Friday, November 03, 2006

Birth of a Democrat

Weekend Assignment #137: Recount the first time you voted in a local, state or national election. That's to say the first time your vote counted, not a play vote like Athena's. For this, primary voting counts, too. If you want to share who you voted for and whether they won, that's cool, but if you feel like you want to keep your political affiliation unstated, that's fine too.

By the time this picture of me was taken in 1977, I had already voted in two general elections, one of them presidential. Sorry - I couldn't find any for-sure 1975 photos, let alone one of me actually voting. But I remember that first trip into the voting booth, after many years of seeing the things at the schools I attended in Manlius, NY. I'm pretty sure that Manlius Elementary and Eagle Hill Junior High (when they still existed) and Fayetteville-Manlius High School were all polling places at various times.

That 1975 election, when I was eighteen, was all local stuff, nothing interesting or memorable in and of itself. Assemblyman Hy Miller may have been up for reelection; congressman Jim Hanley would have been reelected the following year. But I duly studied the newspaper before going in, pulling the curtain closed with a big red-handled lever, and flipping down little levers next to a bunch of Democratic Party candidates, and maybe one or two Republicans. When I pulled the lever again and stepped out, my mom, who was generally proud that her little girl was voting for the first time, informed me that I'd taken more than three minutes, which she claimed was the legal time limit. I suspect she was wrong about that. Heck, some years you couldn't even read the whole ballot in three minutes.

Portrait of Jimmy CarterIn 1976 I was in college for the first time, and looking forward to my first presidential election. I had my reservations about Jimmy Carter, but I certainly wasn't going to vote for Gerald Ford. I remember going downtown to the Hotel Syracuse where (I think) Carter was speaking, but I didn't get in. On Election Day, my dad took me aside to make sure I was voting for Carter. He needn't have worried. My biggest worry that day, I remember, was not who to vote for, but where I'd left my keys, and how I was going to get to the polls. My dad helped me out on that, I think.

Right: Jimmy Carter

In those days, for a Syracuse University student to vote at all was a tricky proposition. The local Board of Elections (or someone) decreed that Syracuse University students could not use their college addresses as a permanent address for voting registration purposes, even if they lived at that address almost year round. Instead we were expected to register wherever our parents lived, and vote by absentee ballot. Even in the relatively apathetic 1970s, this seemed like an unfair attempt to disenfranchise young voters in the wake of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which had lowered the minimum voting age to 18 back in 1971. a number of students fought for the right to vote in Syracuse, and some of them won. I think that by the time I left, it was a lot easier to do so than when I started college in 1975. By 1979 I was probably a registered voter based on the apartment I lived in, but if I was registered from my dad's apartment nearby it didn't make much difference.

Extra Credit: Are you voting next Tuesday?

I have missed a number of primaries and bond elections over the years, but I've never missed the first Tuesday in November. Well, maybe one non-presidential one, due to being in England at the time; I'm not sure. Either way, I'm not going to start skipping elections anytime soon. I've given a small donation to the Democratic Party, and one to Gabrielle Giffords, who is running for Jim Kolbe's seat in the House of Representatives. Kolbe is one of the very few Republicans I've voted for repeatedly, but he's retiring now. Giffords' opponent, Randy Graf, is so right wing (he's allied with the Minuteman Project) that Kolbe refused to endorse him. I disagree with pretty much everything Graf stands for - basically criminalizing and disenfranchising people (not just immigrants, either) instead of treating them with fairness and compassion. See? It's easy to vote for a Democrat when the choice is this clear.


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