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 Teri Morrow, Jennifer Harrington, Lalitha Gunturi Ranganath, Gene Kalb, and Laura Bullock.
For me, voting in the election began in March that year. As a high school senior in 1980, my American Government class spent the last two months of school learning and talking about presidential elections from the primary process to the Electoral College. We discussed the pros and cons of the various candidates, what their party stood for, and what the election might change. I was hooked. When I got to college in the fall, I already knew I wanted to be a Political Science major.
On Election Day, I was a freshman in college. While I lived on campus, I was close enough to come home that afternoon and vote locally. After dinner with my folks, I arrived at my polling place, an elementary school in my town (just a few towns over from Bedford). I remember standing in a long line that wound around the building through hallway after hallway. Each was decorated in fall colors as the kids were getting ready for Thanksgiving in a few weeks. It felt like I stood in that line forever, moving up one voter at a time. In retrospect, it probably took no more than half an hour to go from the back of the line to entering the voting booth.
I remember leaving the school and feeling proud to have voted for the first time. After all, this would be the first of many times I’d have a say in my government.
The first time I was able to vote was in the 1988 Bush-Dukakis presidential election. I didn’t vote. At the time I was a college freshman and hadn’t planned ahead for an absentee ballot and didn’t want to disrupt my busy class schedule to drive the short distance home on election day. I remember thinking, how much of a difference would my one vote make? It’s painful to admit today.
A few short years later I was studying abroad and found myself truly afraid as I walked to class amidst protests against America and the Iraq War. There were effigies of President Bush burned on my campus and outward aggressions toward America everywhere. I was scared and angry, defensive and proud to be an American. But when I was confronted by my college activist peers about my vote I remained silent – because I had not exercised my right and therefore struggled to justify a position. That experience had a lasting impact.
I have never missed an election since. No matter what pulled for my attention or my time. Voting gives me a voice as a Bedford resident and as an American citizen. Walking into the Middle School, alongside neighbors vying for a parking spot, and citizens with signs for their candidates is an affirmation of my place as a member of our community. When I stand in line in my precinct, give my name and address, grab my uncapped marker and ballot, and follow directions to my voting booth I feel … powerful. I know my vote counts. It may not decide an election but it counts. And when I vote I take a position which I can proudly stand behind.
To the Class of 2020 – register to vote. The nature of an election is that there are winners and losers – don’t let winning be the only motivation. Voting is a powerful expression of choice – so while your vote may or may not lead to a victory speech, it’s a loud and valuable expression that the world needs to hear.
Lalitha Gunturi Ranganath
Congratulations on this milestone. While you probably never envisioned your high school graduation to happen during a global pandemic, I hope your pride and excitement of this accomplishment still remains. Along with graduating, many of you will now be able to vote in your first election. In the middle of other major life changes that you may be going through, I want to make sure that you also plan for this one. I hope my experience below helps highlight not only the importance of voting but the importance of planning ahead in order to be able to vote!
My family immigrated to the United States from India when I was 3 years old. When I was in high school, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen. My first presidential election after turning 18 wasn’t until a couple of years into college, in 2000. While I grew up in Dallas, Texas, I was away at college at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, my friends and I were fired up and ready to go vote in our first presidential election. We looked up where we would need to report to vote and marched down to the building together, excited to cast our ballots for the first time ever. When it came to my turn to check in, my name was nowhere to be found on the list. I was appalled! I argued, I protested, I pleaded. And then I was asked – “what is your permanent address? Did you register to vote back in Dallas?” My heart sank. In all my excitement, I had failed to realize that I should have asked for an absentee ballot from my home voting precinct. I quickly scrambled to find out the steps I would need to take to get an absentee ballot that day. Of course, the deadline had already passed. I realized that my only option would be to get myself back home to Dallas (3.5 hours’ drive away) in time to vote in person before the polls closed. After thinking through various logistics, I finally came to terms that it wasn’t going to happen. Even if I had left then and driven as fast as I could, I wouldn’t make it in time. I left the polling place feeling so dejected and disappointed in myself.
The 2000 presidential election turned out to be quite the saga – Bush vs. Gore and the recount process went on for weeks. Being in Austin, less than a mile from the Texas state capitol where Bush was the governor of Texas, my classmates and I were able to witness much of history unfold. Ultimately, Bush won 271 electoral votes, one more than a majority, despite Gore receiving more popular votes.
I was (and I still am) a planner by nature – I planned my class schedules, my daily schedule, my summer internships, my vacations, even my meals! And yet, I somehow failed to plan and learn about absentee voting. So, as you plan your next steps – whether it be college, working, or any other plans – please don’t let this happen to you – and be sure to also make a plan for voting!
As seniors in high school pick up their diplomas, not only are they becoming High School graduates, but for the first time, they are joining the ranks of eligible voters.
I’m sure you’re being told that this upcoming election is the most important election ever. It is, and rest assured it was when I was told the very same thing in 1980. They’re all important and will continue to be important. The idea of voting for the first time got us all thinking here at The Bedford Citizen.
For me, I was a sophomore at Colorado College in 1980. America was in a bad recession. We had 440 hostages in Iran, and the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, yes the same one, and we were in the midst of an energy crisis. Gas was over a dollar a gallon, and long lines to get gas were a common occurrence. Jimmy Carter was president and running for re-election against Ronald Reagan.
Carter was a very decent man, but not an inspirational leader. Reagan talked of a new morning in America, Being in a small liberal arts school political discussions were a common topic over dinner. Most of the political science majors had various opinions, all over the top, as to where we would be heading if the wrong person got elected. I remember one of my professors made the point that if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch! Since I was in Colorado, I voted with an absentee ballot. One thing I remember from the ballot was the sheer number of names on it. You have Carter and Reagan on the top of the ballot, but there seemed to be three other people I never heard of running for president too. Then further down the page, I ran into senators and representatives. Even farther down the list, there were state and local races. County Auditor?
I filled it out, skipping the races I knew nothing about and mailed it in. It was a very powerful experience.
It still is, to this day. There is something about choosing our leaders that makes us feel that this is our country, and I’m part of it.
So congratulations on your graduation, and please go vote. This is the first most important election of your life. And as my professor would say, “earn your right to bitch”
I remember staring at the ballot and all the names and positions and suddenly feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of what I was about to be a part of.
My. Vote. Mattered.
The feeling of pride was suddenly intermingled with fear. Why were there so many names I didn’t know? What if I picked the wrong person for the job?
Was this like a test and it would be better to pick someone, anyone, rather than leave the selection blank?
What about all the people outside holding signs supporting their candidates – did they know who was best? Why hadn’t I done more research and come better prepared?
That day set the stage for my future voting. I was embarrassed and humbled. This enormous privilege deserved, at the very least, my spending some time and effort reading up on the issues and understanding the person behind the name.
I needed to be an adult now. Responsible. An educated voter.
And not just educated on what I believed to be the right choice, but educated on what others were thinking too, where they were coming from.
That all helps me to be part of the solution, no matter how small that part may seem.