Let’s Vote on It!

By JIM NICHOLS

It was raining at recess time for the second day in a row. Yesterday the fourth-graders had to play some sort of inside game in the room and now, it appeared, that was going to happen again. The teacher proposed the same game as yesterday and added an alternate. There was brief class discussion of the options and then one child shouted, “Let’s vote on it!” The teacher agreed and said words elementary students heard many times: “Put your head down on your desk. Do not peek. To vote, simply raise your hand without looking up.”

As I remember, my student life was filled with voting opportunities. The initial ones were as I just described, but they got more sophisticated as the grades advanced. Soon, the votes for president of the safety patrol or student council were anticipated and the teachers prepared official looking ballots. Often there was a ballot box that was a shoe box covered with brown paper with a slot cut in the lid. It was rather like the containers we used to deposit Valentines for one another; same concept, different purpose.

Often, a class election was preceded by campaign speeches of some sort. No one really admitted that these elections did not depend on qualifications, but on how popular each candidate was. However, it was an election, and we took it seriously and, apparently, the grownups in the school did too. These frequent elections were part of class lessons on branches of the government, the differences between levels of government such as city, county, state, and federal, and the importance of voting.

Occasionally, we would have “straw votes” where we could vote for real candidates for various offices such as state governor or president. I remember one time a friend (I thought) found out for whom I had voted for president, and he called me a name I did not know; I asked my mother that evening and learned a new four-letter word.

In high school our student elections used real mechanical voting machines borrowed from some local government entity. I specifically remember stepping into a little booth, pulling a lever that closed a curtain behind me, and then flipping down small plastic levers for my preferable candidates. This was serious business.

On my own as a college student, my mid-west upbringing was unprepared for the sign on the window of the pharmacy/store across the street from the campus. It read “Pay Poll Tax Here.” I had heard of this but was surprised that voting was dependent on having money. Apparently, little did I know.

To my knowledge, my parents voted (for Republicans) every time there was an election. They reinforced my school’s emphasis that voting was not only a privilege, but an honor and responsibility. I may be idealizing them on this, but the concept of everyone voting and being able to do so was unquestioned. Again, apparently, little did I know.

My background concerning voting is now stretching through many, many decades. It is so deeply engrained in me that I have trouble comprehending the concept of trying to restrict anyone’s ability to vote. I believe I am reasonable at seeing other points of views on most issues, but restricting voting seems to me to be a slam dunk of a bad idea.

Among the most impressive places I enter periodically is the polling place. There is almost a reverence present. Neighbors I know are the officials looking at my registration card and checking any necessary boxes. My father was a poll worker for many years. There has been a seriousness about a polling place everywhere I have voted. I am insulted by those who would claim these poll workers are cheaters. 

The presidential election of 2020 generated multiple re-counts; none of them amounted to anything worth concern. Still some, including various state legislatures, set about changing rules to “tighten” and “make more accurate” voting of citizens. When challenged as to their motives, they have made multiple rebuttals that they are making it “easier” to vote. Examination of what they did clearly shows otherwise and makes it obvious that the intent is to discriminate against certain types of potential voters. They are not fooling anyone, including me.

They are making rules to solve a problem which has not even been shown to exist; in doing so the fallout is to make voting more difficult for everyone, especially some.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

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