I remember my first presidential election, the one with me not actually voting.
We were living in Vallejo California near the naval base where my husband was stationed. Twenty-one was the minimum age for voting at that time, and when the 1972 presidential election was held, I was 23 and eager to finally get to vote.
We were still residents of Wisconsin, and had applied for absentee ballots. Unfortunately, the ballots arrived in California on election day, too late for our votes to make much difference in the landslide that swept Richard Nixon into office that year.
Missing out on that first major election resulted in my commitment to vote in virtually every primary and general election since.
Over the years I was aware that some people didn’t care about voting, and others couldn’t vote because of barriers such as disability, inability to read or criminal background status, but I didn’t give the issue of voter turnout much thought.
Now that I’m retired, I have time to work on things that interest me, and I’m interested in voting and encouraging others to vote.
Last year I started volunteering with a group that focuses on voter registration. We hand out flyers with upcoming election dates, directions for accessing the Wisconsin voter registration website, which documents are needed to register, and when re-registration is necessary.
We do this work at festivals and other events, at the department of motor vehicles and outside supermarkets, pharmacies and dollar stores, to name a few. Sometimes people are eager to get the flyers I offer, and sometimes I sense they just want me to leave them alone, which I promptly do.
I’ve learned so much while giving voting information to others. I’ve learned that people are uncertain how to register, how to find their polling place, and what to do when they get there.
Last year my husband and I trained to be poll workers for the fall election, and I learned how to help voters determine their ward, stand in the correct line, mark their ballot and insert it into the tabulating machine.
I also learned that when people accomplish the simple act of voting, sometimes for the very first time, they leave their polling place smiling and with a little spring in their step.
So, even as the weather gets chilly, I continue to volunteer to stand outside supermarkets and hand out flyers. I notice that at the end of my volunteer shift, I leave smiling and with a little spring in my step.