One of my early memories, from about age 7, is of the day after the 1960 Election Day. We were living up in Gary, Indiana and mom was a Republican deputy precinct committeewoman. She had risen at 4 a.m. to get to the polls on Election Day, where she worked from 6am to 6pm checking voter registrations and signatures. She and her cohorts had then gone down to Repub HQ, taking the ballots to be counted, and to watch the returns, rooting for Richard Nixon to be our next prez. I’d been long asleep by the time she returned home, but she had stayed up all night watching the TV coverage, especially the late-breaking returns from nearby Cook County in Illinois. When Mayor Daly’s Machine delivered the vote to JFK, Mom was outraged…
I just remember her still crying as she sent us off to school, insisting that the Democrats in Chicago had “stolen” the election from Nixon… Pundits now claim this to be a myth, but my Mom believed it then and so did I, of course, giving me an early introduction to the shady world of politics and elections.
Shortly after that election day we moved to Eville, where Mom plunged right back in to working for the GOP. From 1960 until 2000, she worked the polls, becoming Precinct Committeewoman down here during the 60s; continued as an election official in Washington, IN, after they moved in the 70s; and finally finishing her work back here in Evansville in the 80s and 90s.
Election day, 1968, I was excused from school to canvas and “get out the vote” for the Republicans. The committee chairmen would drive us into the neighborhoods where we would walk door to door to see if anyone needed a ride to the polls. They drove dozens of people to vote that day and I remember thinking some of them might be voting democrat, but the adults told me that Voting was our most Essential American Right and that what we did in the polling booth was private. After the polls closed, we all went down to HQ and the party started… Nixon won that year.
I have voted in every election since my first in 1972 and after Mom moved back to Eville, always voted at Her polling place, where she proudly showed me off to her buddies. She roped me (and Casey) into volunteering and we spent several Election Nights celebrating at Republican HQ (they don’t call it the GOP for nothing: open bar).
During Mom’s lifetime I would have Never admitted to her that I had voted any way other than Republican. She always said she wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ if he was on the Democratic ticket — or as Dad called them, “the damn dims”. We have witnessed what that attitude has done to the Republican Party in the last 5 years… She would have drank the kool-aid and worn the hat, I think, as have most of the rest of my family. Still, I’ve been sad to see how ugly the GOP has gotten and I don’t think it represents what my mom (or I) believed in…
But I still believe in the Power of our Vote. I’ve picked the loser on many an occasion, but never doubted the integrity of our elections or the grassroots volunteers who work their asses off to assure that our Vote counts. Since 2016 I’ve developed a skeptical streak, but I remember my mom, opinionated and biased as hell, but honest, and Thank all of the folks who volunteer for the work they do to keep Democracy going.
2016 also opened my eyes to the people who don’t vote—I really thought Everybody voted, or almost, when in actuality it generally runs between 50 and 60 percent nationally. This year, as we read about the record-setting early voting, it remains to be seen if it is really an increase. Rightfully, there should be At Least 90% of Americans voting. I’d love to see that.
It was 18 years ago yesterday that Mom passed over. We buried her on November 5, 2002, which just happened to be a local/state election day. The church where we held the service was also a polling station. As we rolled her casket out, the poll workers stood quietly and for just a second the bustle stopped… It was so fitting…
“No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot. If there is any valuable difference between a monarchist and an American, it lies in the theory that the American can decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t. I claim that difference. I am the only person in the sixty millions that is privileged to dictate my patriotism.”
– Mark Twain, a Biography