Why Don't More People Vote In This One Manchester Neighborhood?

Nov 7, 2016

This Tuesday, millions of people across the country will head to the polls to cast their votes and help decide who should hold our nation’s highest offices. But there will also be millions of people who won't go to the polls. In fact, four out of 10 adults in the U.S. do not vote. 

And they have their reasons, too. We went to one Manchester neighborhood where voter turnout is particularly low to learn more.

At 27 years old, Barbara Aguayo’s seen a lot. When she was seven, she, her mom and five brothers and sisters left home in the middle of the night to get away from their abusive father. They landed on the streets of Manchester, living homeless for a while.

As the years went on, things didn’t get any better—an abusive partner, a rough group of friends; her education stopped in high school.

All that shapes how she walks through the world, what she expects from life.

"It gives me a lot of trust issues. I'm pretty much a hard ball," she says.

Aguayo wants to give her two sons a safer, happier life than she had, here on Manchester’s East Side. But she says this can be a rough place to raise kids.

Kids filing in from a field trip at the Beech Street Elementary School, in Manchester's Ward 5.
Credit Natasha Haverty

"The East Side is not a very good neighborhood. Just last year at the very end of the school year, we were actually playing in the park right across the street, and there were shootings happening, right there."

Aguayo lives in Ward 5, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Manchester.

Credit Sara Plourde/NHPR

I met her while she was volunteering at the Beech Street Elementary School, which both her sons attend.

Here at Beech Street School, 95 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. The median income level for parents is around $25,000 —less than half of the citywide median income. A lot of kids come from homes where English isn’t the main language—a lot of immigrants and refugees live here.

And those factors—being poor, less likely to speak English, less education—turn out to be the recipe for low voter turn out, research shows.

Credit Sara Plourde/NHPR

Ward 5 has one of the lowest turn out rates in New Hampshire. Two thirds of the people in here don’t vote. Including Barbara Aguayo.

"I deal with a lot more than who's running my country," Aguayo says.

She’s dealing with raising her kids, and just surviving—and she doesn’t see politics playing any role in that.

And Aguayo says her main reason for not voting comes back to those trust issues.

"A lot of Presidents say, 'Oh, I'm gonna do this for you,' and once they're in office? They're not doing it! 'Cause honestly, it really doesn't matter who we vote for, they just kind of take our opinion and ride with it. It's really not up to us who's gonna be in office, and who's not."

Jessica Whiting has two kids at Beech Street School. She has never voted.

Jessica Whiting lives on Grove Street here in Ward 5. "My friends are judging me, 'Are you gonna vote?' Well, no. I'm not," she says.

Whiting’s another stay at home mom who volunteers at the Beech Street School--she spends a lot of time here. And she’s also never voted – which is kind of ironic given that this is actually the polling place for Ward 5.

What’s keeping her out of the voting booth is self-doubt.

"When I was growing up, my favorite phrase was always, 'I don't know," she says. Whiting admits: the main reason she won’t be voting Tuesday is that she’d be too afraid of getting it wrong.

"I think I would feel incredibly guilty if I voted for some person and then they turned out to be a bad guy. Or girl. Or person."

This year may be the exception for Holly Miller, who's never voted either.
Credit Natasha Haverty

Holly Miller also lives in Ward 5, also has kids in school here. Like other folks I talk to here, Miller admits she doesn’t totally know what voting entails, and hasn’t taken the time to find out.

"Honestly I think the biggest thing is just taking the time to register to vote, and time maintenance, trying to put in the time to get out and register and vote and everything like that," she says.

Miller’s husband was in the Marine Corps. He was deployed twice, now he works in IT.

And she says on top of raising three kids, living on a single income, even trying to adapt to civilian life, voting doesn’t make it on to her to-do list.

But this year might be the exception, Miller says.

"Especially with everything that Trump's been saying lately about the wounded warriors? That's been effecting us in a big way. I definitely would say he would not have our vote for most military."

Before I leave Ward 5, and the Beech St School, I sit down with one more person who’s never voted.

Because she’s ten years old.

Lily Bonilla (age 10) says she'd vote if she had the chance.

Sitting with me in the principal’s office, Lily Bonilla has strong feelings about this stuff.

"You're gonna want someone running the USA, well, New Hampshire. Like, the tax returns happened, and your school funds, and a bunch of things. So I think it's important. To have a president, and to vote."

Bonilla still has a few more elections before she’ll even have the choice to vote, or not vote. But she says if she had the chance to tomorrow, she would definitely take it.