Grandpa Warfel talked politics. It was not a rule in his house to avoid the topic. Abraham Lincoln was his all-time hero, though Dwight Eisenhower came onto the list somewhere not terribly far below him. When the time came for any of his forty-odd grandchildren to be eligible to vote, Grandpa would make a visit to each one shortly before the time ran out for voter registration to make sure his kids were registered, and when the time for the election came he would visit to make sure his kids were planning to vote.
He never told us how to vote. He just said, “You’ll know how to vote.” Did we know how to vote because we had listened to so many family conversations over the years, or was he simply expressing his confidence in us? I do not know for sure, but I do know that he wanted us to vote. He wanted his family to participate in the franchise, both young men and young women, as he and Grandma had done, though she was not eligible to vote until the 19th Amendment made her vote possible. Thereafter she most certainly did, whether they canceled each other’s vote or not.
I think about Grandpa whenever I hear that so many first opportunity voters do not become first time voters. I was persuaded from the first that 18 year olds, able to die for their country, and continuing to do so through the years in ample numbers, should be able to vote. Is the franchise really meaningless?
Why have so many died for that right if it means nothing? All of those who worked to secure and implement the Voting Rights Act surely believed that we should do all we could to use it, including the young adults Werner, Chaney and Goodman who died for it. Should we forego that right and responsibility here when we fight for it elsewhere?
The spiritual resources from our ancient history longed for equality and mutuality among people, but of necessity endured governments where tyrants ruled and abused their citizens. Do we really want to return to that kind of state?
We have a year until the next major national election, and several voting and citizen participation opportunities in the meantime. Can we play the role that my Grandpa undertook for the young adults in our community? How can we persuade each other that each vote can make a difference and that all who have the right also have the responsibility to cast votes?
Can we remind each other that a handful of voters in each precinct have decided recent national elections? War and peace, jobs and benefits, air and water, schools and hospitals, roads and parks, jails and courts, animals and plants, faiths and freedoms all feel an impact from voters’ decisions. Nonvoters have as much impact as voters, but not necessarily in the direction they would choose.
It is time for more exercise! It is time for a movement for exercise of the vote in a country in which fewer than half usually vote. It won’t do much good to have a well-exercised body or an educated mind if we have given away the freedom to use them.