Seventeen-year-old Daniel Ohiri has registered as a Democrat and is excited to vote for Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential primary. Dakota Palomino, also 17, registered as a Republican and plans to vote for Donald Trump.
Ohiri can vote in the Democratic primary on June 7 because of a new law that lets 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election vote in party primaries. This year the general election is Nov. 8.
Palomino will turn 18 in May and would have been eligible to vote in the primaries regardless of the new law.
By Thursday, 683 17-year-olds who benefit from the new law had registered to vote, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That includes 344 Democrats and 174 Republicans who can vote in those parties’ June primaries. That number should continue to rise before the May 10 deadline to register to vote in the primaries.
The new law has helped draw attention to the voice young people can have in this year’s elections. In Doña Ana County, for example, staffers from the clerk’s office have visited area high schools in Las Cruces, Chaparral, and elsewhere and registered dozens of students to vote — many of them eligible because of the new law.
Ohiri, a student at the Bosque School in Albuquerque, turns 18 on Sept. 20. He said he’s excited to vote in this year’s Democratic primary.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have my opinion heard by the ballot box and change the course of the nation and my party in the direction that I see fit,” Ohiri said.
Palomino, a student at Academy Del Sol Alternative High School in Alamogordo, who turns 18 on May 18, said he’s “exhilarated to be able to vote.”
“However, I’m very disappointed in my options for the presidency,” Palomino said.
Palomino didn’t really want to register as a Republican — but he wanted to vote in the primary. Some states open primary elections to all voters, but in New Mexico only Democrats can vote in Democratic primaries and only Republicans can vote in GOP primaries.
“I don’t like to identify as Republican or Democrat because I partially agree and disagree with both — and for some reason it seems to be socially unacceptable to agree with the opposing party on any matter,” Palomino said.
He prefers identifying as a “constitutionalist,” saying both parties have “forgotten that the Constitution is what they are supposed to be following.”
Palomino said he has been “very conflicted” about how to cast his vote in the presidential primary. He preferred Republican Ben Carson, who will appear on the ballot in New Mexico because of filing deadlines but has dropped out of the race.
Palomino considered Bernie Sanders but decided he disagrees with the Democrat’s plans and is “honestly afraid” of a Sanders presidency. He doesn’t like Republican Ted Cruz because, as an atheist, he views Cruz’s “religious zeal” and use of the Bible to campaign as a “red flag.”
So he settled on Trump.
“Donald Trump, although under very heavy scrutiny, seems to be the most legitimate candidate in my eyes because, after doing research on all candidates, watching hours and hours of speeches, reading verified quotes, listening to their campaigns, I feel that a vast majority of accusations against him are completely made up,” Palomino said.
Ohiri, meanwhile, is zealous in his support for Clinton. That puts him at odds with many young people — including some of his friends — who are energized by Sanders’ campaign.
But Ohiri believes Clinton is “the most qualified person to run for the presidency in modern history.” He likes her support for raising the minimum wage, her plans to remove barriers to attending college, and her proposals to reform the nation’s banking and tax systems.
“The biggest issues for me this election are the economy, international affairs, and race relations,” Ohiri said. “I believe that Hillary is this nation’s best chance to affect positive change for all Americans on all those issues.”
Viki Harrison, executive director of the nonprofit Common Cause New Mexico, said it’s inspiring to hear about young people who are planning to vote in this year’s primaries.
“This promotes democracy for our future by encouraging people of all ages to register to vote and participate in their government,” Harrison said. “This is crucial to the continued viability of our democracy and to ensuring a robust political debate.”
Though some might question a 17-year-old’s ability to make a good decision on Election Day, Harrison pointed out that “we already trust young people to protect our democracy through military service.”
“Teaching them early about the pride and importance of civic participation is equally important,” Harrison said. “Studies show that voting is a behavior which, when encouraged, becomes a habit.”
Daniel Ohiri’s mother, Uchi Ohiri, described her son as a logical and strong critical thinker who understands issues and knows the candidates’ stances. She recalls Daniel and his brother, when they were younger, campaigning for “president” of the house and giving speeches. Daniel has gone with his mother to vote every time she’s cast a ballot since he was born.
Daniel Ohiri is a member of Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s youth advisory council and has spoken to the Albuquerque City Council on youth-related issues. He’s volunteered with the state Democratic Party and for several local, state and national Democrats’ campaigns for office. He has also interned with his state representative, Democrat Georgene Louis of Albuquerque.
“Daniel likes to serve, to make the life of others better,” Uchi Orihi said. “He strongly dislikes political apathy, because he believes that the status quo can be changed by being actively engaged in the political process.”
Daniel Ohiri said he’s interested in running for office someday and believes politics is “the mechanism to help make peoples’ lives better.”
Palomino has three part-time jobs — at Walmart, a broadcasting company, and a pet shop in Alamogordo — and does volunteer work. He’s saving money to live on his own when he turns 18.
Is a possible run for office in his future? Maybe.
“I feel like I have reasoning skills that are much stronger than most people my age,” Palomino said. “I feel like I would make decisions based on what’s best for this nation in accordance with the Constitution.”
Anyone who wants to vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries on June 7 must register to vote by the May 10 deadline. While everyone else can vote early beginning May 10, 17-year-olds who benefit from the new law, like Ohiri, can’t start voting until May 18, the date that law takes effect.