These Are the Issues That Drive These First-Time Voters to the Polls

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By Nicole Acevedo

NEW YORK CITY — Young Latinos like Rosa Guevara can only recall living in the United States under the presidency of the first African American president, Barack Obama, who took over the Oval Office when she was only 10.

Guevera is now 18 and ready to vote for the first time in a historic election, with the first female presidential candidate Democrat Hillary Clinton, and celebrity businessman Republican Donald Trump.

Photo of Rosa GuevaraRosa Guevara

“I registered myself to vote but instead of feeling excited, I feel more nervous about it,” said Guevara, who lives in the east side of The Bronx.

Young New York residents like Ana Verde, 21, and Sergio Jiménez, 20, share Guevara’s urge to go out and vote, even though the three of them are part of the 52 percent of Latinos who are eligible to vote in non-swing states like Texas, California and New York, according to the Pew Research Center.

As the oldest of four siblings, Verde of East Harlem decided to go vote the moment she realized Trump’s rhetoric regarding Mexicans was negatively affecting her younger stepsister.

“One day we were all having dinner and she says to me, you know that Donald Trump says that Mexicans are bad people,” said Verde in an interview in Spanish.

Ana Verde, 21, lives in East Harlem and studies Drama and Theater management at New York University (NYU).Frances Sola-Santiago

Verde never forgets how uneasy she felt by her stepsister’s remarks.

"At only 12 years old my stepsister turns on the TV and sees this man, who’s allowed to speak on TV with a suit, with money, and tells her you are a bad person, you don’t deserve to be here,” said Verde who is of a Puerto Rican mother, and Venezuelan father. “All of the sudden I felt this sentiment inside of me and I said to myself, I need to do something. I have to go vote.”

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The voter turnout among young people has been historically low and not just among Latinos.

“Without looking at race, the overall voter turnout among young people has been low since 1972. In fact, we saw the lowest turnout so far during the last midterm election,” said Janet Hernández, senior civic engagement project manager of the National Council of La Raza.

Despite this, organizations like Dominicanos USA have played an active role in registering and motivating millennials to go vote.

“Most of the people we have registered are millennials who were born after 1980,” said Omar Suárez, a 26-year-old millennial and the director of Dominacnos USA in New York.

Just two weeks before voting registrations closed, Dominicanos USA managed to register 3,000 new voters. Overall, they have registered over 140,000 voters in the Northeast area.

Omar Suarez, 26, lives in The Bronx and is the Director of Dominicanos USA in New York.Nicole Acevedo

Approximately five of every 10 people registered by Dominicanos are younger than 30, and more than 80 percent are Latinos.

RELATED: Meet the Young Latino Voters Who Could Sway the Election

“These are not people that logged into the website, these are people that we touched,” said Suárez about his in-person tactic for engaging millennial Latinos in the electoral process.

Dominicanos USA visited schools in order to educate youth about voter turnout and the importance of voting.

“We realized that young people are aware of housing issues in New York, the cost of living and a good education. I’m talking about young people that want to study. We asked them if their parents talk about price hikes on rent, on the Metrocard. Then why is it important to got vote? So your voice is heard when it comes to these issues,” Suárez said.

The organization has registered voters in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Cities in New Jersey with a high Latino population such as Paterson and Passaic have been targets of the group, along with counties such as Bergen and Hudson.

The group has capitalized on the candidacy, and likely election, of New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat as the first Dominican-American in Congress to help turn out more voters.

The non-profit organization also has worked with the New York Council as a partner in "Student Voter Registration Day", a biannual city-wide event where they visit high schools and speak to high school seniors about the importance of voting and register them to vote.

Sergio Jimenez, 20, studies creative writing at Brooklyn College and lives in The Bronx. Jimenez and his family are all voting for the first time in the 2016 general election.Nicole Acevedo

This type of voter outreach speaks to millennials like Sergio Jiménez from The Bronx who goes to Brooklyn College. As a first time voter, he’s more interested in the congressional races.

“I’m more interested in voting for senators and district officials,” said Jiménez.

According to Jiménez, his experience working at polling sites helped him realize the reason why he cares more about local and congressional races than the presidential race.

RELATED: For 2016, Almost Half the Latino Electorate Will Be Millennials

“Every conversation [about politics] starts with a big sigh. People are generally overwhelmed by this. It’s almost like a sense of losing hope. There’s a lot more than the president, you know,” said Jiménez.

The political leaders that inspire Jiménez and motivate him to actually go vote are those who genuinely seem interested in the community. “If I don’t feel like you care enough to want my vote, I’m not gonna vote for you,” said Jiménez.

Jiménez, his older brother and his Puerto Rican mother, are all voting for the first time in this election.

“Your voice is your power. If you let others vote for you, you are letting others take that voice away from you," Suárez said. "No matter party, all the candidates are equally elected. It’s all about exercising your right to vote."

Additional reporting was done by Maritza Villela from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and NBC News intern Ericka Hernandez, \

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