In 1985 I was 18 and voted in my first election. I happened to be home from college for summer break and voted in the primary in my home town in Pennsylvania. My mom and I went to the polls only to discover that I could not vote in the ward where I lived because they had me listed in a different ward - despite having the same address as my parents. My ward said no, you are in ward 4. So my mother voted and then we headed off to Ward 4. Where we went through the same song and dance and they finally decided to let me vote.
Today as I watch the long lines, court cases, and issues with ballot boxes around the country, and I hear the stories about folks being turned away, I am acutely aware that I voted in that first election because my mother refused to take no for an answer and she used her privilege to ensure that I was able to vote. My mother was a white woman who happened to be the editor and daughter of the founder of the local newspaper. To be certain, to have an article on how I was unable to vote appear in our family newspaper would not have looked good for the local government. And she used that to ensure that the law was followed. Also, being the editor of the paper meant she was much better versed in the law than most. At the time I saw it as my mom being her annoying self. Now I appreciate how much she advocated for me to have the opportunity to vote. She did write about the experience - you can read it on the paper’s website.
For me voting is a sacred act. I learned that voting was important as one of the team who covered election night each year for our small, family newspaper. As a paper we were always neutral in elections, never endorsed any candidate at any level, focused on local races and worked really hard to be totally balanced right down to the number of inches each candidate received in coverage. My grandfather believed that an informed electorate made the best decisions and he covered the issues in depth, a practice the paper continues today. Even in the 70s and 80s when I was most involved in our coverage, I realized that too few people were voting and making decisions for everyone. And it’s a trend that has continued. Today my brother frequently writes about the low voter turn out in the area they cover. He writes editorials encouraging folks to get out and vote, to exercise their right and yes, duty. It frustrates us all to no end that people do not do this simple thing.
My work in Unitarian Universalism has made me even more aware of the fact that while more than 50% of the people in the white suburbs I grew up in chose not to vote, there are way too many people in this country whose voices are being silenced through voter suppression. We who can vote must vote to change and challenge the rules that prevent those who can't. We have to vote to represent our immigrants, refugees, and children. We have to vote to ensure that black and brown voices are heard. We have to vote.
So as election day fast approaches, I humbly ask, please, do what you can to get out the vote. Maybe all you can do in this day of COVID is make sure your own vote is cast and if you do that, I say thank you. Maybe you can reach out to your family members and friends and make sure they have a plan to vote. Maybe you can drive people to the polls. Maybe you aren’t a person at risk and can volunteer to be a poll worker. Maybe you can be trained as an election monitor and watch to ensure others aren’t prevented from voting.
And thank you for voting.