You may have heard that the upcoming election is the most important election ever. It is, but really they all are because America’s democracy rests on active engagement by all its citizens.
The Bedford Citizen’s tribute to the Class of 2020 ended with an article reminding the class to join the ranks of registered voters. The idea of voting for the first time is exciting, so we’re sharing these ‘first vote’ stories again as Massachusetts gears up for its September 1 Primary.
In today’s installment, the first in a series of three, you’ll hear from Meredith McCulloch, Susanne Durato, Sarita Pillai, Bob Dorer, and Sandra Hackman.
OK – it is confession time!
I grew up in a family that was seriously interested in politics. One of my early
memories is of staying up late with my parents and siblings to hear the late returns of the 1948 Truman vs. Dewey election… a long time ago. But at 21 when my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election came (Nixon vs. Kennedy) I couldn’t vote. I had just married, had changed my name, and moved from West Virginia to Massachusetts. I didn’t even think about registering until it was too late.
I might have been able to vote absentee in West Virginia, but I didn’t even know to ask. I was broken-hearted, but I haven’t missed an election since!
So the moral of my story is first to be sure to register. It is easier now. You can register online in Massachusetts.
You may already have registered when you got a drivers’ license. But be sure. You can check at: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/voterregistrationsearch/myvoterregstatus.aspx
Susanne Duato, Class of 1991
I remember walking into the junior high to vote that first time.
A sudden sense of unexpected nervousness came over me as I entered through the double doors toward the registration table. I remember feeling worried I didn’t do something right when I registered to vote and started having major anxiety that my name would not be on the list.
I had a mother who always taught us that voting was a critical and sacred part of being an American. God help me if I wasn’t actually registered! I wouldn’t have been able to face her disappointment.
Fortunately, I was registered! The kind volunteer crossed my name off the list and pointed to a ballot box for me to use.
Prior to voting that day I always recall wondering whether my individual vote would make a difference among the thousands, or millions cast. Yet as the curtain closed behind me and I began to fill out those small ovals in black marker, I felt a profound sense of importance.
I felt the history of our country and the many generations that cast their votes before me. I truly felt a part of something important, special, and a unique sense of unity and connection with the other citizens in the country that I still feel each time I vote to this day.
Congratulations graduates! What a long and hard road you have been on. I hope that, while the culmination of your achievements is not playing out exactly as you expected, you still feel pride in your many accomplishments!
My first vote? I came to the U.S. in 1988 to start college, not knowing then that this country would become my ‘forever home.’ After 16 years of process and incalculable amounts of paperwork, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in September of 2004. Part of the application process involved an in-person interview and verbal test of U.S. history, government and knowledge of the Constitution. I don’t think I studied harder for anything in my life as the way I pored over the 100-question booklet that citizenship applicants are given to prepare for their citizenship test. In the end, my interview lasted less than 5 minutes, and my swearing in ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center a few months later remains one of the highlights of my life.
The 2004 election was an important and high-stakes one, after the drama that surrounded the elections four years prior. As I sat in the Convention Center waiting for Mayor Menino to arrive and get us started, I talked with many others around me. Many, I learned, were long-time permanent residents who had never pursued the citizenship process and therefore never voted in a U.S. election. Some held fondly to their home-country citizenship status as a way of staying connected to their culture and heritage. But this time was different, this year was different. The 2004 election was important to them in a way they had not fully appreciated in years past. They saw voting for what it is, perhaps the single most significant and powerful way to effect real change in the U.S., be it to change laws, governance structures, public education…or centuries-old systems of entrenched racism, discrimination, and bias. They saw voting as a commitment to this country and their future in it.
One of the most important civic lessons from my now 32 years in the U.S., is that ALL politics is in fact local. Every Town Meeting is important. Every election, small-scale or national, counts. Every vote counts. My best wishes to you as you navigate a new chapter in your life. And, please, always VOTE!
I was lucky to be raised in a family where both my parents always voted – so to me voting on election day was natural and something you just did, no excuses. Also, my mother made the mistake of voting for Richard Nixon in 1960 (her words not mine). In the next presidential election (Barry Goldwater vs Lyndon Johnson) she felt obligated to right her error by actively campaigning for Johnson, so I was exposed to serious campaigning energy in my house when I was only 10 years old. The impact of these civic engagement examples paid off for me.
I turned 18 in 1971 but being away at college in 1972 I had to vote via absentee ballot for my first Presidential election, for George McGovern of course. My first in person vote in a Presidential election was for Jimmy Carter when I was living in St Louis, Missouri. All I can say is it really felt good to vote in person and somehow it seemed more real. This was the one and only time I voted by a punch card system too, so I completely understood the hanging chad topic during the 2000 Presidential election controversy.
I have voted in all local, state, and federal elections ever since, even in Cambridge where they used proportional voting and an old wooden box with a crank for your ballot. A bell went off when you turned the crank for all to know a vote had been registered. An empowering sound indeed.
I now volunteer as an election worker in Bedford to try and do my part to ensure we maintain this critical element of our democratic process. Spending a day at the polls and watching everyone exercise their civic responsibility by voting is energizing indeed.
To recent BHS graduates, congratulations! Now what?
Concerned about Black Lives Matter? Climate change? Ensuring that everyone has access to good health care and jobs that pay a living wage?
If these or other social and political concerns are at the top of your mind, the most important move you could make right now is to register to vote. It’s especially important given the presidential election in November, of course. But state and local elections also determine the players—and therefore the policies–that shape our lives. And the only way to help determine who gets elected is to register to vote.
If you have a driver’s license, you may already be registered. That’s because our state has a Motor Voter law. That is, the Registry of Motor Vehicles automatically registers people who apply for a license or renew one to vote, unless they opt out.
If you don’t have a license—lots of people don’t—the best approach is to register by mail. Just fill out the form on the state voter website (https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm). (You can also appear in person at Town Hall, but that’s closed right now.)
Our state also allows residents to preregister to vote at age 16. If you did that, the Bedford town clerk sends you a letter when you turn age 18—the actual voting age–confirming that you are registered to vote. You got that? You are all set!
But wait: won’t the pandemic and resulting state of emergency affect voting? Yes, but our state representative (Ken Gordon) and senator (Mike Barrett) are working with their colleagues to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot, and to extend the amount of time people have to vote. The House bill, for example, would instruct the state to mail an application for an absentee ballot to everyone registered to vote—another reason to do that!
Making it easier to get an absentee ballot should help anyone who plans to, say, attend school out of state. Depending on the state, you could also choose to register and vote there. (If you officially move out of state, you’ll need to register to vote at your new address—check your new state’s website. Or if you move within our state, you’ll need to fill out a registration form with your new address.)
But wherever you are, just vote! Elections can be close—or not. But they make a difference in everyone’s lives. Join the action!