I always went to vote with my mom when I was a kid. I loved it. Where I grew up in Indiana we had the curtained booths. We would step in, and Mom would reach up and grasp the big handle, sliding it over to close the curtain. Inside was a panel with little switches next to the candidates’ names to flick down to make the selection. Then she would reach back up, grabbing the big handle to slide the curtain open, ker chunk, which also registered her vote and reset the switches for the next person.
I didn’t mind standing in line. Mom’s precinct was at the school, the gym set up for voting. I remember the smell of polished wooden floors, the low hum of conversations, occasional outbursts of laughter. Mom always went after she got off work, like nearly everyone else in our blue-collar neighborhood. We stood in line with people we knew, friends from the block, mom’s co-workers, kids from school who were also there with their parents. It wasn’t just voting; it was also a social occasion.
Once inside the booth, Mom would let us kids flick the switches. She’d look at each one and then quietly tell us, pointing, “That one, there.” When we were little she had to lift each of us up so we could reach the switches. We took turns or we would fight over it. I don’t remember getting any “I Voted!” stickers. It was either pre-sticker era or mom knew there was no way one of us kids could get the sticker and the others not. She likely declined it in order to keep the peace among us.
Even when my sister and brother tired of it I still went. Mom didn’t need to lift me up any longer, but she still let me flick the switches. I don’t remember any profound lectures by my mom on the right, privilege, or obligation to vote. But I was very aware of how much it meant to her. This strong, hard-working woman, raising four children alone, constantly struggling to make ends meet, voted because she thought it mattered. She believed her vote made a difference. She had to believe that.
I turned 18 in December 1981, in between presidential elections. But when I went off to college the following fall I had already signed up for my absentee ballot. I sat at my dorm-room desk on that cool, autumn day it came in the mail. Coloring in the little ovals next to my candidates’ names wasn’t nearly as much fun as the curtained voting booth. Placing my paper ballot carefully into the envelope wasn’t as dramatic as sliding the big handle over, ker chunk. But it mattered. And it still does.
image courtesy of htt://www.iupui.edu