As seniors in high school pick up their diplomas, not only are they becoming High School graduates, but for the first time they are joining the ranks of eligible voters.
I’m sure you’re being told that this upcoming election is the most important election ever. It is, and rest assured it was when I was told the very same thing in 1980. They’re all important, and will continue to be important. The idea of voting for the first time got us all thinking here at The Bedford Citizen.
For me, I was a sophomore at Colorado College in 1980. America was in a bad recession. We had 440 hostages in Iran , and the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, yes the same one, and we were in the midst of an energy crisis. Gas was over a dollar a gallon, and long lines to get gas were a common occurrence. Jimmy Carter was president and running for re-election against Ronald Reagan.
Carter was a very decent man, but not an inspirational leader. Reagan talked of a new morning in America, Being in a small liberal arts school political discussions were a common topic over dinner. Most of the political science majors had various opinions, all over the top, as to where we would be heading if the wrong person got elected. I remember one of my professors made the point that if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch! Since I was in Colorado, I voted with an absentee ballot. One thing I remember from the ballot were the sheer number of names on it. You have Carter and Reagan on the top of the ballot, but there seemed to be three other people I never heard of running for president too. Then further down the page you ran into and representatives. Even farther down the list you had state and local races, county auditor?
I filled it out, skipping the races I knew nothing about and mailed it in. It was a very powerful experience.
It is still is to this day, there is something about choosing our leaders that makes you feel that this is our country, and I’m part of it.
So congratulations on your graduation, and please go vote. This is the first most important election of your life. And as my professor would say, “earn your right to bitch”
Register to Vote :
My First Election
By Dot Bergin
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson were on the ballot in 1952, the first election in which I was eligible to vote. I was a great admirer of Stevenson, an articulate, highly intelligent candidate whose positions I supported with fervor.
Alas, he was defeated soundly by the (to me) dull, stolid Eisenhower. Same ticket in 1956 and Stevenson lost again. Of course General Eisenhower was given credit for winning World War II, which helped his campaign considerably.
After settling in Bedford in 1954, I have voted in almost every local, state, and federal election-my record isn’t 100 percent but it’s close. Going to the polls was a rich, rewarding community event: waving to the candidates and their supporters, often standing outside the polling place shivering in the cold; greeting friends and neighbors; a wonderful experience.
BUT, in today’s world I am strongly advocating for “vote by mail,” which is already happening successfully in five states and being considered in others. I believe it’s the best way going forward to ensure full voter participation.
By: Teri Morrow
For me, voting in the election began in March that year. As a high school senior in 1980, my American Government class spent the last two months of school learning and talking about presidential elections from the primary process to the Electoral College. We discussed the pros and cons of the various candidates, what their party stood for, and what the election might change. I was hooked. When I got to college in the fall, I already knew I wanted to be a Political Science major.
On Election Day, I was a freshman in college. While I lived on campus, I was close enough to come home that afternoon and vote locally. After dinner with my folks, I arrived at my polling place, an elementary school in my town (just a few towns over from Bedford). I remember standing in a long line that wound around the building through hallway after hallway. Each was decorated in fall colors as the kids were getting ready for Thanksgiving in a few weeks. It felt like I stood in that line forever, moving up one voter at a time. In retrospect, it probably took no more than half an hour to go from the back of the line to entering the voting booth.
I remember leaving the school and feeling proud to have voted for the first time. After all, this would be the first of many times I’d have a say in my government.
Misadventure on Election Day: The First and Only Time I didn’t Vote
By Meredith McCulloch
OK – it is confession time!
I grew up in a family that was seriously interested in politics. One of my early
memories was staying up late with my parents and siblings to hear the late returns of the 1948 Truman vs. Dewey election… a long time ago. But at 21 when my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election came (Nixon vs. Kennedy) I couldn’t vote. I had just married, had changed by name and moved from West Virginia to Massachusetts. I didn’t even think about registering until it was too late. I might have been able to vote absentee in West Virginia, but I didn’t even know to ask. I was broken-hearted, but I haven’t missed an election since! So the moral of my story is first be sure to register. It is easier now. You can register online in Massachusetts. You may already have registered when you got a drivers’ license. But be sure. You can check at:
By: Ginni Spencer
I was a new bride and living in Massachusetts in 1968 which at that time in my life felt far from the town I grew up in in Pennsylvania. Mailing an absentee ballot lacked the excitement of actually going somewhere and pulling a lever but sending my vote “back home” seemed the right thing to do.
I had many memories of going with my parents to vote in our local barbershop which was turned into a polling station for Election Day. The woman of a family on our street sat at a wooden table inside the door with a big ledger checking off names as people lined up to cast their ballots. The barber chairs were draped in white sheets to remind people that the shop was closed for regular business. I was allowed to drop the ballot of whichever parent had taken me along into a big wooden box with a padlock on it and official writing on the sides which I didn’t understand but looked important. Many of our neighbors were there and stood outside on the corner after voting. (I believe Election Day was a holiday then.) There would be endless chatting and I guess conversations about the election at hand. The whole excursion was a mix of fun and seriousness – an adult experience I observed with interest even though I didn’t fully understand it. But I got the message: you vote.
1968 was a tumultuous year. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated within 60 days of each other. Riots followed in over 100 cities. Lyndon Johnson declined to run again, a decision driven by the ongoing tragedy of Vietnam. Humphrey’s selection as the Democratic standard-bearer took place amid violent protests in Chicago. Nixon, the Republican candidate, ran a campaign promising to restore law and order and provide new leadership to the war. I had already participated in anti-war protests in Cambridge and Boston and was proud of that but with my first vote in a presidential election I knew I was taking a much more significant action. I was being counted…my voice was being heard. While my vote was secret, to me it was a loud and emphatic declaration of what and who I believed in and an affirmation to myself that now I was really an adult. I dropped that absentee ballot into the mailbox on Garden Circle in Waltham with a flourish.
A very big deal !
By: Mitch Evans
First of all, a huge congratulations to all the graduating BHS seniors. 2020 will certainly be a year that you remember. But as you move into the next stage of your life, whether that be college, job, year out or something else; another very important event which marks this year is your right to vote.
I was born, educated, and worked in the U.K. but was fortunate enough to move with my young family to Bedford, Massachusetts in 2011. Initially, I was a permanent resident on a Green Card which allowed me to live and work in the United States, but did not allow me to vote in local or general elections. I was paying my taxes and contributing to this wonderful town and my new homeland, yet I had no say in how my hard earned tax dollars were being spent, or who was being elected to represent ‘me’ and acting on my behalf. I thought long and hard about giving up my British citizenship and becoming a US citizen. Was I giving up a part of my identity? Was I turning my back on my land of birth? Would it change how other people viewed me, or how I viewed myself? What about my children and the impact on them?
In January 2020, my husband and I became citizens of the United States. We take our civic duty very seriously. With two children and the rest of our lives in this beautiful country, it’s important to have your voice heard. That’s how change happens.
If you don’t vote, you are giving others the power to make decisions for you. If you don’t vote, you give a small portion of Americans the power over the majority of Americans, and is that fair? If you don’t vote, you are implying consent and you forfeit the right to complain about how this country and even the town in which you end up settling, is run.
So use your right and VOTE – please don’t waste it !
By Laura Bullock
I remember staring at the ballot and all the names and positions and suddenly feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of what I was about to be a part of. My. Vote. Mattered. The feeling of pride was suddenly intermingled with fear. Why were there so many names I didn’t know? What if I picked the wrong person for the job? Was this like a test and it would be better to pick someone, anyone, rather than leave the selection blank? What about all the people outside holding signs supporting their candidate – did they know who was best? Why hadn’t I done more research and come better prepared? That day set the stage for my future voting. I was embarrassed and humbled. This enormous privilege deserved, at the very least, my spending some time and effort reading up on the issues and understanding the person behind the name. I needed to be an adult now. Responsible. An educated voter. And not just educated on what I believed to be the right choice, but educated on what others were thinking too, where they were coming from. That all helps me to be part of the solution, no matter how small that part may seem.
By : Douglas Muder
My first vote was in 1976. The United States was celebrating the bi-centennial of the Declaration of Independence, and had only recently come out from under the clouds of Watergate and Vietnam. To me today, looking back to 1976 feels almost like looking back 200 years felt then. Politics was very different in 1976, because we had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Each race required an individual judgment.
At the time the difference between the presidential candidates, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, meant little to me. I didn’t really care which of them won, but I believed in voting. If I didn’t vote, then neither party would have a reason to try to appeal to me in future elections.
I remembered Gene McCarthy from when he had the anti-war candidate in 1968 Democratic primaries, and I saw him give an interview that impressed me. He was running as a third-party candidate in 1976, so that’s who I voted for.
The First Time I Voted
by Jennifer Harrington, Class of 1988
The first time I was able to vote was in the 1988 Bush-Dukakis presidential election. I didn’t vote. At the time I was a college freshman and hadn’t planned ahead for an absentee ballot and didn’t want to disrupt my busy class schedule to drive the short distance home on election day. I remember thinking, how much of a difference would my one vote make? It’s painful to admit today.
A few short years later I was studying abroad and found myself truly afraid as I walked to class amidst protests against America and the Iraq War. There were effigies of President Bush burned on my campus and outward aggressions toward America everywhere. I was scared and angry, defensive and proud to be an American. But when I was confronted by my college activist peers about my vote I remained silent – because I had not exercised my right and therefore struggled to justify a position. That experience had a lasting impact.
I have never missed an election since. No matter what pulled for my attention or my time. Voting gives me a voice as a Bedford resident and as an American citizen. Walking into the Middle School, alongside neighbors vying for a parking spot and citizens with signs for their candidate, is an affirmation of my place as a member of our community. When I stand in line in my precinct, give my name and address, grab my uncapped marker and ballot, and follow directions to my voting booth I feel …powerful. I know my vote counts. It may not decide an election but it counts. And when I vote I take a position which I can proudly stand behind.
To the class of 2020 – register to vote. The nature of an election is that there are winners and losers – don’t let winning be the only motivation. Voting is a powerful expression of choice – so while your vote may or may not lead to a victory speech, it’s a loud and valuable expression that the world needs to hear.
The First Time I Voted
Caroline Fedele, BHS Class of 1988
It was 1988 and I turned 18 in February of my senior year. In November of my freshman year at Ithaca College I could vote for the first time. I remember feeling responsible walking in, full of nervous excitement to be part of something really impactful. I’m pretty sure if they gave out “I Voted” stickers I wore it proudly all day!
The First Time I Voted
by Susanne Duato, Class of 1991
I remember walking into the junior high to vote that first time. A sudden sense of unexpected nervousness came over me as I entered through the double doors toward the registration table. I remember feeling worried I didn’t do something right when I registered to vote, and started having
major anxiety that my name would not be on the list. I had a mother who always taught us that voting was a critical and sacred part of being an American. God help me if I wasn’t actually registered! I wouldn’t have been able to face her disappointment. Fortunately, I was registered! The kind volunteer crossed my name off the list and pointed to a ballet box for me use. Prior to voting that day I always recall wondering whether my individual vote would make a difference among the thousands, or millions cast. Yet as the curtain closed behind me and I began to fill out those small ovals in black marker, I felt a profound sense of importance. I felt the history of our country and the many generations that cast their votes before me. I truly felt a part of something important, special, and a unique sense of unity and connection with the other citizens in the country that I still feel each time I vote to this day.
My First Vote
By Lalitha Gunturi Ranganath
Congratulations on this milestone! While you probably never envisioned your high school graduation to happen during a global pandemic, I hope your pride and excitement of this accomplishment still remains! Along with graduating, many of you will now be able to vote in your first election. In the middle of other major life changes that you may be going through, I want to make sure that you also plan for this one. I hope my experience below helps highlight not only the importance of voting, but the importance of planning ahead in order to be able to vote!
My family immigrated to the United States from India when I was 3 years old. When I was in high school, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen. My first presidential election after turning 18 wasn’t until a couple of years into college – in 2000. While I grew up in Dallas, Texas, I was away at college at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, my friends and I were fired up and ready to go vote in our first presidential election. We looked up where we would need to report to vote and marched down to the building together, excited to cast our ballots for the first time ever. When it came to my turn to check in, my name was nowhere to be found on the list. I was appalled! I argued, I protested, I pleaded. And then I was asked – “what is your permanent address? Did you register to vote back in Dallas?” My heart sank. In all my excitement, I had failed to realize that I should have asked for an absentee ballot from my home voting precinct. I quickly scrambled to find out the steps I would need to take to get an absentee ballot that day. Of course, the deadline had already passed. I realized that my only option would be to get myself back home to Dallas (3.5 hours’ drive away) in time to vote in person before the polls closed. After thinking through various logistics, I finally came to terms that it wasn’t going to happen. Even if I had left then and driven as fast as I could, I wouldn’t make it in time. I left the polling place feeling so dejected and disappointed in myself.
The 2000 presidential election turned out to be quite the saga – Bush vs. Gore and the recount process went on for weeks. Being in Austin, less than a mile from the Texas state capitol where Bush was the governor of Texas, my classmates and I were able to witness much of history unfold. Ultimately, Bush won 271 electoral votes, one more than a majority, despite Gore receiving more popular votes.
I was (and I still am) a planner by nature – I planned my class schedules, my daily schedule, my summer internships, my vacations, even my meals! And yet, I somehow failed to plan and learn about absentee voting. So, as you plan your next steps – whether it be college, working, or any other plans – please don’t let this happen to you – and be sure to also make a plan for voting!
My first vote
By: Bob Dorer
I was lucky to be raised in a family where both my parents always voted – so to me voting on election day was natural and something you just did, no excuses. Also, my mother made the mistake of voting for Richard Nixon in 1960 (her words not mine). In the next presidential election (Barry Goldwater vs Lyndon Johnson) she felt obligated to right her error by actively campaigning for Johnson, so I was exposed to serious campaigning energy in my house when I was only 10 years old. The impact of these civic engagement examples paid off for me.
I turned 18 in 1971 but being away at college in 1972 I had to vote via absentee ballot for my first Presidential election, for George McGovern of course. My first in person vote in a Presidential election was for Jimmy Carter when I was living in St Louis, Missouri. All I can say is it really felt good to vote in person and somehow it seemed more real. This was the one and only time I voted by a punch card system too, so I completely understood the hanging chad topic during the 2000 Presidential election controversy.
I have voted in all local, state, and federal elections ever since, even in Cambridge where they used proportional voting and an old wooden box with a crank for your ballot. A bell went off when you turned the crank for all to know a vote had been registered. An empowering sound indeed.
I now volunteer as an election worker in Bedford to try and do my part to ensure we maintain this critical element of our democratic process. Spending a day at the polls and watching everyone exercise their civic responsibility by voting is energizing indeed.
Your Next First Step: Register to Vote!
By Sandra Hackman
To recent BHS graduates, congratulations! Now what?
Concerned about Black Lives Matter? Climate change? Ensuring that everyone has access to good health care and jobs that pay a living wage?
If these or other social and political concerns are at the top of your mind, the most important move you could make right now is to register to vote. It’s especially important given the presidential election in November, of course. But state and local elections also determine the players—and therefore the policies–that shape our lives. And the only way to help determine who gets elected is to register to vote.
If you have a driver’s license, you may already be registered. That’s because our state has a Motor Voter law. That is, the Registry of Motor Vehicles automatically registers people who apply for a license or renew one to vote, unless they opt out.
If you don’t have a license—lots of people don’t—the best approach is to register by mail. Just fill out the form on the state voter website (https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm). (You can also appear in person at Town Hall, but that’s closed right now.)
Our state also allows residents to preregister to vote at age 16. If you did that, the Bedford town clerk sends you a letter when you turn age 18—the actual voting age–confirming that you are registered to vote. You got that? You are all set!
But wait: won’t the pandemic and resulting state of emergency affect voting? Yes, but our state representative (Ken Gordon) and senator (Mike Barrett) are working with their colleagues to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot, and to extend the amount of time people have to vote. The House bill, for example, would instruct the state to mail an application for an absentee ballot to everyone registered to vote—another reason to do that!
Making it easier to get an absentee ballot should help anyone who plans to, say, attend school out of state. Depending on the state, you could also choose to register and vote there. (If you officially move out of state, you’ll need to register to vote at your new address—check your new state’s website. Or if you move within our state, you’ll need to fill out a registration form with your new address.)
But wherever you are, just vote! Elections can be close—or not. But they make a difference in everyone’s lives. Join the action!
My First Vote
By Sarita Pillai
Congratulations graduates! What a long and hard road you have been on. I hope that, while the culmination of your achievements is not playing out exactly as you expected, you still feel pride in your many accomplishments!
My first vote? I came to the U.S. in 1988 to start college, not knowing then that this country would become my ‘forever home.’ After 16 years of process and incalculable amounts of paperwork, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in September of 2004. Part of the application process involved an in-person interview and verbal test of U.S. history, government and knowledge of the Constitution. I don’t think I studied harder for anything in my life as the way I pored over the 100-question booklet that citizenship applicants are given to prepare for their citizenship test. In the end, my interview lasted less than 5 minutes, and my swearing in ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center a few months later remains one of the highlights of my life.
The 2004 election was an important and high-stakes one, after the drama that surrounded the elections four years prior. As I sat in the Convention Center waiting for Mayor Menino to arrive and get us started, I talked with many others around me. Many, I learned, were long-time permanent residents who had never pursued the citizenship process and therefore never voted in a U.S. election. Some held fondly to their home-country citizenship status as a way of staying connected to their culture and heritage. But this time was different, this year was different. The 2004 election was important to them in a way they had not fully appreciated in years past. They saw voting for what it is, perhaps the single most significant and powerful way to effect real change in the U.S., be it to change laws, governance structures, public education…or centuries-old systems of entrenched racism, discrimination and bias. They saw voting as a commitment to this country and their future in it.
One of the most important civic lessons from my now 32 years in the U.S., is that ALL politics is in fact local. Every Town Meeting is important. Every election, small-scale or national, counts. Every vote counts. My best wishes to you as you navigate a new chapter in your life. And, please, always VOTE!