I voted on Thursday because I will be out of town during the Ohio primary election next Tuesday. I have nothing to say about who I voted for or what party I favor. One of the things both my wife and I grew up with was that these were private matters. Our parents thought the privacy of the ballot box was a good thing, and that it was nobody’s business but ours who we voted for. They certainly would not have gotten the social media frenzy of these days of endlessly talking about the candidates and criticizing each others’ views.
Voting took on a special meaning for those in our high school graduating class. In July of 1971, the twenty-sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving 18 year-olds the right to vote. Most of us in the Chaney High School Class of 1972 had birthdays in late 1971 or in 1972 and would be among the first 18 year-olds to vote under this new amendment. We had grown up in the Vietnam war era where you could be old enough to be drafted without being able to vote for or against those sending you to war. Getting the vote was not incidental to our lives.
Like this year, 1972 was a Presidential election year. I remember the seriousness with which we took this opportunity, not only in voting for a President, but also for the various other elective offices. We studied platforms, records, and the speeches people gave. I remember registering to vote at the Board of Elections, and voting for the first time at my precinct, in the basement of Washington Elementary School, just down the street from my house. Finally, instead of just learning about our government and what it means to be a citizenship, I got to exercise one of the fundamental rights of citizenship.
Our parents always took this seriously. Both my parents served as poll workers in their later years. Many of our families came from countries where there was no such thing as voting. At least in this country, you could have some say over those in positions of power. My impression back then was that high numbers of people in our neighborhood voted, either before or after shifts, or work hours.
I have to say that I find myself in sympathy with the high school seniors who will be 18 in the general election, who filed suit in Ohio to be able to vote in the presidential primary this next week, when told that they could not do so even though they could vote for other candidates and issues. It was encouraging to me to hear that they wanted to. And while writing this post, I learned that a judge has ruled against the Secretary of State, upholding these students right to vote. I’m glad for this example of the difference even a few who care can make. I remember what it meant for us to be able to make that difference in the voting booth. I hope many will exercise that right next Tuesday.
Without discussing politics, what were your memories of voting for the first time?