Midterm elections are upon us, and I’m working harder than I’ve done in the past to educate myself about the issues and the candidates.
Perhaps it’s the approach of the centennial of the 19th Amendment that gave our country’s women the right to vote. Certainly it’s my confidence that women’s voices and votes should help lead our communities and our nation. I’m also motivated by Mormon Women for Ethical Government, of which I am a member and a director. MWEG has encouraged its members to hold nonpartisan “voter preparation parties,” and I needed to walk the talk. So last night 14 women and men gathered at my home for two hours, devices and ballots in hand, and talked measures, bonds and candidates. Language that confused me now makes sense, and I feel better equipped to cast my votes with understanding and clarity.
But in addition to the influences above, I am acting because I want to live up to the example set by my great-grandmother, Georgia Henderson, exemplified in a story from 50 years ago.
Born in 1887, Great-Ggrandma Georgia was widowed at the age of 28. Left with her 3-year-old daughter and my 1½-year-old grandfather, she was taken in by her sister and brother-in-law 2,000 miles away. Georgia was her own woman. She worked full-time to add to the family finances. She wore pants long before most women were doing so. And she was outspoken, peppering her speech with lively phrases.
At the age of 81, Great-Grandma Georgia was interviewed for a 1968 election day newspaper, recalling that she first voted in 1915 and cast her first presidential vote for Woodrow Wilson in 1916. “I was 28 before you darn men decided we women were smart enough to vote,” she was quoted as saying. Georgia’s granddaughter, my aunt Merrie Henderson Ziady, recorded this family history story of how the interview came about:
At the time she was interviewed, Grandma was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. She generally voted by absentee ballot, but that year there had been a slip-up and she hadn’t received a ballot. She called the county election department and was told it was too late to get an absentee ballot.
Angry but determined to find a way to vote, Grandma called her hometown newspaper to see if they could help her.
“I’ve just about used up all my cuss words,” she said over the phone. “I’m 81 years old and I’ve been voting since I was 28. And they tell me down at the election department I can’t get one now.”
Grandma was fortunate. The person she talked to at the newspaper had a sympathetic ear and took on her case. A few phone calls confirmed it was indeed too late for an absentee ballot, but a wheelchair cab service was arranged to pick her up and take her to the polling place, free of charge. Along with one of her roommates, they headed off to the polls.
As she went to work on her punch card ballot, she apparently kept up a running commentary of the candidates and issues — from dog control to garbage levy to presidential politics.
“My father was a hard-boiled Republican,” she said. “It’s a good thing he died before I married, because I married a Democrat.”
Back at the convalescent home, she proclaimed, “I made up my mind that if there was any way for me to vote, by George, I was going to vote. And I did!”
Was she glad? Beamed Georgia Henderson, “You’re damn tootin’ I am!”2 comments on this story
Unfortunately, today too many Americans are eligible to vote but don’t exercise that right or do so sloppily; I myself have been guilty of this. Utah has one of the nation’s worst voter turnout rates (39 out of 50).
But some Americans, like my great-grandmother, remember what it was like not to have the vote and therefore hold dear their voting rights and responsibilities.
We can all take a lesson from Great-Grandma Georgia. Do your research. Gather friends and learn about the candidates and measures. Then get to the polls.
Will you be glad you voted? To paraphrase Great-Grandma: “You’re darn tootin’!”