If you begin to categorize the personal traits or the character of someone you might call an exceptional elder, I would hope you would include speaking the truth to power. Included in that trait is being a responsible person in the system of government in which you reside. Since we reside in a democracy, that means participating in the decision making process of leadership in the democracy….from the homeowner’s association , city council and county commissioners to the presidency.
After thinking and talking with people about the issue of role models in our lives, I began to wonder how many of us had some one other that a ninth grade civics teacher ( I once was one) tell us why we should vote. My youngest granddaughter Lauren turns 18 today and this former teacher and present grandmother is now going to be a vocal role model and tell her why she needs to vote this November.
By this point of your life you know a number of my values. I want to tell you why I feel that we all have an obligation to vote.
In 1976 one of the volunteer jobs I took on was as a poll judge at the recreation center in our neighborhood. A number of voters would train with the election commission and run a precinct so that all election rules and regulations were followed and a fair election was held. We had a dozen volunteers who checked people in with the official rolls from the county, helped people open and close the machines, keep the lines moving and made sure the supporters of any of the candidates kept the 100 yard rule from the doors leading into the polling place. Having been a teacher for a while, I wanted to experience the elections first hand to tell students about the atmosphere, how long people waited in line, and list all of the results on a sample ballot (yellow paper if I remember) the next day at school. The polls opened at 7 am to allow for the before work crowd and closed at 7 pm to get the after work crowd. It was a long volunteer day if you were busy, and even longer if not many people were taking advantage of the right to vote. That day, about 10 am a family consisting of a young man and his two parents came into my line to check that they were officially registered. The books are long and black and heavy and you can see the names and dates that where people signed in, had chosen a party affiliation or not and placed their signature. At that time, with growth, the county was having to change precincts frequently and we often had to tell people to leave our long line and go over to the school or the church where the correct precinct was for their address. Voting in a presidential election year could become a complicated journey if you had not planned ahead.
The family that came in had limited English skills and the young man translated the majority of our conversations from English to Spanish and back again. In those days we did not have huge numbers of languages other than English in our community. This family had come as refugees to Colorado from Cuba just as Fidel Castro had come to power in the 1960’s and two years earlier had become citizens of the United States.It was their first election in a democracy. Just writing that still makes me smile. We found their names, showed them how to use the machines and listened to the mother tell us through tears that her greatest surprise was that we were happy to see her and there were not men with machine guns at the door.
You can imagine how thrilled we were to help someone vote who was new to our country. Later in the day the Mother from Cuba, now from Aurora, Co. brought the workers a cake to thank us again.
You and I have talked frequently about my Mother being born the year women gained suffrage in the United States. And, here we are, less than 100 years later and you will be able to vote. You may even have a woman candidate for president, to make it even more meaningful for this old social studies teacher.
The one thing I hope you take away from my polling place story, not counting the years it took for all people to get a vote in this democracy, is that in my heart there is an obligation to vote. Not everyone in our world has that franchise, and if you want to keep a democracy vital, you and everyone else who is entitled in this county needs to be responsible. As a newly minted adult, it is a privilege and responsibility that you now enjoy.
I love you baby girl and young woman,