This Tuesday, Election Day, I have the honor of walking into the polling place side-by-side with my youngest daughter as she casts her first ballot.
Like most moms — and I hope a fair share of dads — I’ve anticipated and built a foundation for this moment. Her first trip to the polling place happened the year she was born; she relaxed in her car seat at my feet while I completed my ballot. Two years later, while I carefully colored midterm ovals, she and her older sister kept their new little brother occupied.
From presidential contests to school board elections, she’s gone with me to vote. There was the year she gleefully charmed poll workers out of two “I voted” stickers, one for each cheek. And, as she grew older, the times she waited outside on a bench or in the car, listening to music and, no doubt, hoping a certain boy would wander by.
But this year is extra special and, yes, unexpectedly emotional. She gets her own ballot, makes her own decision about the best path forward for our state and country. While she seems to be taking this new responsibility in stride, I’m very much aware this is one of the few remaining “firsts” we’ll share, and that realization has me thinking of my mother and the day she and I walked into the elementary school gym and I was handed my first ballot.
This business of voting, you see, is a female tradition in my family, something mothers and daughters have shared since women were granted the right in 1920. And yet, after considering all the advice I could provide to her about policy, politics, candidates, political parties and ideology, I’ve decided the only thing I really want her to know when she accepts her first ballot is that democracy demands her voice, no matter what she has to say.
This was true as her great-grandmother, an Irish immigrant, joined thousands of women in casting their first legal ballots. It was true when her grandmother, still cloaked in the grief of losing a son in Vietnam, planted a much younger version of me on her hip and cast her ballot in a midterm election nearly as contentious as this one.
It has been the core truth of all of my votes, even as my personal outlook and politics have shifted, and it is always empowering.
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In this country, there is no such thing as not voting. “Sitting one out,” as a friend puts it, is merely handing someone else your proxy, and doing so blindly. There are no assurances your replacement will see the world the same way you do, and grave risk your de facto replacement supports candidates and policies detrimental to you or those you love.
I hope my daughter remembers how many have fought, and how many have died, to access the thin sheet of paper she’ll hold in her hand. I want her to understand how many yet today fight manufactured obstacles, because some in positions of power fear the will of the people may lessen their influence.
My biggest fear is that my efforts to make voting commonplace, a mere part of larger civic life, may have overshadowed the importance and power of the ballot as a driver of public policy. But, if that is the case, I know she’ll discover the consequences of elections soon enough, if she hasn’t already.
Looking up and down her ballot, I hope she’ll see what is actually there: a list of people, most of whom believe they can have a hand in developing public policy that benefits society. They all want safe neighborhoods, decent housing and educated people, and all aim to support children, families and the greater good — care for the elderly and disabled, police and fire protection, etc. — that can be achieved only when we pool our resources.
Differences exist in what issues should be prioritized and what route to take forward. It is within these discrepancies, and not necessarily within party affiliation or any other attribute, where she will need to make her selection.
A booth or two over, I’ll be doing the same.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, firstname.lastname@example.org