Tomorrow is voting day. Among the millions of Americans who will be exercising their Constitutional right will be my Dad, who turns 93 later this month. He cast his first vote when he was 24 years old, having missed, by just a couple of weeks, his 21st birthday, which was the legal voting age then, in order to vote in the 1940 election. By the time the next presidential election rolled around, in 1944, he was overseas fighting with the Army’s 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in France in World War II. “If I was fighting, which I probably was, I probably didn’t get to vote,” he says then quickly adds: “But if I did, I would have voted for FDR. It would be interesting to know for sure.”
Knowing the answer to that is now not likely. Casting a vote while engaged on the battlefield was more of a logistical challenge then than it is today.
According to a 1999 on-line article by Ted Penton: “Using forty-eight different ballots created a variety of problems for the military directly related to the logistical demand of such a wide dispersion of troops. The size of a ballot containing every issue in the service members’ district could become quite large and due to limited shipping space, affected whether or not service members received ballots. Further complicating the situation, many states held primary elections as late as September. This made the finalization of ballots for November difficult.
The States Rights bill kept essentially the same inefficient system from the 1942 elections in place. Under this system a service member had to send a postcard home requesting a ballot in order to receive one. After verification of his eligibility, his local voting office sent the ballot via the mail. The forty-three states with such laws in place had mailed one hundred thirty-seven thousand ballots in 1942. … only twenty-eight thousand returned.”
Whether my Dad’s was one of the 28,000 is doubtful.
But when the 1948 presidential election occurred, he was back in the U.S. working as an apprentice in photographer Tony Wicher’s portrait studio in Topeka, Ks. Wicher was so positive that New York Governor Thomas A. Dewey would take the election, that he, Wicher, wanted to bet my Dad on the outcome. “He said he’d bet me whatever I wanted to bet,” my Dad remembers. My Dad didn’t take the bet but cast his ballot for Vice President Harry Truman and went to the election night party at his boss’ apartment house. The upstairs floor had a big dance floor where the 18 employees and their spouses danced to records while ballots were counted.
“I don’t think we knew that night the results of the election,” my Dad says. “It was the next day before we knew for certain who had won.”
He’s never missed a presidential election since although he not always voted for the winners. “I always voted for Democratic president, ” he says.
He’s not yet voted in this year’s election because he lives in Kansas where early voting ended today at noon. He’ll once again go to the polls to vote on election day. And, like millions of other Americans, he plans to head over to the polling place, in this case the First Christian Church, to mark his ballot. When he slips his ballot into the box tomorrow, it will be the 17th Presidential election in which he has participated .
“My gosh,” he says, “kind of amazing isn’t it?” It certainly is, and a testament to how democracy works in this country.