You may have heard that the upcoming election is the most important election ever. It is, but 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 those ‘first vote’ stories again as Massachusetts gears up for its September 1 Primary.
In today’s installment, you’ll hear from Dot Bergin, Caroline Fedele, Mitch Evans, Doug Muder, and Ginni Spencer.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson were on the ballot in 1952, the first election in which I was eligible to vote. I was a great admirer of Stevenson, an articulate, highly intelligent candidate whose positions I supported with fervor.
Alas, he was defeated soundly by the (to me) dull, stolid Eisenhower. Same ticket in 1956 and Stevenson lost again. Of course General Eisenhower was given credit for winning World War II, which helped his campaign considerably.
After settling in Bedford in 1954, I have voted in almost every local, state, and federal election-my record isn’t 100 percent but it’s close. Going to the polls was a rich, rewarding community event: waving to the candidates and their supporters, often standing outside the polling place shivering in the cold; greeting friends and neighbors; a wonderful experience.
BUT, in today’s world I am strongly advocating for “vote by mail,” which is already happening successfully in five states and being considered in others. I believe it’s the best way going forward to ensure full voter participation.
It was 1988 and I turned 18 in February of my senior year. In November of my freshman year at Ithaca College I could vote for the first time. I remember feeling responsible walking in, full of nervous excitement to be part of something really impactful. I’m pretty sure if they gave out “I Voted” stickers I wore it proudly all day!
First of all, a huge congratulations to all the graduating BHS seniors. 2020 will certainly be a year that you remember. But as you move into the next stage of your life, whether that be college, job, year out or something else; another very important event which marks this year is your right to vote.
I was born, educated, and worked in the U.K. but was fortunate enough to move with my young family to Bedford, Massachusetts in 2011. Initially, I was a permanent resident on a Green Card which allowed me to live and work in the United States, but did not allow me to vote in local or general elections. I was paying my taxes and contributing to this wonderful town and my new homeland, yet I had no say in how my hard-earned tax dollars were being spent, or who was being elected to represent ‘me’ and acting on my behalf. I thought long and hard about giving up my British citizenship and becoming a US citizen. Was I giving up a part of my identity? Was I turning my back on my land of birth? Would it change how other people viewed me, or how I viewed myself? What about my children and the impact on them?
In January 2020, my husband and I became citizens of the United States. We take our civic duty very seriously. With two children and the rest of our lives in this beautiful country, it’s important to have your voice heard. That’s how change happens.
If you don’t vote, you are giving others the power to make decisions for you. If you don’t vote, you give a small portion of Americans the power over the majority of Americans, and is that fair? If you don’t vote, you are implying consent and you forfeit the right to complain about how this country and even the town in which you end up settling, is run.
So use your right and VOTE – please don’t waste it!
My first vote was in 1976. The United States was celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, and had only recently come out from under the clouds of Watergate and Vietnam. To me today, looking back to 1976 feels almost like looking back 200 years felt then. Politics was very different in 1976, because we had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Each race required an individual judgment.
At the time the difference between the presidential candidates, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, meant little to me. I didn’t really care which of them won, but I believed in voting. If I didn’t vote, then neither party would have a reason to try to appeal to me in future elections.
I remembered Gene McCarthy from when he had the anti-war candidate in 1968 Democratic primaries, and I saw him give an interview that impressed me. He was running as a third-party candidate in 1976, so that’s who I voted for.
I was a new bride and living in Massachusetts in 1968 which at that time in my life felt far from the town where I grew up in Pennsylvania. Mailing an absentee ballot lacked the excitement of actually going somewhere and pulling a lever but sending my vote “back home” seemed the right thing to do.
I had many memories of going with my parents to vote in our local barbershop which was turned into a polling station for Election Day. The woman of a family on our street sat at a wooden table inside the door with a big ledger checking off names as people lined up to cast their ballots. The barber chairs were draped in white sheets to remind people that the shop was closed for regular business. I was allowed to drop the ballot of whichever parent had taken me along into a big wooden box with a padlock on it and official writing on the sides which I didn’t understand but looked important. Many of our neighbors were there and stood outside on the corner after voting. (I believe Election Day was a holiday then.) There would be endless chatting and I guess conversations about the election at hand. The whole excursion was a mix of fun and seriousness – an adult experience I observed with interest even though I didn’t fully understand it. But I got the message: you vote.
1968 was a tumultuous year. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated within 60 days of each other. Riots followed in over 100 cities. Lyndon Johnson declined to run again, a decision driven by the ongoing tragedy of Vietnam. Humphrey’s selection as the Democratic standard-bearer took place amid violent protests in Chicago. Nixon, the Republican candidate, ran a campaign promising to restore law and order and provide new leadership to the war. I had already participated in anti-war protests in Cambridge and Boston and was proud of that but with my first vote in a presidential election I knew I was taking a much more significant action. I was being counted…my voice was being heard. While my vote was secret, to me it was a loud and emphatic declaration of what and who I believed in and an affirmation to myself that now I was really an adult. I dropped that absentee ballot into the mailbox on Garden Circle in Waltham with a flourish.