I need no reminders from Benedict Donald or Bazooka Boebert of the importance of voting. I’ve voted in every election since Richard Nixon’s landslide win in 1972.
The ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, lowering the voting age to 18, was cause for celebration among my college peers. Voting was a hard-won privilege justified in part by the casualties of the Vietnam War.
I helped re-elect Nixon. I voted for Linda Jenness — the socialist. My mother chided me in a phone call, “You threw your vote away.” Even though she was a Republican who thought George McGovern was a wimp for opposing the war and dumping Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton from the ticket because of his previously undisclosed hospitalizations for depression, she wanted me to consider the consequences of my vote.
By 1980, I was serving as a precinct co-captain and an election judge in Manitou Springs in another rout for the Republicans engineered by Ronald Reagan. During a long day at my assigned polling place, Marion’s sweet rolls made up for Ruby’s offensive remarks about “the hippies” waiting in line to vote. At noon the Republican county clerk showed up for our potluck and loaded up her plate before thanking us for our hard work. She oversaw the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office for years without a hint of scandal or partisanship. She could not have foreseen, nor would she have countenanced, the likes of election denier Tina Peters, charged with seven felonies for violating her oath and breaching the election system in Mesa County.
Although my vote has rarely counted in the Republican counties where I’ve lived over the past 50 years, I’ve never skipped so much as a school board election.
Despite my regrettable start, a lifelong habit quickly formed thanks to my high school civics class, my mother’s role modeling, and college professors who instilled the importance of public service. In return for the privileges we enjoyed as citizens of a democratic society, we had a duty to participate in the electoral process and to make well-informed choices.
Before every election I research the backgrounds of every candidate and study the ballot propositions. I vote not only with my own values in mind, but in honor of the people who influenced those values, even though our political leanings often differed.
I vote for my mother, who will never vote again. She died in December 2020. She never missed an election. During our last visit, a month before the presidential election, she glanced at the TV in her room as I wheeled her to the bathroom. Donald Trump was ranting about the latest grievance he sought to avenge. “Who would vote for such an angry man?” she said. Even though she could no longer keep track of politics because of her dementia, her shrewdness about character remained intact.
She never took her right to vote for granted. Her father lost his job with the railroad during the Depression, and her family of six moved in with her maternal grandparents. They lived in a one-bedroom cottage for three years until my grandfather finally got a job. Half the men in Mother’s high school graduating class were wounded or died in World War II. Rather than being embittered, she resolved after marrying to devote herself to community service, a commitment that lasted until she had to quit driving in her early 90s.
I vote for Dr. Les Thompson, our family physician when I was a child. He went to medical school on the GI Bill after serving as a medic during World War II. After witnessing the torture and starvation of hundreds of his comrades during the Bataan Death March, he vowed that if he survived he would become a compassionate doctor. And he did. He wrote the order, at my mother’s request, to move my schizophrenic sister from the state hospital, where she was being force fed after years of binge eating and self-induced vomiting, to a nursing home, where she would be allowed to make the decision for herself. Live or die? She chose life.
I vote for my great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Parnell, an officer assigned to a black regiment during the Civil War. After the war he left his native state of Ohio for good and settled in Kansas, where he and his wife raised 11 children. What I would give for a diary of his experiences. Did the bravery of the black soldiers who accompanied him into battle open his mind? As a child he would have internalized the beliefs of the time, that blacks were inferior to whites.
I vote for the students who’ve expressed their despair in classroom discussions over my generation’s denial of climate change, voting rights and the right of women to make their own reproductive care choices.
I vote after carefully considering credible sources of information. A democracy cannot stand on a crumbling foundation of indifference and disinformation.
Jane Parnell, of Fairplay, is author of “Off Trail: Finding My Way Home in the Colorado Rockies,” published by University of Oklahoma Press.
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