“First-time voter,” someone yelled.
On a sidewalk outside an early voting site in Prince George’s County, a woman in her late teens entered a gantlet of campaign volunteers. And as she made her maiden voyage to the polls, that sidewalk turned into a virtual red carpet.
“First-time voter,” more of the volunteers called out. Then others joined in with cheers and applause, some waving campaign literature at her like fans seeking autographs.
There were lots of baby boomers, including myself, voting at the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex in Fort Washington on Monday afternoon. But no one seemed especially surprised to see us.
Millennials, on the other hand, were received as if one of their votes counted as two.
Maybe that’s because millennials and those in Generation Z are the largest demographic in the country. If they don’t already have twice as many eligible voters as baby boomers, they soon will.
Those two groups, both with heavily Democratic leanings, could determine the outcomes of races not just in Maryland but throughout the country. And not just next week but for years to come.
“The young people, that’s who I want to see,” Obie Patterson, a Democrat running for the Maryland Senate in District 26, told me during a chat outside the polling place. “I want to see the 18- to 25-year-olds voting. That’s where our party needs to concentrate its energy. That’s why we make noise when they show up.”
During the Maryland primary elections, young voters had made a surprisingly strong showing — helping to unseat incumbents who were thought to be shoo-ins and propel long-shot challengers to victory.
A Harvard poll released Monday found that the turnout by millennial and Generation Z voters in next week’s midterm election could be the highest in three decades. Forty percent of people ages 18 to 29 said they would “definitely vote” next week. Rarely have the voter-turnout percentages exceeded 21 percent for either age group.
As welcomed as young people were at the site where I voted — and at early voting sites throughout Maryland — not a lot of millennials had shown up. Not so far anyway.
About 370,000 Marylanders have cast ballots in the general election in five days of early voting, the state Elections Board reported Monday. (That’s a 135 percent increase from the same time in 2014).
But only 3 percent of Marylanders ages 18 to 24 have voted, according to the board.
About 106,729 more Democrats than Republicans have voted so far. Ordinarily, that would be unequivocally good news for the Democrat at the top of the ticket — in this case, gubernatorial candidate and civil rights activist Ben Jealous.
The few millennial voters I interviewed said they voted for Jealous. Some liked his liberal stance on marijuana legalization. And in the majority African American community of my polling place, some praised his promise to make sure black people have an opportunity to profit from distributing the legalized product because so many had been disproportionately punished as consumers when it was illegal.
But what really energized them was disgust with the racism, sexism and anti-Semitism they see coming from President Trump and the Republicans who back him in Congress.
The cheered-on millennial voter was joined by her mother. Neither wanted to give her name, but the daughter, a 19-year-old political science major at Bowie State University, said she wasn’t necessarily voting for Democrats as much as voting against Republicans. Trump may not be on the ballot, but she said he was foremost on her mind.
As for the student’s mother, when asked whether she had voted for Jealous or incumbent Larry Hogan, she just arched her eyebrows and walked away.
Probably not a good sign for Jealous.
As a Washington Post poll recently showed, black support for the Republican governor has more than doubled since his first campaign for the office in 2014 — from 14 percent to 33 percent.
The poll also showed that 57 percent of black voters supported Jealous, while Hogan’s job approval among black voters had reached 60 percent.
But who knows?
“People are mad, they are excited, they are determined,” said Martha El Amin, a campaign volunteer. “They know what’s been happening these past two weeks — mail bombs, white racists shooting black people in Louisville, Kentucky, shooting Jews in Pittsburgh. They are feeling a need to do something.”
Said Eric Bowman, another campaign worker who was standing next to her: “And the vote is the only weapon we’ve got.”
The voters I met were certainly fired up, the campaign workers stoking their enthusiasm every step of the way. Especially when a millennial showed up.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.
Correction: A previous version of this column had the incorrect district for Obie Patterson’s campaign. Patterson is running for the Maryland Senate in District 26.