At 101 years old, the woman on the other end of the phone probably could have given me some good reasons for not voting. She could have said she has a hard time getting to the polls, or that she doesn’t like the hassle of getting an absentee ballot. I certainly wouldn’t have thought any less of her, at her age.
Instead, this gentle woman quietly explained that, yes, she would be voting in the upcoming election. After all, she never had missed an opportunity to cast a ballot … why would she now?
I reached this woman last fall when I was making calls to urge voters to the polls for the November elections. Having worked the phone banks for years, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for not voting: “My vote won’t count.” “I’m too busy.” “It’s hard for me to get to the polls.” “Why bother?” And that’s what I hear when I finally get through to someone. More often, I find myself listening to endless ringing or leaving voicemails. After a while it can get boring and demoralizing.
So I was happy when someone who was looking forward to the opportunity to vote answered the phone. She actually thanked me for calling. She said she didn’t need reminding, but understood that many people do. Yes, she said, she would be using an absentee ballot, but that wouldn’t stop her from voting.
After we hung up, I stopped and thought about this woman. At her age, she probably remembers when women won the right to vote. She’s seen this nation pulled in any number of directions. She’s seen effective elected officials and terrible ones. She’s no doubt occasionally been inspired by people she’s voted for, and, sometimes, disappointed by them.
Through it all, she voted. Why? Because she believes her vote does count. Because, with everything she’s seen, she believes that voting is not only our right but our duty.
Unfortunately, hers is not a common attitude around the country. Nationally, the Hoosier state ranks 43rd in terms of the number of citizens registered to vote, and 48th in terms of voting, according to the recent Indiana Civic Health Index.
Through our Spirit of Competition initiative, Indiana Humanities has examined and celebrated the various forms of competition and the ways competition affects our daily lives. We’ve seen how serious Hoosiers can be about competition, how fervently we believe in the value of competition, and how much we simply enjoy it. That’s why it’s so disheartening to see so many pass up the opportunity to participate in the most important competition of all.
After all, that’s what an election is: It’s a competition. But it doesn’t decide who has a banner hanging in their gym, or who gets a blue ribbon or even who wins a big piece of business. This competition decides who will make decisions affecting our communities for years to come.
As you prepare to vote, think about the issues that are important to you, read about the candidates’ positions on those and other issues, and talk with your friends and family so you can hear other ideas and opinions. Then make your decision, walk into the voting booth and make your voice heard.
Even as our nation faces important matters, and polarization threatens to pull us apart, we sometimes take for granted our opportunity to shape the course of a nation. We forget that, as established as our democracy is, it’s still a short experiment in the grand scheme of things. It’s been around for 236 years … a long time to many of us, but what about to someone who has, herself, lived almost half as long?
No doubt, you can see a lot in 101 years – including, if you take your rights and responsibilities seriously, a lot of ballots and voting booths and, as a result, a lot of opportunities to help shape the community, state and nation where you live. As the lady on the phone asked me last year, why miss an opportunity like that?
This post was written by Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of Indiana Humanities, and appeared in The Indianapolis Star on Monday, Nov. 5.
In September, October and November, Indiana Humanities is exploring the topic of “civility,” as part of its Spirit of Competition theme.