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While some first-time Iowa voters say they are well informed about the 2018 gubernatorial race of Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds, Democrat Fred Hubbell and Libertarian Jake Porter, others getting ready to vote for the first time said they still were doing research.
Some 18- and 19-year-old Iowans said in IowaWatch interviews they still were not sure whether they will vote at all.
Lauren Ries, for example, said she did not yet know when IowaWatch spoke to her in mid-October at the University of Iowa, where she attends, who she would vote for if she chooses to cast a ballot. She’s 18, and from Monticello.
“I don’t follow it a whole lot but from what I’ve seen on TV it seems like a lot of it is about mental health and stuff like that, which is critical. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot yet,” Ries said.
In 2016, 48 percent of 18 to 24-year-old Iowans said they registered to vote in the general election, according to the State Data Center. But Iowa Secretary of State records for that election show only 55 percent of those registered actually voted. Sixty-nine percent of all eligible Iowan voters said they registered in that presidential election year, and 11 percent voted, Secretary of State records show.
The numbers were down dramatically in 2014, the last time Iowa elected a governor in an off-presidential election year: 24 percent of eligible voters for ages 18 to 24 and 54 percent, overall, for eligible voters going to the polls that year.
IowaWatch spoke with several first-time voters in the past few weeks. Ryan Hurley, 18, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but living in Ames while he studies at Iowa State University, brought up education and health care policy as factors in his decision to vote early for Reynolds. College students living in Iowa may chose whether to vote here while living in the state or by absentee ballot back home.
Hurley said he disagrees with Hubbell’s health care stances, which include reversing Medicaid privatization, providing additional funding to mental health care and restore funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, according to Hubbell’s website. Reynolds is a proponent of reversing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in lieu of that federal decision, keeping Medicaid privatization. She said that before the ACA, Iowa’s health care had low cost and high participation.
“A lot of the problems that they’ve been bringing up, with health care and education that she was talking about, I feel that she’s trying to work to fix them,” Hurley said. “Plus, I’ve met with her, she’s a fantastic woman, just overall very pleasant.”
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Rachel Hinkley, 18, said she will vote for Hubbell on election day because some of his core beliefs align more with hers. She said that while she is a registered Democrat, she prefers to go through individual policies on a candidate’s platform to make a decision, and would be willing to vote for a Republican.
“I would say that I find Kim better spoken in terms of her policy, it’s easier to quickly gain a grasp on what she cares about and what she has decided is going to be her campaign,” Hinkley, from upstate New York but attending Grinnell College, said. “I think that’s surprising to me because Fred has had a lot of different experiences that would really play well into this race, and he does bring them up kind of frequently but I don’t think he’s quite as good at translating those experiences into what that means for his candidacy and what that means for his ability to address policy issues.”
However, she said Reynolds is more open and better at appealing to Iowa voters than Hubbell. She said she worries that Hubbell might not be able to represent the Iowans who didn’t vote for him, and that she wants to see more openness to bipartisanship.
“She’s very open about what pieces of the Iowa demographic she’s supporting, and she’s gotten a lot of testimonies. And as someone from a rural area I can appreciate a rural candidate coming forward and speaking to issues I definitely feel, but like I said her core beliefs are not similar enough to mine for me to vote for her,” Hinkley said.
Other first-time voters said they care about candidates’ stances on social matters in the state, such as abortion and immigration, as well as issues of inequality.
Maguire Scholtz, 19, of Des Moines, said he’s been learning about issues he previously had little awareness of as a white male in preparation to vote in his first election.
He talked more about political topics that go beyond Iowa, such as transgender rights, systematic racism and black people who’ve been shot by police. “I hadn’t been exposed to any of the important issues that are affecting a lot of people but not necessarily me,” he said.
Amber Jerson said immigration is important to her, including how it related to the immigration status of the man accused of murdering Mollie Tibbetts. Jerson, 20 and from Davenport, is a Spanish major at Cornell College who said she hopes to work with the Latino community in Iowa as a career. She said Reynolds made Tibbetts’ death political despite the family’s request not to, but Hubbell did not mention anything about politics related to Tibbetts.
Melanie Arteaga said Reynolds’ support of removing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, alarms her. “And I was like that’s not what I’m okay with, as a minority, that’s a bad idea, I don’t agree,” Arteaga, 20 and living in Mount Vernon while she studies at Cornell College, said. She originally is from Chicago.
Hubbell’s support of Planned Parenthood led her to cast her vote for him, Arteaga said.
Iowa’s abortion laws are important to Emily Buttolph, who said she is pro-life but that the candidates for governor have taken what she called too extreme of a stance when talking about abortion.
“It’s a little conflicting because it becomes so extreme on some of the issues that I agree with what they’re saying but not with what they support, if that makes sense,” Buttolph, 19, and studying at the U of I, said. “My faith doesn’t believe in abortion, so Planned Parenthood has been poisoned against me from the start. But I do want women to have access to health care.”
Buttolph is from South Dakota but said she planned to vote in the Iowa gubernatorial race. She did not know whom she would vote for when IowaWatch talked with her a little less than two weeks before the election.
Buttolph was critical of how political campaigns are run, saying individual candidates’ stances are more important than partisan activity. “I think we’ve gotten too much into the party line, in the country in general, that it has affected and become much more of a commercialization than a political statement.”
Chris Vasquez, a University of Iowa student, said partisanship limits political action, even though he aligns with the left side of the political spectrum. “I think that Democratic candidates can really push for a lot of the things that I align with, but I also think they can also be problematic in the same case,” Vasquez, 18, and originally from Minneapolis, said.
He and Hurley, the Republican voter, agree on their stated distaste for partisanship.
“I’ve always been more right-wing leaning, not Republican, but right-wing. I don’t like to put myself in with any party,” Hurley said. “I do tend to vote with the Republicans but there’s some that I personally don’t agree with, because I think it’s such a big party that there’s going to be tons of different ideologies in that party.”
Partisanship is not the only frustration some first-time voters IowaWatch spoke with have with the gubernatorial election and the political process in general. Tyler Dennis, 19, said he finds that different media biases impact the political process and determine whom people vote for.
“I think the media is very swayed and you can see that by comparing different media outlets. Some media sources are more liberal and some are more conservative and you can see that difference on their bias and how they portray the different candidates and how often they do, and in what light,” Dennis, from Cedar Rapids and studying at the U of I, said.
“It has a giant impact on who people vote for … people who look at media sources that are mainly conservative might be more likely to vote conservative than people who would look at liberal media sources.”
Sitting at a table at the U of I’s Iowa Memorial Union on Oct. 24, Maguire Scholtz was poring through the internet, preparing for his first vote. While excited to vote for the first time, he said he also was nervous.
“I actually just registered like 30 minutes ago, and I’ve been sitting on my computer doing a little bit of research and talking to my dad about it,” Scholtz said.
“The hard part is informing yourself, I think, knowing what’s going on,” he said. “That’s what’s been holding me back. I don’t want to go up there and vote and then not really know what I’m voting on.”
IowaWatch’s Matthew McDermott and Christian McCormick contributed reporting for this story.
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The Marshalltown Times-Republican republished this IowaWatch story under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.