Sometimes reading an article will provide the perfect opportunity for you to express yourself. Writing is a good way to get your opinion across without confronting a person who might have an opposing opinion. When I worked in Nashville, I became a fan of the Nashville Business Journal, whose editor at the time was Jeff Wilson. So I combined a “fan letter” with an article written in response to his editorial on Voting.
I read with great interest your column: “Voting is the essence of liberty in the U.S.” in the November 7-11, 1988 issue of the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, and I must say it evoked some strong memories of my first time to vote. It was 1961. I remember the year because I turned 21 that January, graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, got married in May, and had my first job as a married woman. In my mind, being able to vote was just the icing on the cake of adulthood. Our home was in Starkville, where my husband was a student at Mississippi State University, and I just about drove him crazy talking about finally being able to vote. But to this day I don’t remember who was running, whether it was a state/local/or federal election or what. And here is the reason why…
I was working as a secretary downtown, and had decided to vote during lunch. I remember walking up the front steps of our “new” courthouse building – which some had criticized for being “too modern” – and of going into a large room where two people sat in front of a table which held a wooden box whose hinged top had a slit in it. There were some sheets of paper with a single column of names on each, and some pencils over to one side of the box. “Hi!” I said. “My name is Nancy Baker and I’m here to vote!”
I don’t know what I expected, but it sure wasn’t what happened next. One of the two people was a man who looked liked the character portrayed by Junior Samples of Hee Haw, including the bib overalls. He stopped chewing his toothpick, took it out of his mouth and pointed at the pile of paper. “Go to it, honey.” “Well,” I said, “I’ve never done this before and I need a little help.” His face lit up. “Sure thang, darlin’. Now here’s all you do.” He picked up one of the papers. “You take this here ballot, and you pick who you want to vote for, and then you get your pencil…(he picked up the pencil) and then…(he folded the paper and put it into the box)…you vote!” Then he and the woman sitting next to him just about fell off their chairs, laughing.
Well, it seemed simple enough, so I reached for a ballot, got a pencil, marked a candidate, folded my paper, and started to put it in the box. “What cha doin, hon?” the woman laid her hand over the hole in the box. “Why, I’m voting,” I said. More laughter! When the woman caught her breath, she said “Honey, you done already voted!” Then she pointed toward the door and made a waving motion with her hand. And I’m sorry to say that I just left. I was so totally taken aback by what had happened that it took me a while to sort it all out.
So you see why I can say with you (though perhaps for different reasons) “‘I will never forget the feeling that evening. I remember it every Election Day, and every Election Day I commemorate that feeling with one simple act: I VOTE.'”
When writing this – in 1988 and today – I am back in that voting room. I can see the man and woman. I can smell his snuff and her body odor. I was definitely more educated than they were but I certainly was at a serious disadvantage as to what was going on. These “volunteers” owned that voting box and they had the fate of every voter’s ballot in their hands. It was the first time I encountered The Game, and I have made it my business ever since to know what game I am in when I interact with other people, in public or in private. Secondarily, one must choose to play or not. When you have been “had” through ignorance or intimidation, what choices did you make? I fumed about this for years, until I wrote about it. Now it is part of my past and I can go forward. The takeaway is that it matters even more to always vote, no matter what.