Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–My First Vote

A voting machine like the one where I cast my first vote. Dsw4, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As I write, over 75 million Americans have cast their vote in the upcoming elections. I plan to vote on Tuesday, November 3. It brings back memories of the first time I vote. Do you remember your first vote?

Mine was on November 7, 1972. Were it not for the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, I would not have been able to vote until 1975. It was only the second year eighteen year-olds could vote and the first time eighteen year-olds could vote in a presidential election. The amendment read:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Twenty-sixth Amendment meant a great deal to our generation. Until the year I came up for the draft, you could be drafted and sent to Vietnam before you ever had a chance to vote for or against the people making those decisions. It seemed only just that those fighting the nation’s wars should be enfranchised to vote.

In 1972 Richard M. Nixon was running against George McGovern. After Kent State, Nixon began winding down the Vietnam war. That year’s draft lottery took place but no one was drafted. This was good news. My lottery number was 12. Nixon won in a landslide.

I don’t discuss how I vote and I won’t here. Both my wife and I grew up in families where we talked politics but believed in the privacy of the ballot box. We didn’t (and still don’t) think it is anyone’s business how we voted.

Earlier in the fall, I went down to the Board of Elections and filled out the form to vote. There were not a lot of different places where you could register to vote back then. It was the Board of Elections or nothing.

Washington School. Source unknown, reproduced from Old Ohio Schools

On voting day, I walked down the street to my former elementary school, Washington Elementary, to vote. I was a student at Youngstown State and came in after my classes. The entrance for voting was off of Oakwood Avenue in the school basement. Years before when I went to school there, I remember watching people go in to vote. Now I was one of them.

There was a bit of a community celebration when I walked in to vote. My mother was one of the poll workers in our Fourth Ward precinct. A few of the others were former customers on my paper route. It was a proud moment all around when I stepped up to sign the poll book and they matched my signature with the one on record. We didn’t have to provide identification back then. It felt like I had passed into adulthood. Our signature was our identification.

The voting machines were these big hulking gray monsters were you flipped levers beside the names of those you were voting for. When you were done, there was a big lever at waist level that you would pull which would register your vote and pull the curtains open. When you pulled that curtain, you knew that you had voted.

Since then I’ve voted numerous times in five different cities. In every presidential election. But also for local and state officials. For levies and ballot issues. It’s not a perfect system. But I’ve known people who either did not have a vote, or it was a formality in an authoritarian regime. I never forget what that first vote meant. In Youngstown.

What was it like for you to vote for the first time? Please, no comments about the current elections. Share your memories but not your political opinions.

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–My First Vote

  1. That day in November’72 was my first voting experience as well. I had turned 21 that summer. I remember being excited to finally become a voter. It was another achieved milestone of nascent adulthood. My father was peripherally involved in local politics, so local and national politics, civics and government were no strangers to our dinner conversation. I was married by then and living in Cornersburg. I think our polling place was at our apartment complex at Brandywine. I’ve since voted in every primary and general election as we’ve moved in and out of four states. I’ve always tried to make a conscious choice for each item on the ballot from elected officials to judges to bond issues. In the ensuing years I’ve met people who say they don’t vote or they choose to not vote. I’ve never understood why an American would deliberately forego that simple but powerful right.

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