Timer Colen has been on a political journey of sorts this year, starting out as an Andrew Yang supporter, then switching to Bernie Sanders after Yang dropped out and finally landing on plans to vote for Joe Biden.
“He’s not as progressive as I would like,” said the 22-year-old registered independent voter. Colen is an engineering student at Davidson College outside of Charlotte, N.C.
Sitting outside the public library in Davidson, N.C., on an open lawn known locally in this town of more than 10,000 as “the Green,” Colen indicated why he would vote for the Democratic nominee. “Realizing that a lot of voters really just want to bring things back to normal, I agree with them and empathize with them. And I will vote because I know that there’s a bigger threat out there,” he said.
That threat Colen referred to is President Trump. Colen says he feels Trump is too aligned with foreign, hostile countries such as Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. He’s also worried about misinformation from Trump and bad actors influencing his campaign efforts.
He’s also worried about Trump’s comments related to hate and worries it could take years to undo the president’s policies.
“I believe that he’s our biggest threat to America as a whole for even the future,” Colen said.
Colen is African American and has lived most of his life in the northern part of Mecklenberg County. Young voters like Colen could play a decisive role if this battleground state tips to the Democratic column come November. One key swing area includes suburbs around Charlotte, where Millennial and Gen Z voters of color could play a prominent role.
North Carolina is key to Trump’s aspirations to winning another term: A Republican hasn’t reached the Oval Office without the Old North State in more than 70 years.
Nearly 40% of the state’s 7 million registered voters are under the age of 40, says J. Michael Bizter, a politics and history professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.
“If they show up at their respective political weight in this state, it makes it that much more difficult for Republicans to win statewide because they have lost so much ground among younger voters,” Bitzer said.
Bitzer says while the majority of young voters are unaffiliated in North Carolina, they’ll likely vote with Democrats. They also mark the most racially diverse bloc of voters that the state has seen.
“Younger Black voters are starting to register unaffiliated, unlike their parents and grandparents who were registered Democrats,” Bitzer said. “So that’s not to say that they won’t vote Democratic, but they fit the model of younger voters not wanting labels to be associated with them. They want the freedom. They want the independence, but they are as partisan as any other generational cohort.”
Lisa Griffin is a 28-year-old financial accountant who is alarmed over the recent drama involving the U.S. Postal Service and how she’ll get in her vote for November. She’s not a huge fan of Biden, but she can’t take another four years of Trump.
“Trump is trying to not let people vote by mail,” said Griffin, who joined friends for a picnic and painting at a park in Pinesville, a far south pocket in Mecklenberg County that will be a key competitive region this fall.
“Trump got to go, that’s all I know,” her friend Aijha Crockett added.
Crockett says she’s not thrilled to vote for Biden either. She likes that Biden chose California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, the first Black woman and Asian American on a major party presidential ticket, but she also has urgent personal issues at stake.
“My biggest concern when it comes to the presidency is my student loans,” said Crockett.
Roommates Alan Oliva and Jorge Diaz, who live on the north side of Charlotte, are also focused on getting Trump out of office.
“We can’t let him have another four years, or he’ll continue to dismantle the way how our democracy works as a whole,” Diaz, 28, said.
He wasn’t originally a Biden supporter, sharing the sentiment that he’d like to see a more progressive candidate as president, but Diaz says there’s too much at stake to not vote against Trump.
Oliva, 31, does outreach as vice chair of the Hispanic Democrats in Mecklenberg County, another growing demographic as construction and other opportunities have drawn more Latinos to the region.
This Saturday, he’s helping Democrats host a pandemic-styled voter drive at the Little Rock African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Charlotte, with a giveaway of 1,000 masks, free COVID-19 testing and voter registration.
“We need to come together because it has hurt us the most, pretty much more than other groups because we are essential workers, because we’ve been getting sick a lot with COVID-19. So it is affecting us directly,” Oliva said. “So that’s exactly why we need to vote.”
Given that young voters are a large and growing piece of the electorate in North Carolina, Oliva says if all the energy he sees right now translates at the ballot box, it could have a big impact.
“If we vote together,” Oliva said. “We can definitely elect anybody we want.”