Home > Uncategorized > One Woman’s Right to Vote

One Woman’s Right to Vote

One Woman’s Right to Vote

I was 21 before I could vote and this luckily coincided with a Presidential Election! It was Nixon’s second term. His challenger, a principled, soft-spoken man named George McGovern, seemed like a savior to me. He would deliver us from the unpopular Vietnam War. Although few Americans were in favor of the conflict, it was viewed more as a messy liability to conservatives that must result in victory lest America lose face in the world. To liberals, it was a moral abomination that should end immediately even with our heads bowed in supplication. At 21, I was newly split from my family’s life long fealty to the Republican Party and was convinced that George McGovern should and would win the election.

Well, I was living in San Francisco at the time. We were all convinced that George McGovern could win.

I don’t remember how much information I actually had then about McGovern’s chances. I did read newspapers and watch television and I am sure the polls told us something about how well he was doing, but I was very young. What did polls matter when moral certitude was on your side?

Two weeks or so before the election, I walked over to a little office downtown run by the League of Women Voters. Their ads said they had pamphlets and literature that explained issues and offered helpful advice about how one might vote. They did offer their own opinion up, but they also tried to explain both sides. I took all the pamphlets they had. I remember they even charged a small fee for one particularly thick one and I paid it. I was desperate to be an informed citizen. Yes, really.

Looking back on that young woman, my former self, I like her. She was earnest, honest, hopeful and a believer in the democratic process. (She breaks my heart a bit now, as she has changed a lot.)

The day of voting, I was elated. I would be a voter today! I would help decide the fate of our great nation. I was discontented at work and wanted to get out early to go vote, but I did not get lucky. The secretarial grind went on until the clock was straight up 5 o’clock. I was already starting to lose the light, when I set out to my designated polling station.

The address I was given took me to an old hotel in the “tenderloin” section of San Francisco. It was once respectable, but now the home of vagrants, alcoholics, down at heel humans to state it kindly. I checked the address twice, not quite believing I was meant to vote in this establishment. Having taken the 10 city blocks at a brisk clip, I was panting and regretted not sufficiently catching my wind before entering. I needed speed, though. God forbid I would miss my chance to give George my vote!

The lobby was furnished with old chairs, mostly overstuffed and all in disrepair or ragged and filthy. The chairs themselves seemed elegant next to the residents they contained. The permanent renters had descended from whatever hell they inhabited upstairs to watch the voters file in. Entertainment had never been so good at The Uptown Hotel. I glanced over at the wrinkled faces, toothless smiles and hairy visages and then looked away in a concealed wince. Jesus.

There were three people sitting at a table officially labeled “Voters Check In Here.” Thank God! They looked like stable, employed adults. The sole woman of the group asked my name and I felt vulnerable saying it in this place, but offered it up politely – Kaye D. Elder. They verified my address and smartly matched me up on their voter rolls. I was actually impressed that they found me. I would not have been surprised if they said they lost the E’s and I would have to just wait four years.

One of the men, identifiied by a safety pin badge saying Proctor, rose importantly up from his folding chair and said, “Come this way.” He lead me over to one of the four voting booths. All of them were empty, I noticed. I had absolutely no experience with voting booths. He nudged me inside this ridiculous little curtained container and I was faced with a machine that seemed comprised of switches. He affixed a form to the top of it, adjusted it down over pegs until it was alligned, and I could see that a switch corresponded with each vote.

He said, “Just pull the lever after you vote.” The lever was a big handle on the side. Oh my! I could not have been more nervous to fly a jet plane. I unfolded my spiral notebook sheets from my purse. On each issue I had written down my votes in advance so that I could just efficiently proceed and would not hold up anyone or cause another citizen inconvenience or unnecessary wait time. (Oh, Lord, I was SO earnest.) The first measure was not one that I cared much about, but I flipped the switch to correspond with Yes and pulled the big lever to lock in my vote. Well, I thought! One down.

Footsteps sounded outside my private voting sanctuary. Then, without warning, the curtain opened. It was the man who escorted me in. “All done then,” he said? “ I will take your ballot to store.”

I was aghast. I blurted, “No. I just started.”

Now, he was off balance. “You pulled the lever. You have locked in your votes.”

“But, I haven’t even voted for the President yet.”

A voice sounded from the gallery in the lobby. It was more of a croak. A woman said, “Don’t matter! Nixon already won anyway. Didn’t you hear? It is all over. You didn’t need to even come in.” The force of her proclamation caused her to cough and hack and then blow her nose loudly. The room broke into murmurs of protest (“Mimi, you are not supposed to talk!” and “Leave Mimi alone. She is just telling the girl the truth.”)

Everyone was staring at me – the sole late voter – now exposed for public ridicule, showcased in the curtain of my PRIVATE voting booth. I was mortified.

The man read my expression and offered, “You are supposed to wait until you are finished voting to pull the lever. Now I have to go and record an error and start all over. Do you want to wait?”

I should have just picked up my purse that I had placed on the chair and run out to the safety of the night. But, no! I was a voter. I knew all the issues and I was prepared and it was my right to vote as a citizen of the United States of America! I said, “I would like to finish voting if I could. I am sorry.”

He huffed a bit, but performed his “extra task” without too much strain that I could see. He came back, affixed another form to the machine and yanked the curtain closed. My back was swimming with sweat now. I had not only disgraced myself, but my candidate – the wonderful and charming and completely CORRECT PERSON for the job of President had already lost. Tears streamed down my face and I was very grateful for the privacy – at last – of the booth. I concentrated as much as I could, worked through all the measures, the minor public servants, the major public servants, the statement that I was who I said I was and then – finally – I flipped the switch beside George’s name. What the hell did old crone know anyway:? She is probably drunk or high or something. George did NOT lose. Nixon was a creep and a coward and a liar. Our country would NOT put him back in office. I wiped my tears, blew my nose on a tissue and pulled the fucking lever – this time for real.

I timidly opened the curtain and stepped out, pretending not to notice the bemused audience and the slightly pouty faces of the three volunteer proctors who now had TO DO EXTRA WORK. I said, “Hey thanks! I am really sorry.”

Old Mimi could not let the moment pass. “She don’t believe me,” she stage whispered to the room, “He already lost!”

I walked home with a slow pace, the sidewalk harder than concrete beneath my disillusioned feet. I walked past a department store that had televisions set up for people to view the results. I stopped and peered in the window. It took no more than a minute or two to see the caption scroll across the screen. “With East Coast and Midwest counted, Nixon proclaimed winner.” In those days, there was no rule that results could not be publicly broadcast before all the polls closed. Many Californians, indeed, did not bother to vote because old Mimi was right. All hope was lost. I wonder now just how badly McGovern needed to lose if the entire Pacific Northwest and probably most of the Mountain time people had not been discouraged from voting already.

You would think that after such a rocky start, I would have been reluctant to vote again. You would be wrong. I vote in every election, every time. I vote in the “big one” and I vote in the middle one. And, I try to weigh in on special ballots, too. I still believe, improbably enough, that my vote matters. I study issues and I talk about issues. I participate in internet chat groups now, but it was more informal processes before. I am the person who violates the rule that you should not talk politics at work (everybody violates that rule.) They say that politics and religion lead to arguments. They are right about that. So what? I also argue about religion.

Why am I so dogged and determined? Remember history.

When Nixon won that election, I was so sad. How could I have known, as I wept in that lonely voting booth, that Nixon would fly off in a helicopter during the second year of that term, forced out of office by public scorn. I remember that moment so well. He literally ran out to the helicopter, saluted us all watching his flight, and left the job that I did NOT endorse him for in the first place. American majority was dead WRONG. I was so glad to see his ass out of the White House and I thought, “I knew it! I knew it! I was right.”

And, so even though my guy sometimes loses the election, I never lose hope. There is a helicopter waiting for every President who disgraces himself and you just never know who it will land for, who will run out to its sheltering protection, and fly off to San Clemente until he dies. You just never know.

George McGovern was the right man for the job. You hear me, Mimi?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. October 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Very vivid description of your first time voting. Wonderfully done.

  2. November 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Kaye, this is beautiful. In the end, you got to say, “I told you so.”

  3. November 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    What an awesome story! An explicit, human slice of history.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: