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

Coalitions

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

Our Moment

My favorite recollection of voting is a series of memories, all from November 6, 2012. This day came after years of waiting to finally cast a ballot. As a child of a politically interested family, and as a debater throughout middle and high school, I could not wait to vote for the first time. I always thought that the age minimum for voting was unfair and probably told my mother who should have won elections at age nine or younger. I imagined voting as the ultimate right of passage; voting meant I was an adult, a decision maker, a stakeholder. When I watched politicians on television, I would think about eventually getting to pick them, and something about that felt so appealing. This was likely a combination of the fear of missing out, the impatience of a wannabe adult, and the desire to participate politically.

I got my first opportunity to cast a ballot in June 2012 in the North Dakota primary election, which I enjoyed, but something felt missing. Certainly the yard signs, billboards, and door knockers reminded me that we were in some sort of election season, but the process of voting early for candidates on whom my eighteen-year-old self had limited opinions lacked pageantry and excitement. There wasn’t the buzz I had been waiting for

This changed heading into the fall 2012 election. At every level, I was excited to vote. I spent a portion of my first semester at the University of North Dakota working to connect some local candidates for the state legislature with various student groups for presentation and forums. I felt personally invested in that race. Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg jostled for the open senate seat in a heated and extremely close contest And at the highest level, Barack Obama, who I begged my mom to take me to see when he stopped in Grand Forks in 2008, faced a tough opponent in Mitt Romney. I was interested for the ballot from front to back and was ready to finally cast my vote.

The morning of November 6th began with my typical routine. I got dressed in my hoodie and jeans and headed down to breakfast at Squires Hall, where I met every Tuesday and Thursday with my friend Megan before our geography class. At some point during our typical partaking in yogurt and chocolate cereal, I asked her about the day that I had been waiting for my entire life, wondering if and when she was going to vote. Her reaction reflected a decidedly different opinion on the exercise. Megan told me that she wasn’t going to vote, not because she thought voting was dumb or that people shouldn’t be excited about it, but because she simply didn’t have any hard opinions. She said the surge of political attack ads bothered her and furthered her disinterest.

At first, my reaction was to try to cram a lifetime of political excitement and knowledge into the mind of my recently-made friend in an attempt to get her to the polls (MTV’s get out the vote campaign definitely worked on me). I was less concerned about who she voted for, though I definitely shared my opinions, than if she voted at all. To me, this was an opportunity we had never gotten before, we could not possibly waist it. We made it. We had arrive. We got to vote.

The next thing she said stopped me in my tracks and changed my perspective. She said that if she voted at this point, knowing almost nothing about the candidates nor having any hard opinions, that it would be inappropriate. She thought that voting without research and information would limit the value of votes for those who were truly invested. She said the vote wouldn’t be hers. It would be the advertisers’, her parents’, or maybe even mine.

It took me a second to understand her reasoning, but I came to respect her argument. She certainly changed my opinion from “Absolutely everyone should vote, in every circumstance, all the time, forever” to “Everyone should inform themselves and vote.” I haven’t stopped thinking that political participation is an amazing gift, but my thoughts on the timing with which we should spread that excitement has changed. The weeks leading up to elections, especially presidential ones, bring with them campaigns to encourage voting, but maybe they should emphasize education on candidates and issues first. Rocking the the vote is more fun when you know the words and understand your part in the song.

Looking back on this first of my election day experiences, Megan’s reaction to voting made perfect sense. For someone not interested in history and politics, the campaign season is a grueling reminder of division. Negative ads are effective and get people talking, but they also shape the entire reaction to the process. Making voting about ensuring that the “bad guys” don’t win is toxic and harmful to the majesty of our most valuable democratic tradition. I am by no means blameless either, as I regularly find myself chastising opposing candidates rather than building up those who I feel will best represent my community, state, or country. Thinking about my breakfast with Megan helps to remind me of the need to speak positively of voting and the democratic process and general. It too reminds me of the need to help our friends and family members become informed far before election day.

For those friends of mine excited about the vote, however; the day still meant purposeful political participation. Among them was my roommate, Brett, with whom I regularly talked politics. After lunch the two of us made our way across campus, past a busy array of pedestrians, to the Student Wellness Center, where we were to cast our ballots. Walking into the gym in my jeans reminded me that I needed to start going to the gym…but a more important manner was at hand. The patriotically decorated lobby bustled with voters and volunteers. This was what I had been waiting for. This was an election. Two smiling elders met us upon check-in and directed us on the procedures of the process.

With my ballot in hand, I headed into the booth and began to choose my candidates. With excitement and joy, I selected my preferred options for Senate, House, state legislature, and of course, Commander in Chief. Seeing the names of those figures I had been reading about since middle school did something to me. It cemented the idea that I have the privilege to microscopically control our nation’s future. The months of viewing campaign ads and political arguments on social media tired me, but in this moment, I felt reinvigorated. It reminded me of my place in history.

That realization brought with it a wide smile as I turned in my ballot and collected my coveted “I voted” sticker. It took Brett and I perhaps five steps past the external door before we began asking each other how we voted on races and ballot measures. We generally knew where the other stood on the major contests (we had discussed most of them while in our bunk bed), but the local races and measures offered more room for comparison. We probably should have taken Megan’s advice as their were a few races in which we definitely just chose random names (I would go on to do more local research for subsequent elections), but this slight misstep could not and did not taint the day for us. This was our moment. Clad in stickers, we spent the rest of the afternoon going to class, talking with our friends about the candidates, noting other people’s stickers, and basking in the glow of civic duty.

As the day wore on, my thoughts shifted from excitement from simply participating, to anticipation of results. I badly wanted to know who would claim some of the marquee positions, and I was not alone. At about 7 pm, my friend Derek appeared in the doorway of my residence hall room with a series of electoral maps. He had predictions for Senate races, projections for the Presidential contest, and blank maps to track final results. This was his Super Bowl. At Derek’s request, we flipped our modest dorm room flat screen to MSNBC and settled in for the results.

Slowly, our room filled with our honors dorm friends, who brought with them snacks, calculus homework, and other welcomed distractions. Not everyone was as intense as Derek. Most of them probably came because people just congregated in whatever room was populated. Even some of our friends who did not vote joined the fray, Megan included. The amassing group still felt different than that of a normal gathering though. That buzz from our first real chance to act as political stakeholders, and adults really, stayed with us. When announcements broke of a state win for Obama or Romney, brief moments of applause broke out intermittently. The event did not feel like a manufactured political moment, but rather an authentic appreciation of history and our place within it. More than that though, it was fun. A group of people gathered organically to share thoughts, opinions, and reactions on a day that would greatly impact the years to come.

Once the news of Barack Obama’s projected victory broke, joy abounded for his supporters. One of our more eccentric neighbors ran up and down the hallway in celebration. Many of us high-fived or clapped as we essentially capped a season of question marks and anticipation. For those who weren’t as thrilled with the result, they still shared their feelings for finally getting to participate. Some of us stayed around to watch coverage of congressional races, but most left for typical gatherings of Nintendo, reruns, or late-night dining.

The next day, the buzz had faded considerably, but was still present through social media posts, news segments, and a bevy of class discussions. Days passed, and my life returned to its normal routine. I had my breakfasts with Megan, my political walk-and-talks with Brett, and my nightly hangouts with my group of friends, but a tiny part of me felt differently.

Perhaps on the smallest noticeable level, the events of that day shifted my thinking. Election day helped me re-imagine the need to engage friends like Megan in politics while understanding their perspectives and avoiding coming off as preachy. It cemented my future excitement when walking into a polling location. It reminded me of the power and responsibility I have as a voter. It taught me that elections can still be public affairs through which people come together to celebrate democracy as they have for centuries now. Most of all, election day provided me, and everyone who voted, with an opportunity to think about how we want our communities, states, and country to change for the better. This reflection strengthens every time I go to the polls, and this is why I love voting.

Joe Kalka

Independence

As a person with a disability, why do I vote? Why does it matter?

I would like to credit a couple of teachers in school, who gave the class, as an assignment, to watch the local news and follow current events. This began my interest in what was happening locally and taught me that I was part of the community I had some say to what was happening.

Since World News comes on before local news, I got in the habit of watching that as well. World News expanded my knowledge of what was happening not only nationally and around the world, it exposed me to politics as well. I liked saying it was my eighth period of the school day, being I was learning. At times, I picked up so much information by watching the news, that it helped me to understand more of what I was also learning at school.

Through this exposure to politics, I learned as a person with a disability I should become familiar with the political aspect, and what is involved in creating policy. Let’s face it, my life depends on various policies, such as education, employment, health care, independent living, etc. I must have a say in each.

In addition to this, I learned what different politicians and political parties represented, and how they may help me as a person with a disability.

I have voted in every election since my eighteenth birthday, even if it has been only one measure. In recent years, I have voted early which typically has shorter lines. Being in North Dakota, you can’t count on the weather on election day.

When I get ready to vote, I spend time both on the internet and listening to different formats, trying to get up to speed on candidates and the issues.

At the polls, I use the machine, where it reads to me, I select my choice and then the machine marks the ballot and sends it back out to me. This offers a great feeling of independence. Every time I go, I feel liberated and like I am a part of society.

Thank you,

Anthony

Special Ballots

In 2016, I took my two young daughters to early voting at the Alerus Center along with other members of the North Dakota Women’s Network.  After I cast my ballot for the first woman to attain the presidential nomination from a major political party, we met with other NDWN members and their families for dinner.  I made special ballots for the kids to have their own “election”  and then my daughters helped me count the votes.

Cynthia Prescott

A Privilege and A Joy

I have been a voter for the past forty years…time truly does fly!  In all of those years, I have never missed a presidential election and have rarely missed an opportunity to vote during midterms, or for any state and local election.  I take voting very seriously.  This “seriousness” may be why I had a little trouble writing about the “joy” of voting.  It’s always so serious for me!

I am choosing, however, to write about the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when Barack Obama became the first African American president, and went on to serve two terms.  Obama’s elections, and my ability to vote for him, allowed me to feel like I was part of a cultural shift.  A shift that was a very long time in coming.  I was elated when he won in 2008, and relieved in 2012.  Although I am a white, Norwegian American woman, I felt that I was finally able to vote for someone who represented me.  Skin color was not the defining characteristic, nor was gender.  Voting for Obama was voting for someone I felt believed in free and fair public education.   My vote for Obama symbolized, for me, a leader who would move the country forward towards greater inclusivity and opportunity for all.  Voting for Obama was voting for an intelligent, thoughtful, respectful, articulate, global minded and empathetic person who would represent not only me, but this country on the world stage in a way that I could be proud of.   These were actually extremely “joyful” votes for me to cast…now that I think about it.

I believe in this country and the journey we have been on for 200 plus years.  I believe in the goodness of Americans and I look forward to casting my next vote in November 2018.  It really is a privilege, and a joy, to vote!

Tori Johnson

Equality

I vividly remember my first time voting. I was a senior in high school, and I went on my lunch break to cast my ballot. When I got back to school, the first person I saw in the hall was the principal. I remember being struck by the fact that I just participated in a process where my voice counted as much as his. That was invigorating. I just participated in a process where I was completely equal with community leaders, with my parents, with people of all professions and backgrounds, and it made me excited to do it again in the next election.

Jonathan Holth

Church Ladies

We’d carefully planned the night. It was our first time voting and we weren’t going to get it wrong.  We’d looked up our polling station location online – a church about a half mile from the house – and we triple checked that our ids were stuffed in the pockets of our coats.

We arrived to the smiling faces of elderly church ladies who flipped through sheets of paper, rows and rows of inked up names of my brand new neighbors. I remember thinking about how much I felt like part of my new community at that moment. This was only just a place on a map, but through my vote, I got to help choose the people who would work to make it a home.

After I ticked the requisite boxes with a 10-cent Bic pen, one of the church ladies smooshed an “I voted” sticker onto my cheek. The streetlights flicked on just as we stepped outside and made the half-mile walk back to our first house.

Becca Cruger

 

VROOM!

I remember waiting in a long voting line in Gamble Hall when I was a student at UND in 1980 when new voting booths were installed.  It was a quaint booth with a curtain for privacy and the curtain would automatically fly open when the voter was finished.  Each voter was taking a fairly long time so when it was my turn, I thought I would get equal time.  Well, I cast my first vote for President of the United States and VROOM!!! The curtain opened! I wasn’t done yet! The booth attendant wouldn’t let me proceed to complete my ballot.  Sheepishly, I had to make my way past the throngs of people who found some humor at my expense.

Terry Brenner

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