Power to the People by
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Prompted By First Time Voting

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The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, was ratified in July 1971. That meant that I could vote that November, at the age of twenty. Since I was registered to vote in New Jersey, but was a senior in college in Massachusetts that fall, I must have gotten an absentee ballot. It was an off-year, and there wasn’t anything memorable on the ballot, but I’m sure I wanted to vote anyway.

I turned 21 in August 1972, but it didn't matter any more, since you could now vote at 18, thanks to the 26th Amendment.

I turned 21 in August 1972, but it didn’t matter any more, since you could now vote at 18. So I was able to vote in the June 1972 primary thanks to the 26th Amendment, whereas without it my first vote would have been in the general election that November, when the presidential candidates were Nixon and McGovern. The primary was on June 6th, and my college graduation was on June 15th, so I must have gotten an absentee ballot again. However, in November I was an unemployed college graduate living at home, so I know I was in New Jersey to vote in person in the general election. I consider that first in-person vote to be my actual first time voting.

It annoyed me that the eighteen-year-olds got to vote in that presidential election too, since I had had to wait until I was twenty-one for a presidential election.

The featured image is as close as I could find to the type of voting machines I voted on in that first election in New Jersey. (A careful look will show it is from Connecticut, with Thomas Dodd and Prescott Bush running for Senate, but Connecticut is pretty close to New Jersey.) It may not be clear in the picture, but you could either flip one large lever that controlled the whole row, thereby voting for all the Democrats or all the Republicans, or you could flip each small lever individually, allowing you to decide on each candidate separately. I always liked to flip each small lever, even if everyone I was voting for was a Democrat. When you opened the curtain of the voting booth, your votes were registered and the levers went back to neutral for the next person.

In 1972, in the New Jersey presidential primary, only Shirley Chisholm and Terry Sanford were on the ballot. I don’t remember why this was the case, but I’m sure I voted for Shirley Chisholm, who got 67% of the vote. In the general election I voted for McGovern and Shriver, of course, although I was sad that Eagleton had been replaced by Shriver. I still have a McGovern-Eagleton button in my collection.

On my ballot was also Peter Rodino, running for a 13th term in Congress. He got 80% of the vote that year! He continued to serve until January 1989, twenty terms in all. He is best remembered as the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time of Nixon’s impeachment, and watching those hearings, I was very proud that he was my Congressman.

Clifford Case, a liberal Republican (remember those?), was re-elected to the Senate that year. I’m sure I didn’t vote for him, but he wasn’t a bad Senator. However, that year was the last time the Republicans have ever won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey.

Harrison Williams, the other New Jersey Senator, a Democrat, was not up for election that year. Ten years later he resigned from the Senate after he was convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam sting operation.

There were three measures on the ballot that November: a bond issue for improvements to highways and mass transit, a measure to allow bingo games for senior citizens, and a change in the terms of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State. I probably voted in favor of all three of them. The only one that passed was . . . legalizing bingo games for seniors.

And that is the story of my first time voting.

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Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love the way you describe pulling down the individual levers as opposed to the big one for the whole Democratic ticket. I’d forgotten about that. I do miss going into a booth, pulling the curtain behind me and pulling those levers.

    What a keepsake that McGovern/Eagleton pin is! Amazing that being treated for depression brought down Eagleton. Now lying and infidelity isn’t enough to bring down a President.

    I do remember Peter Rodino, though not as into politics as you were at that point in my life. The moderate Republican is surely a dying species, but here in MA, we have an out-going governor of that breed (I didn’t vote for him, but I don’t dislike him). MA has a long history of moderate Republican governors, fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Mitt Romney even professed to being pro-choice all those years ago when he invented what came to be Obamacare! (No, I didn’t vote for him either.)

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great voting memory, Suzy — I’m quite impressed. And, as a Tri-State area resident myself, names like Peter Rodino (forever), Clifford Case ( a good Republican, in the days of such) and Harrison Williams all ring bells.

    And yes, your featured image does look like the voting machines I voted on in Connecticut, albeit not in 1956. In fact, the name partially obscured as the Democratic candidate for Congress is Robert Giaimo, who represented my own New Haven County for many years. He was a superb Congressman and I knew his niece, Sally Giaimo, as she was the legal secretary (and all around savior) for a lawyer friend of our family’s.

    And we on Retro know you are in Georgia this week saving democracy there. Good for you and please send Herschel back to the locker room.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    I have to believe you did some research to find out what was on that ballot—or you have a super memory for those things! As you know from living in California, there are usually so many positions and propositions and measures on that ballot that it takes true dedication to sort through them all. A task I know you are up to.

  4. Thanx for your voting recap story Suzy, obviously you were politically savvy even back then.

    And thanx for casting your vote to help the old folks play Bingo legally!

  5. Susan Bennet says:

    What a fascinating recap, Suzy. I can’t say I’ve ever seen any issue quite like Bingo listed on any ballot!. I am fascinated by those voting machines. I wonder what vintage they were. I don’t think Mass had anything like them. Is it sacrilegious of me to say they remind me of slot machines? Fun story.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes it is sacrilegious! If you saw them in person, you would realize they looked nothing like slot machines! Also, if you’ve never seen anything like bingo on a ballot, you’ve obviously never seen a California ballot. We generally have 10 or 15 initiatives on the ballot, covering every imaginable topic. It’s the way to get any law changed if the legislature doesn’t do it.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    As a kid I thought the big intimidating voting machines were the way everyone voted. I was surprised to find out differently.

    The names of the NJ politicians you mention brought back so many memories! In my first election I voted for Brendan Byrne for NJ gov.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    MY COMMENT WENT THROUGH!?!

  8. Jim Willis says:

    Thanks for these memories, Suzy. I’ve used those machines as well, although the town I live in now has grown distrustful of machines and has reverted to paper ballots. My wife and I voted early a couple days ago, and it took about 15 minutes to complete the ballots, having to wade through all the races (so many local ones) and having to color in the entirety of each box rather than just use an X or check mark. Odd that with all our technology, we’re still using pen and paper down at the courthouse.

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember the voting machines in your featured image very well. We can no longer do a party-line vote (Is that just IL or federal?). I guess that’s a good thing because it makes me think about every candidate and I have sometimes not voted for a Dem judge or local politician who was unqualified or corrupt. Thanks for going to GA. Fingers crossed there!

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