October 23rd, 2015
The 2016 Presidential election may be a little over a year away, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to get involved in the political process. In fact, with the primaries going on, it’s the perfect time to start engaging. It’s important that women’s voices are part of the political process and that starts at the ballot box. With that in mind, and to celebrate the release of Suffragette, a film about a group of women fighting for the right to vote in the UK (side note: there has never been a major US film about the suffragette movement in the US, there have only been a handful of fictional representations of female American Presidents, and there has never been a fictional female or gender blind casting of an American President on Broadway), we asked a number of the ladies we’ve interviewed to tell us about their first time voting. We’ve also included some resources to help anyone reading this register to vote or find out how to get more involved.
(i.) Tell Us About Your First Time Voting
“My first vote was for Al Gore when he ran against George W. Bush. To say the least, that whole thing didn’t work out how I hoped. I remember feeling shattered and exhausted by the time Bush’s inauguration happened. It wasn’t until Obama’s first term that I felt the movement and energy of my vote—if that makes sense. I pulled the lever, then I saw my choice realized. That was an exciting feeling.” – Christina Anderson
“I’m not sure I remember the first time I actually walked into a voting booth—I turned 18 in 1982, which was a while ago! But if there was an election in Pennsylvania (where I went to college) that year, I’m sure I voted in it, and excitedly. I came from a very politically active family—my mother, especially. I remember watching every Democratic convention BEFORE I turned 18 and haven’t missed an election since; I’m sure I voted.
But I DO remember my first presidential election as a voter. Ronald Reagan v. Walter Mondale, with Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, of course a big historical moment. The Vice Presidential debate between Ferraro and George H.W. Bush took place in Philly, and I went to a huge debate-watch party in the Bourse (basically a big mall), thousands of people in this huge multi-leveled space watching the debate together on a massive screen, cheering, excited, I’ll never forget that. I also took part in my only-ever 5K that election season, and my Woman Running Against Reagan t-shirt is a prized possession.
I think at Penn we voted at the law school? It may have been the only time I went in there? The one thing I remember is a very very long line. Which was exciting and encouraging, because I finally got to be part of the process, and because everyone else was there to be part of it as well, and that just magnified the experience. And I really believed, somehow, I think, that Mondale could take it. Sigh. I’ve taken my kids in the booth with me since they were little. I even miss the old voting machines because you could feel the power in that mechanism in a way you just can’t with the scanners. And there’s still an excited buzz in the line in presidential years.” – Susan Bernfield
“One of my first times voting (before I was old enough to register myself), I went into the booth with my dad in Boston in 1992 and pulled the lever for Bill Clinton. Bill and Hillary and my parents had crossed paths when they were community organizers for ACORN in Little Rock, Arkansas and now he was running for President—it was hard to believe!
During the summer of ’92 my sister, mom and I had heard about a small campaign event where Bill was getting off a plane in San Diego (while we were there visiting my grandmother), and we’d rushed down to the airport to meet him. There were only 20 or so people gathered and I remember shaking his hand and feeling his charisma in his shake. It was incredible to cast a vote for him for President a few months later.
I’m even more excited to vote for Hillary come 2016!” – Adrienne Campbell-Holt
“My first time voting was in the 1988 presidential election. I was in college and was so thrilled to finally be old enough to vote for a president, especially after two terms of Reagan. Also, both my parents were really politically savvy but were not American citizens, so it has always felt like a real privilege and honor to me to get to vote—especially that first time. During that election, I recall doing some canvassing for Dukakis and Bentsen. Not to name drop—but I will, because it was also kind of thrilling—Amy Carter and I were in the same canvassing van and I think we got lost somewhere near Pawtucket. I remember feeling like I was at the epicenter of the political universe.” – Cusi Cram
“Here is what I remember. I felt lost. It wasn’t clear how the line went and what actually happened once you got into the booth. Also, I had no idea who half the people were they were asking me to vote for. I just knew who I wanted for President. Then on the way home I bought a Pepsi, because I had a dream the night before that I was at a fair and they were selling Pepsi, and because of the advertising in my dream I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I wanted a Pepsi. P.S. I hardly ever drink soda.” – Erin Davie
“So the first time I went to go vote, I was turned away. I was a junior at Vassar, and a law had just passed that allowed transient citizens to vote in the state of New York, which was a big deal because it meant that college students who technically were from out of state could still vote there. So we registered and went out by the van-load. Except many of our registrations had gotten “lost,” so many of us were turned away.
Yup. Disenfranchised like a mutha. And wasn’t shit we could do about it.
So the first time I ACTUALLY voted was for Obama. I was sure to check my registration status waaay before I did. It’s much easier now since all that shit’s online. And I vote pretty much every chance I get, too. Apparently, when we only show up for Presidential elections, obstructionist assholes get into Congress.” – Chisa Hutchinson
“My first time voting in a presidential election I was living on a boat on the Hudson River at the 79th Street Boat Basin, NYC. When I showed up at the Upper West Side church, there were long lines of people waiting to check in at the appropriate folding table for their district. I can’t remember how many of those tables there were, but there were many, and hundreds of people, snaking out the door. Waiting. Reading the Post, the Times. Holding Zabars and blue Greek diner cups. The volunteers checked names and addresses, gave instructions and kept those lines moving and tempers from flaring. Efficiency ruled. But one lone elderly volunteer sat behind his table reading a novel completely unbothered by the voting citizens. The district he had been assigned to check in was slightly off to the left of Manhattan, slightly off shore, and most of its voters were probably still asleep as few kept regular hours. He was surprised to see me and folded the corner of his page to save his place. I promised the others would be by. I could have also told him how each one of them were going to vote and which boats had Republicans aboard. There weren’t many. It wasn’t that kind of marina. I sailed in. I voted. I sailed out. Living on a boat thru NYC winters was hard work, but it did make voting very, very easy.” – Julia Jordan
“I can’t believe I’m going to admit this but I don’t actually have a strong memory of the first time I voted. I do know I campaigned for Bill Clinton at the University of Michigan in 1996 and then voted for him in my first election. But that’s about it. I’d been to so many polling stations before I was the one who got to pull the lever that it all feels like a bit of a blur. Growing up, my mother was a teacher and my father was an urban planner so voting occurred before breakfast. I have a vivid memory of wearing a nightgown to go vote with my dad on an early morning in November before the sun came up. “Do you think people will think this is a dress and not a nightgown?” I asked him before we entered Remus Robinson middle school. “Absolutely,” he answered. We went in, he took me into the booth and explained all of the elections at stake. This happened for years and years in local and national elections. My parents took me with them to vote. So when the time came for me to do it myself it almost felt like a non event. I look forward to bringing my son William to the 14th Street YMCA next November. He will be one and a half years old which feels like the perfect age to introduce him to the fundamental right I hope he never takes for granted. My parents made certain I didn’t. I look forward to passing that on to William.” – Celia Keenan-Bolger
“OMG, so depressing. I had been so into the Watergate hearings in 1973 when I was 12, I had joined the Sam Ervin fan club. I was TOTALLY into Jimmy Carter, I still have the little gold colored Carter campaign peanut I wore during his first campaign. Four years later, 1980, I was a student at Kalamazoo College, but was living in Philadephia with my best friend Mary Beth on an “Urban Study” semester so we had sent in our ballots absentee. We just assumed Carter was going to be re-elected. We had a tiny black and white TV we’d found on the street (like all of our furniture in that apartment—including the mattress—EW!) and we bought lots of snacks, all set for a fun celebration. It was over so quickly. We were gobsmacked. We were flattened. It was a terrible night. We just couldn’t believe it. We really hadn’t seen it coming at all. In retrospect… we weren’t wrong. It really did usher in as bad an era as we thought.” – Lisa Kron
“My birthday is in September and I happened to turn eighteen the year of a Presidential election. I was in college, so I had to fill out an absentee ballot—not quite as sexy as getting to go behind that little curtain by myself for the first time, but still really a thrill.” –Kathleen Marshall
“My Mom had been involved in politics my entire life and I remember how proud I felt when she took me to cast my first vote. It felt like such a wonderful rite of passage.
Though you didn’t ask for it, I thought I would share my Mother’s last voting story. As I mentioned, my Mother had been active in politics her entire life. In 2008, she was wheelchair-bound and dependent on others to take her places. The polls in Nevada were about to close and she hadn’t yet been able to cast her vote. My sister rushed home from work, practically threw her in the car with her wheelchair and drove like a maniac (who is still concerned for safety) to the school. They got there just in time and the last vote this woman from the South ever got to cast was for Barack Obama.” – Giovanna Sardelli
“I cast my first vote in the 1990s, for Bill Clinton. He played saxophone on a campaign stop in Eugene, Oregon and my friend—the playwright Jeff Whitty—and I went to hear him, though this didn’t really influence my decision. At the time I would have voted for a pineapple as long as it was a democrat. I grew up in a divided household—conservative father, liberal mother—and I’d been waiting for years to help my mom outvote my dad. The other thing I remember is that I was enrolled in a US Women’s History class that semester, and that’s how I figured out that it was illegal for my Great Grandma Bricken—who was still alive—to vote when she was my age. That blew my mind. I may have even written and performed a heavy-handed monologue about it.” – Heidi Schreck
“November 3, 1992. My first presidential election. I was eligible the year prior but didn’t get my act together for the mid-term election. I remember registering to vote in the student union building at Connecticut College—Crozier Williams it was called—and getting a tingling feeling that I was joining the ranks as an activist. Voting has always felt like activism for me. The idea that my whisper of a vote could join other whispers and eventually become a battle cry. So for the Bush/Clinton ’92 election, I was ready. I had listened to my mother (democrat) and father (republican) argue through the 80s. Prior to my eligibility to vote I had taken a stand against my father about social issues and the government’s responsibilities towards its citizens. I lined up in the very same student union on November 3 and thought of the women who had come before me who fought for my right to do so. And felt the chills of belonging—to a women’s movement, to an activist’s movement, to an American movement—and whispered.” – Kimberly Senior
“I don’t have any great stories. In my house, you turned 18 and you voted, there wasn’t any drama around it.” – Jeanine Tesori
Need to register to vote? Two comprehensive sites for voter registration are Rock the Vote and League of Women Voters. Both sites will tell you how to register in your state, how to vote absentee, what to do if there’s a problem at your polling place, and have volunteer information.
Want to get more involved? If you already know the candidate you’re supporting, the best thing to do is go to their website and register as a volunteer. You can also get involved on a party level, and if you’re still in school you can join a campus branch (or start your own!). If you want to help register voters, both Rock the Vote and League of Women Voters have resources for that, as well as your local party chapter, and the local office of your Congressional representative can also be a resource (we’d love to be more specific about this, but a lot of it varies state to state).