The first time I voted, I was 17. Since I would be of age during an upcoming general election, I was allowed to cast my vote in the primary before I hit the legal age of 18. I remember filling in those bubbles with a sense of gravity and focus, the pencil lead smudging across the paper as I made my selection.
I also remember the first time I forgot to vote. It was a little more than four years later. I lived in South Florida and skipped the general election because I was busy and didn’t feel like making time. Weeks of round-the-clock hanging chad coverage later, I couldn’t stop thinking about how my vote could have made an actual, realizable difference.
Countries that have recently experienced a coup or other government overthrow often have first democratic elections once the dust has settled. People line the streets and often wait to vote for hours. I imagine for these people, having a say in the electoral process is exhilarating. I picture them telling their children of the first time they pushed their ballot into a small locked box, confident of their ability to influence the future.
A good friend of mine is currently pursuing the path to United States Citizenship. She’s lived here happily for a decade, and faces no challenges to her residency. The only reason she is going through the series of intrusive questionnaires, meetings, and tests is because she wants to have the ability to play a role in the direction of her chosen home. She wants to stand in that small cubicle, close the curtain, and mark her choices for who leads us. And she wants her children to witness her participation in democracy.
As US citizens, for many our ability to vote does not feel hard-won. One day we wake up, turn 18, and fill out a small form. Weeks later we receive our polling place in the mail, and maybe a sample ballot. It feels bureaucratic, not revolutionary. But the ability to vote is nothing short of earth-shattering. Were it to disappear, our society would crumble. Yet in any given election, between 30% – 90% of people do not avail themselves of this fundamental task.
So here’s my suggestion: tell the world what voting means to you. During election season people hear constantly that they should vote. Now it’s time to remind them why. Share the story of your first vote, and how you felt when you pulled that giant lever or first darkened that tiny oval.
Use the hashtag #MyFirstVote and tag us on Facebook @WomenAdvaNCe when you do, so we can read and share your stories. And of course, if you haven’t early voted, be sure to cast your ballot tomorrow and post a picture of your “I Voted!” sticker on social media so all your friends know you didn’t forget.