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Election 2012

From “any excuse to get out” to voting against “euthanasia” -- even among a like-minded bloc of elderly women, what drives people to the polls is almost always different and almost certainly surprising. (Charles Krupa/AP)

I’m a Democrat – and I typically vote as such. But this piece isn’t about partisan politics — it’s about the importance of voting.

In 2008 I volunteered to make phone calls and canvas in New Hampshire. This time I ask the Elizabeth Warren campaign if I can drive people to the polls. Not until 8 a.m. on Election Day morning do I think about who my passengers will be. As it turns out all four of them are spirited, older women.

Lillian is waiting with her walking stick outside the assisted living facility, where she has lived since she had a fall in June. Slowly, precariously, her crocheted hat rocking from side to side, she makes her way towards my car. As I drive the short distance to the polling station, I ask if she considered a postal ballot. “Absolutely not,” she says crisply. “Any excuse to get out of that place.”

Each of these seemingly small journeys is an odyssey — measured in tiny steps.

Will her fellow residents vote? I ask. “Those who have their marbles,” she says.

And does she know how they might vote? I ask cautiously. “Why would anyone who was old vote for Romney?” she says.

My next passenger is Maria. She is white like Lillian and only a little younger, but her hair is dyed dark brown, and she walks without a stick. As we drive to her polling station, she tells me that she remembers her mother telling her when she was very young never to vote for a Republican. “She told me that they are not good people,” Maria nods fiercely. “That they don’t care about anyone but themselves.”

For years, she voted with her husband and her unmarried sister, who lived downstairs. But this year, their names are no longer on the list of voters; they have both died since 2008.

“It’s just me,” she says sadly.

By now, I have begun to realize that each of these seemingly small journeys is an odyssey, measured in tiny steps. This is particularly true for Joan, who lives near Fresh Pond and whose face I don’t see for several minutes as she bends over her walker, making her way to my car. When she is safely in the passenger seat, she smiles up at me, her brown eyes glowing in her pale face. She took a spill last month, she tells me, but she was determined not to be sidelined. “Nothing is more important than voting in this election,” she says.

She is 85 and has voted Democrat all her life. Her polling station turns out to be in the basement of a school. The journey of a 100-feet takes nearly 20 minutes and several times it seems that Joan may not make it. When we finally reach the booth, I have to uncap the pen for her. I worry that the expedition has worn her out. But when I bring her back into to her building she calls out to the doorman, “Paul, you’re a doll. I feel wonderful. I just voted.”

If this is grass roots democracy, then the grass is growing very slowly.

My last stop of the day is at another apartment building — but not the kind that has a doorman. As I had guessed from our phone call, Georgia is Jamaican. In her brightly colored dress she walks unaided but — as all my other passengers — slowly and deliberately.

On the curb a young man stops her. “Now remember, Mom,” he says, “Obama all the way. But don’t you go voting for no euthanasia, or marijuana.”

In the car I ask Georgia if she agrees with her son and she says at her church they’re all praying and praying for Obama, “I know only two women — one white, one black — who are for Romney.”

There is no line at her precinct, but, ballot in hand, Georgia comes to a stop before an empty booth. “I need you to come in,” she says. I’m not sure if this is legal, but I squeeze in beside her and fill out the form according to her (and her son’s) instructions — Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, no assisted suicide, no marijuana.

After dropping Georgia, I drive home thinking, if this is grass roots democracy, then the grass is growing very slowly.

But that night at our local bar, as my husband and I watch the results come in, I picture my four voters — Lillian, Maria, Joan and Georgia — watching with equal pleasure. For this one day we are all part of something larger. And nothing is more important.

Tags: Boston, Election 2012, Mass. Senate

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  • Catherine

    What a lovely story. I want my students to read this– they will see how important voting feels, and how important it is.

  • pjb

    just to echo Catherine’s remarks

  • LeonardNicodemo

    Cool story. I’m starting to like checking out the Cognoscenti stuff every morning.

  • jway

    When it comes to marijuana, the federal government has been hampered by decades of group think. It has insulated its core decision-makers with “yes men” until now they genuinely believe that the prohibition causes more good than harm. Unfortunately for all of us, this just isn’t true.

    We need to put the safety of our children FIRST and tell our legislators to legalize marijuana like beer and wine at the federal level.

  • BJ

    Thank you, Margot, for so beautifully illustrating was volunteering to drive voters to the polls really means! Every vote counts & to be elderly & determined to exercise your right to vote needs to be honored! Thanks for your help to these four!

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