gradually trickled in.

"I feel like it's kind of pointless to stay glued to the TV to learn about the election results, or you could read about trials and lawsuits for the next two months and, you know, a bunch of litigation for no reason."

Lariza Dominguez, 53, Democrat

Lariza Dominguez first time voter in 2020, posing next to her son Javier Dominguez
Courtesy Lariza Dominguez

Lariza Dominguez came to Florida from Cuba as an adult in 1996. She lives in Kendall now. She has been a U.S. citizen for 22 years, but she had never voted before this election.

"But I was talking to my daughter and she explained to me the importance of voting this year because our vote could make a difference," Dominguez said.

When she found out the news that Biden won the presidency, she was happy with the results of her first U.S. election.

"I think the correct person won. That he’s going to change the course of the country and that he’s going to help the most in need,” she said. I also think he’s going to implement policies that will help immigrants. Most of all, I think he’s a very different person to what we currently have in the White House."

Stephanie Sepulveda, 27, Democrat

Stephanie Sepulveda grew up between Venezuela and Miami. She moved here permanently when she was 16. Before the election, she had seen extremism up close and didn't want to see it happen here.

Portrait of Stephanie Sepulveda, a first-time voter in 2020
Courtesy Stephanie Sepulveda

"I come from a country where extremism ruined our democracy, our democratic institutions. I am voting to preserve that right to vote and to hopefully ensure that we don’t go down this authoritarian or populist or corrupt path that my country of origin went down."

In the days after Sepulveda voted for the first time, she was glued to her phone.

"[I was] switching between the electoral maps of different news outlets, trying to see the outcome, comparing results. I got a text message from a friend telling me [the election] had been called and I switched over, confirmed and just was over the moon, excited."

President-elect Biden was her preferred candidate in the presidential race.

"I'm extremely happy. I'm still kind of riding that high. I think this administration under Biden will be a more inclusive, a more science-based one and want a more respectful one," she said.

Sepulveda thought the election resulted in major milestones for South Florida.

"Daniella Levine Cava as [Miami-Dade County] mayor is monumental. I think her platform, which is very focused on the environment and on climate. We really need someone that makes it a priority," Sepulveda said.

Rosa-Maria Britt, 74, independent

Rosa-Maria Britt grew up in Italy just north of Venice. She followed her husband in the army back home to Miami after he finished his tour there in the 1970s. And she became a U.S. citizen three years ago.

Rosa-Maria Britt first time voter 2020
Courtesy Rosa-Maria Britt

"I decided I needed to vote. I decided I needed to give my input. Also, my son told me, it's time for you to become a citizen," Britt said.

She stayed up for a while after the polls closed on election night. When it got late, and the numbers were still so uncertain, she went to bed. The next day she caught up with friends to make sense of the election.

"'Did you hear this? Did you hear that? Is it true? Is it not?' I mean, this uncertainty — it took so long to get the results. I'm happy about the results, that's what I wanted. But I'm amazed that’s what's going on in the sense that the president has not conceded. So, I mean, the whole thing is amazing. It's a disappointment, also. To think this would happen here," Britt said.

WLRN’s Katie Lepri contributed to this report.