There are some key places and activities I remember very clearly from my earliest days — going to the library every week; sledding down the biggest “hill” Long Island could manage; waiting at the bus stop in the near dark; and…voting on election day!
No, I wasn’t sneaking in on a very well-made fake ID. My parents, who now vote early in the morning (or even earlier in the week), waited until evening so they could bring us. We’d wait on the line (which, in retrospect, must have driven my mother crazy) and then I’d go into the booth with one parent and my sister with the other. We’d get to pull the big red lever and then watch and listen as they voted. I don’t remember specifics, but I’m pretty sure they always cancelled each other out – Carter-Ford, Reagan-Carter, etc. But I thought it was amazing.
My first big election was in 1988. I was in college and we had all sent in for absentee ballots. In early October, a large group sat around the big table in the common area and filled in our ballots together — for Dukakis (I should mention that we were the creative and performing arts dorm and only allowed one or two Republicans per semester to live there.). It was fun and then very exciting to join an even larger crowd in the TV room on election night.
Over the years, there have other election days and other election night parties. I’ll be going to one tonight in the hopes of celebrating a “Yea” vote on my local library referendum.
My point: just as readers beget readers; voters beget voters. My sister and I are readers, in large part, because our parents are readers. They “modelled” reading, as the experts say. And they modelled voting as well. They didn’t make it seem important and fun; They made it important and fun. It wasn’t a right or even really a duty. Voting is something you do as a member of society and you should have joy in doing so.
As an adult, when I try to talk people into voting (rarely, since I tend to hang out with like-minded people), I talk about it as a duty, but also that if you don’t vote – shut up for the next 2-4 years! I do believe that an abstention is a legitimate vote. However, to abstain, you must go to your polling place, sign in, and walk into the booth. You can leave everything blank. Or maybe just vote “Yes” on that library referendum and leave the — I’ll admit — sometimes sickening choices at Senate and House blank. Your choice. And isn’t that great!
Albert Whitman & Company publishes a couple of election related picture books: If I Ran for President, by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Lynne Avril; and If I Were President both by Catherine Stier, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan.