Why I'm voting for the first time

This is why this young voter believes in Hillary
This is why this young voter believes in Hillary

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Story highlights

  • Angela Pupino: As a millennial who sat out two elections, I understand how easy it is to stay on the sidelines
  • But feeling "helpless" is exactly what makes voting so important, she writes

Angela Pupino is a junior at American University and the fall writing fellow for the Center for Community Change Action. The views expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)I'm currently at college in Washington, D.C., so I voted with an absentee ballot in my home county in Ohio.

Angela Pupino
I'm 20 years old, so this isn't the first election I could have voted in. But my excuses for not voting since I became eligible at 18 were numerous. Going to the DMV to register was too much of a hassle. I decided that I didn't care about local elections and down-ballot races. It was too difficult to register while I was away at school. Neither of my parents had voted since before I was born, so it couldn't be that important.
    I've also heard countless excuses from those not voting in this year's elections. There's the familiar reasoning about not having time to register, or the registration process being too difficult (there is some truth to this, especially in marginalized communities).
    But there are also a new set of excuses from non-voters, especially those around my age. They don't like the major candidates. Their candidate is not on the ballot. Their vote won't matter because of where they live. No candidates prioritize the issues they care about.
    This first-time voter has a secret
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    As a millennial who sat out two elections, I understand just how easy it is to stay on the sidelines. I understand doubting the ability of any politician to effect meaningful change, or make any change at all, in one term. I understand nationwide disillusionment with major party nominees.
    But what I can no longer understand is skipping out on the process entirely, especially with down-ballot races in play.
    What changed my mind about voting? It's more than just electing a president. I also need members of Congress who won't cut the Pell Grant funding that helps me pay for college. I need state representatives who will decide everything from whether police must wear body cameras to abortion access to funding for public health services.
    I need state school board members who will make decisions that have very real consequences for my little sister and brother, who are still students in Ohio's public schools. I need state and local judges and county sheriffs who will determine if justice is dispensed, or not dispensed, in my community.
    When I turned in my absentee ballot a few weeks ago, I voted on candidates for all of these positions.
    I've talked to many of my peers who say that they feel powerless this election season. At times, I've felt that way too. After video emerged of Donald Trump describing sexually assaulting women, and other women came forward to recount their personal experiences with the Republican presidential nominee, I watched helplessly as conversations all around me turned to the topic of sexual assault.
    Every news broadcast I saw, every minute spent browsing Facebook risked turning traumatic, with pundits and my relatives alike arguing about whether or not grabbing someone by the genitals was assault. As an assault survivor myself, I watched in horror during a debate as Trump himself urged questioners to get to "much more important" issues than sexual assault and the safety of victims.
    I felt helpless. But this feeling of helplessness is exactly what makes voting so important.
    When I vote, I am looking at my values and deciding which candidates and issues best uphold those values. Voting gives me the chance to have my own personal referendum on the politicians and policies already in place.
    In an election cycle where coverage of sexual violence has enraged and saddened me, voting gives me the opportunity to select leaders who will work towards a world that is safer for people like me. In an election cycle where the needs of those living in poverty have not been a topic of much discussion, I can vote for leaders whose decisions will affect Medicaid, SNAP and other welfare programs in my state and across the nation.
    In an election cycle where so much of the rhetoric has been about people that I care deeply about -- including my friends and colleagues who are people of color, Muslims and immigrants -- voting allows me to select leaders who will work to right past and present wrongs, ensure that their safety and rights are upheld, and create a more equitable America.
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    All across the nation this fall, millions of my fellow Americans are also putting their values into action. That's not helplessness. That's power.