Where People Mattered

In the small, rural, northern Pennsylvania town where I grew up in the 1970s, voting was a community activity. Every autumn and every spring, as far back as I can remember, Election Day was an event in our social calendar that was as certain – and as observed – as Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

On Election Day our tiny wooden community center, built in the early 1800’s on the edge of the old town green, was converted into a voting facility. Portable wooden voting stalls were erected in the small galley kitchen where, at other times, dinners were prepared by women’s groups for town celebrations and funeral suppers. Brightly checked handmade curtains hung over the doors of each stall to provide privacy, and long, low tables were lined up on the side of the main room where voters signed in, gathered their ballots, and deposited them in a sealed box after voting.

Our neighbors served as election officers, and every year my mother volunteered her day to call voters and arrange to drive anyone who needed a ride to the polls. In those days, many families in and around our blue-collar village only had one car, so stay-at-home moms needed rides, as did house-bound senior citizens. When I was still too young for school, I rode along with Mom, as she delivered these voters to the polls and took them back home. Later, when I started school, I would accompany her as soon as I got home. It was an exciting, community event, and I wouldn’t miss it. She always had a stack of sample ballots along so that her passengers could review their choices ahead of time, and though she was under strict instructions to remain non-partisan, she could answer questions and explain the ballot to anyone who needed help understanding it. An avid backseat listener, I also learned a great deal about political offices, parties, and the voting process.

Once we arrived at the polls, people greeted each other, joked with the election officials, and visited with fellow voters. Especially for older people who lived well-outside of town and who didn’t get out often, this was a social occasion, and there was always a large, industrial coffee pot going with free coffee for everyone. The building itself was a dark and cozy space that smelled of old wooden beams as well as books because it also doubled as a miniature lending library. As I waited for the voters we had delivered to cast their ballots, I would look through all the books, reading some while I waited, and selecting several to sign out and take home. From the start then, for me, reading and voting went together, and once I could read by myself, at the end of the evening when the polls had closed, I was always allowed to take a sample ballot into the voting stall and “cast” my vote. The election officer would solemnly collect my carefully folded ballot and tuck it away.

Today, as I see many small communities mobilizing to increase voter turn-out, I think back to these early experiences with elections and realize that as rural and quaint as my community seems through the haze of memory, we were, in many ways, at the forefront of the democratic process: a process that is and should be essential, communal, and accessible. Though I didn’t realize it then, of course there would have been vast differences in our neighbors’ political views, but the act of voting brought everyone together as a community. It was the privilege and imperative of voting that superseded these differences ensuring that each citizen could participate and be counted.

Tami S. Carmichael

Traveling Abroad

I honestly don’t remember voting for the first time. While we discussed voting in our family, I wouldn’t say we put a priority on it. I am sure there are many elections in which I have not voted (embarrassingly enough).

In college I had the opportunity to travel abroad and become more aware of the world. It is through these experiences that I came to understand that voting is such a privilege! I had underestimated the power and importance of having a voice through my vote.

I now enjoy taking my boys to the polls with me. I hope to instill the importance of having a voice through voting!

Maura Doyle Tanabe

Unexpected Matters

Becoming a mother changed my life in many ways, some expected and some unexpected.  I expected the joy of holding my baby boy, the sleep deprivation, and the overpowering love I felt for this tiny person. What I didn’t expect is how becoming a mother would change the way I looked at the world and my role in it.

Suddenly, with the birth of this amazing child, what happened to the world became very important to me.  Peace mattered.  Good schools mattered. Clean water mattered. Great libraries mattered. Healthcare mattered. I quickly realized that although I had never voted in any election prior to his birth, voting was essential if I was to have any impact on the kind of world in which my son would grow up.

I carried my son to the polls before he was able to walk and continued to bring him with me as I voted over the years. He loved the curtain on the voting booth, the pencil on the chain, and the “I voted” sticker. Voting was part of his life from the beginning so it’s no wonder that he went to the polls the minute he could legally vote.  He is now a grown man who continues to experience both the responsibility and the joy of voting.

Wendy Wendt

Renting vs. Buying

In the history of earth, no one has ever washed a rented car.

For my first 10 years of voting, political action felt like renting a car. I would check the names on the ballot whose ads told me they agreed with me. It felt like that’s all I could do to help steer my country. I felt my vote for President was the most important and barely knew anything about the bottom of the ballot.

I rent the candidate and they rented my vote. If I liked the rental, I would rent again. If not, try something else. It was all transactional which felt cheap.

Voting like this also told me my country only needed me 2 days (primary and general) out of every 2 years.

And, voting obligation complete, I went back to my normal life. Work, school, family, and friends filled my time. I’d complain about things missing in my community or decisions made, but I had voted, so my obligation was complete. After all, I was nobody and knew no one in office.

Then I met someone passionate about our community and doing something about it. They introduced me to other passionate community people.

And they…..did stuff.

Some ran for office, some held office, some had skipped elections completely and just…..did stuff. Beyond talking or complaining, they tried to make things happen. They got results.

It wasn’t cheap or renting. It was very real and buying into my community. And surprisingly, it was fun. Music festivals, community events, coworking spaces, meeting friends, interacting with officials, and feeling change happen in a place I was starting to love.

Suddenly, those spots in the bottom of the ticket mattered. What those positions did mattered. Who was in those spots mattered.

100 votes swings an election that mattered to my family’s daily life. Those races at the bottom were the ones I sweated for results, I lobbied friends, took yard signs, and walked door to door.

Knowing the importance felt like I knew a secret about my home. That I was a trusted guardian of my community. Simply because I cared and wanted to be there.

The rich get to know the Congressional delegation. The powerful get to meet a President. But the caring, passionate, and present run their community. Best thing is anyone can join.

So if you care about your community, of course, please, vote on November 6th. But remember your community needs you December 6th too. And January, April, and August 6th too. You have more to give and more to gain than you’d ever suspect.

Voting. Don’t rent your vote. Buy in to your community.

Nick Jensen

Jeeps and Kielbasa

When my brother and I were in grade school, our parents would pick us up and take us along when they voted. The polling place was the National Guard Armory. The Guardsmen would line up their tanks and their jeeps inside the building for the kids to play on while our parents voted. On the walls were patriotic paintings of American soldiers from the colonial times to the present (1970’s). After my parents voted we would buy some food from the nice ladies from our local youth sports club, the Dana Athletic and Recreational Association. They were lined up at the back of the building as you exited so couldn’t leave without getting something. My parents would always get Mrs. O’Brien’s “Sweet and Sour Kielbasa” which more than a few people thought was the best thing anyone had ever done with sausage.

My grandmothers never missed an election. My maternal grandmother Frances became a citizen in 1942 and voted in every election until her death in 1986. My paternal grandmother Anne voted in every election from 1936, when she turned 21 until 2014 when she was 99 years old. Every time I vote I think of them.

Mark Jendrysik

No Hesitation

I was 18 in Louisiana and I registered as a Republican because I thought I was for state’s rights and small government. My choices in my first election, for governor, were (R) David Duke (Former Grand Wizard of the Klan) vs (D) Edwin W. Edwards (now a convicted felon). I pulled that lever for Edwards with no hesitation. And the rest is history!

Catherine Brissette


My favorite memory of voting in Grand Forks is the Arbor Park issue and how much it was a divisive issue that wasn’t politically tied to either party. This was something that was very localized, and got people from all walks to step out of their comfort zones and come vote, and even more importantly talk about their stance on the issue. There were people of all opinions talking non-stop about this issue.



After deciding to run as a candidate in a local election, I found myself on the ballot with other female candidates including a female candidate for president and state senator. I took my two young daughters to vote with me and captured the moment with a selfie. Even though they are young now, we talk about the importance of voting and getting involved at a young age. I always want them to know they can do whatever they set their mind to, even if it’s running for president someday:)

Amber Flynn

Temper Tantrum

The largest temper tantrum I ever had in public as a child was in 1988. My aunt was a big fan of Jesse Jackson, and my family hyped me up for Election Day in a big way. It was important to them that I was aware of the election. “We’re going to go vote, Maura! Are you excited to go vote?”

The problem was, that on Election Day 1988, I was only three years old. My family went to get their ballots and I didn’t get one. I went into full meltdown mode, crying and yelling that I wanted to vote and they wouldn’t let me. I was so upset!

Now I’m a grown woman, mother of three, and I try my best to keep my children engaged in the political process in a way that they can understand. This includes bringing them along with me to vote, and explaining to them why I voted the way I did in the car on the way home. After the great Election Day Meltdown of 1988, I now make sure to tell my kids “We’re going to go watch Mom and Dad vote” to avoid any more Election Day meltdowns.

I do always make sure they get stickers, though.

Maura Ferguson


This year marks the 40th anniversary of a key moment in voting history for me: the 1978 gay rights campaigns which occurred across the country that year. It was a tough year in many ways: the vitriolic rhetoric against gay rights and gay people was at a high pitch, and in Seattle, where I lived at the time, we were facing a mean-spirited ballot measure aimed at restricting employment and housing protections for gay Americans. Many of us used the term “gay” in those days as an umbrella term for what today is more often called GLBTQ. I still use the term “gay” in that more expansive sense. In the “Initiative 13 Campaign” in Seattle that year, we assembled a truly remarkable coalition of hundreds of people in the city, including many allies who were not themselves “gay” but who understood that everyone needs to stand together on these matters of basic civil and human rights. The targets of discrimination change, but the work to protect ourselves and our neighbors from that discrimination is a constant labor.

That year we had a Speakers Bureaus, canvassing teams, media strategies, door-to-door educational efforts, pamphlets and flyers abounding (and we are talkin’ mimeograph machines, people), and meetings upon meetings. We even had “schisms” on our side, because, well, you can’t have coalition politics in a democracy without schisms! And we worked together anyway. We built coalitions with other civil rights groups, labor unions, religious and secular citizens groups. It was exhilarating, inspiring, and exhausting. Similar campaigns occurred across the country that year. In Seattle, on that November day 40 years ago, the campaign to protect gay rights won the vote: I remember very clearly going to vote that day, unsure of the outcome, but with real gratitude for all the hard work that such a wide range of people had done. And I remember celebrating together that evening as our weeks and months of hard shared work paid off. But in other places in the country, gay rights suffered harsh electoral defeats on the same day, and that bittersweet part of the memory of 1978 is a reminder for me of the need for constant vigilance and hard work in pluralistic democracies. Forty years later, we still have a lot of work to do to protect civil and human rights for all of us: locally, nationally and internationally. So when I think of voting, and the “joy of voting,” I think: coalitions.

Sharon Carson

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑