A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Our votes matter, casting them is the least we can do; see you at the polls!

Susan Shea won the poster contest; Kay Williamson and I came in second. We felt gypped. Our entry was better by far. All Susan did was to cut a photo of a blindfolded man from Life magazine and write the caption, “Don’t Vote Blind” in thick black crayon. Kay and I had developed a cartoon-like storyboard that promoted the importance of voting, using a pair of stick figures fashioned from brightly colored toothpicks.

Our teacher, Sister Margo, praised Kay and me for inventiveness but pointed out that Susan’s entry was easily read from afar. Ours, though rendered in elegant script, was invisible from the back row.

That was fifth grade, the first year elections were a thing. Before that, the girls of St. Francis were not permitted to vote for anything. Sister Margo, however, was young and lively. She tried to get us excited about school and being leaders, so she had introduced the concept of class officers.

In a tight race, I was elected class president. We voted by raising our hands with our eyes shut, no peeking. When Sister called the name of my opponent, I squinted through my fingers. Although I’d been taught that humility and charity were essential traits for a good Catholic girl, I couldn’t resist. Counting quickly, I realized I would have to vote for myself to win.

My cheeks flushed with greed and guilt as I cast my vote for me. Such assertiveness felt like a sin, a sure-fire way to grease the path to hell. Instead of celebrating my victory, I went home miserable and confessed to one of my older sisters. She nipped my iniquity in the bud.

“Do you think Eisenhower voted for Stevenson?” she snapped.

Thereafter, I learned candidates voted for themselves without hesitation.

In high school, politics became more complex. School was co-ed, and girls had a hard time winning elections unless the office was secretary. Kids who promised victory parties with free beer had a better chance of getting votes than those who didn’t. College was more of the same, but there were lots more locations where posters had to be displayed, and free booze was a more prevalent incentive than it had been in high school. Popularity seemed to win out and being part of the right social group, sorority, or fraternity helped.

When I was finally 21 and a registered voter, I learned more about political realities. It was 1968 and the country was in tumult. Anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and the Civil Rights Movement were gaining voice around the country. In April, Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for president. A few days later, Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two months after that, Robert F. Kennedy, a contender for the Democrat nomination for president, was gunned down in Los Angeles.

In the end, the Republican nominee, former Vice President Richard Nixon, defeated the Democrat, incumbent Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. The popular vote was close, but Nixon won the Electoral College with ease, marking a shift to Republican dominance in a string of elections.

Thereafter, I have voted in just about every election and primary that came up. Whether my candidate won or lost, I continued to exercise my right. Women, after all, did not have the vote in this country until the 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920. Seemed to me that voting was not a novelty but a necessity.

This year, with more than 3.4 million registered voters, it is projected that Kentuckians will cast one million ballots – about 31%. What a shock that so few of us bother to vote, especially since so many people talk about politics, slap bumper stickers on their vehicles, and pick a fight with anyone who doesn’t share their opinions.

Various impediments and obstacles make it difficult for people to cast a vote. In addition, many are disgusted with the mudslinging and the money that goes into attack ads. And then there are the folks who spend hours online every day but complain that they don’t know enough about the candidates. Cynics quote Mark Twain: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

I prefer the sentiments of Gloria Steinem, “Voting isn’t the most we can do. It is the least.”

See you at the polls.

Log on to www.elect.ky.gov, site of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, for more information. To get personalized voting information, including how to find your polling place and who is on the ballot, visit www.vote411.org. The site is sponsored by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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