Voting, now and long ago

I write this a couple of days before our presidential election. As you read it, all votes may already have been counted. Or maybe not; we have become so accustomed, in recent years, to all-night vigils and reluctant concession speeches — some occasionally retracted. The vitriol of this most recent season for picking a president will always stay with me, as does the one before it. But others in my memory have been far more civil, what I like to call “more American,” although I know that’s not true: America has changed, and our voting along with it…

I couldn’t wait until I turned 21 and was old enough to vote! That was the age of electoral maturity in those long-gone days, before the recognition that if 18-year-olds were old enough to bear arms for their country, they were also old enough to participate in choosing those who would lead it. I never cast any early ballots; I can’t remember there even being any early voting at that time. But my first vote was a milestone experience. And for me, voting still is, as I uphold my personal tradition: waiting until THE day, no matter how many early voting opportunities are offered. I’m always excited to make my choices count on what I still consider the one-and-only, REAL Election Day.

When I was barely 20, I was already married, and my husband had accepted a job in Washington, D.C. But we would never have considered living in the District of Columbia itself, because its residents then didn’t even have the right to vote for President! (Look up the 24th Amendment to our Constitution and see when, and how, this changed.) We chose to reside in Maryland instead.

A couple of years later, we moved to Illinois, and I quickly got a look at politics under Chicago’s famed Mayor Richard Daley. On the very first day my husband went to work at his new job, leaving me home alone with our toddler son, a man knocked on our front door to ask me if I’d consider being an election judge. I was surprised — even more so when he explained why: Our new home was in a 100% Democratic precinct, but the law required judges of both major parties, so he always called on new residents to find out if they’d declare themselves Republican, and vote a straight ticket, in order to comply with it! In both Pennsylvania and Maryland, voters could choose what to declare ourselves on voting day. I said no. As he departed, he urged me to contact him if I should change my mind — leaving his card on our small hallway table, and a $5 bill along with it! That was 1959, my first of many lessons in Chicago politics…which years later did include my service as an election judge…

This year, I had a splendid, nonpartisan guidebook: “The 2020 Elections: 100 Questions You Were Afraid to Ask,” by Steven Vincent and Peter Tarlow. I don’t know the former personally, but I do know the latter: the long-time campus rabbi at Texas A&M University and the sender of a weekly email, in both English and Spanish, about the general state of our world. This book answers every question you’ve ever wanted an answer to, and some you probably never knew you should even ask, about everything U.S. law says regarding voting. Get one now at, or buy it from Amazon for under $10; it will serve you well into the future. But for today: Let us hope that the next four years will keep America great!

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