Over the last several days, I’ve served as a volunteer poll watcher at voting locations in Jefferson County, Colorado, which sits between Denver and the Rocky Mountains.
The county has a reputation for being decidedly purple. In the recent past it has been an indicator of how statewide races and ballot measures may fare.
Unlike other states, Colorado has a comparatively long history with early voting and voting by mail. I’m convinced that Colorado’s system is one of the best and that my county has some of the best-trained and impartial election workers anywhere.
I am angry that in 2020 some people have been working hard to suppress the vote, discount the integrity of our election processes and intimidate people who show up to take part in the act of voting–the very foundation of our democracy.
I’m a sucker for elections; I love them. My dad was a newspaperman, so I was always aware of news and current events. My mother was active in the League of Women Voters and served as president of a local chapter in Cleveland in the early 1970s. Voting rights and voter education were always important to her, and she helped train election officials. I was immersed in news and public affairs.
Legend has it that as a two-year-old in 1960, I paraded around the house chanting “Let’s back Jack, let’s back Jack.” An enthusiastic, if politically naive, supporter of JFK.
My parents as a matter of habit brought me into the voting booth as they flipped levers to cast their votes. They’d let me help pull the final lever, a big red-handled device that recorded their votes and simultaneously opened the voting booth curtains, signaling they were done voting.
When I was 10 years old in 1968 I loved Bobby Kennedy. I was heartbroken when he was killed; sadness over his death added to the sadness I already felt every November 22, the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. I was 5 in 1963 when the Jack I had backed was killed. I vividly recall that weekend: My dad–ever the newspaperman–kept Walter Cronkite tuned in on our black-and-white TV set. I saw the widow and the casket and recall the incessant drum roll as the funeral procession slowly made its way along Pennsylvania Avenue. The 1960s were a lot for a kid to process.
In 1976, at the age of 18, I was the youngest voter in my precinct. I was something of a minor celebrity among the poll workers when I walked across the street to our local library to vote. I haven’t missed a primary or general election since; my celebrity status faded long ago but my love for elections continues to run deep.
But here, in celebration of our right to vote, are a few vignettes that I mentally recorded during my quiet hours as a volunteer poll watcher in recent days.
…The handicapped man who was helped to vote by his attendant and who proudly put the “I Voted” sticker on his shirt as his helper applauded his accomplishment.
…The woman who wore a stars-and-stripes jacket to drop off her ballot and then waited nearby while her son–a newly registered voter–spent 30 minutes marking his selections.
…The young father who had to vote in person after his daughter crayoned on his original ballot.
…The immigrant parents who arrived with their son, who patiently moved from mother to father to help them understand the ballot.
…The poll worker who stood by the ballot box and instructed the voter, “You put the ballot in yourself, I’m not allowed to touch it.” Such is the sacred nature of that piece of paper.
I’m sentimental and old-fashioned, but I find a quiet dignity as people like these go about the important work of exercising their right to vote; our democracy’s fundamental act.
I took the photograph of the American flag at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut in 2015.