When I teach statistics, I often point out that some values we calculate have different notation depending on whether they are calculated from the entire population or a from a sample taken from that population, even if the calculations are identical in the different situations. I explain this to my students by telling them a woman’s name, and asking them if they know who that woman is. They almost always have no idea who she is. I then explain to them that the woman whose name I just gave them is, in fact, me, as I sometimes go by a different last name socially than I use for professional and financial purposes. I am sure I am not the only woman to do this, and it helps them see that some things can have different names in different contexts. I thought of this recently when I hesitated at the voting station when asked by a volunteer “what is your name?”
However, the reason I paused for a second was not that I could not remember what my name was, or which name I should use in this particular context. The reason I hesitated was that I was choking back tears for a second and didn’t want the volunteer to see me cry. As I looked at the polling place and the long line that had just disappeared from the front of it, I was caught off guard by the sense of how important the task was that I was participating in. And I recalled the point that I heard someone make in the days leading up to the election; just remember, many people have died so you would be able to do this.
I could have voted early or by absentee ballot this year, but I decided to wait to cast my ballot until the day of the election. I wanted the experience of going to the polls and seeing other voters and of greeting the people standing out in front of the polls as I walked in. I recalled the time that I stood out in front of a poll, holding a sign and moving my feet just enough so they would not freeze from the snow that decided to fall that primary day in March. I remember taking periodic breaks to go inside and warm up. And I remember the nail file imprinted with the name of the candidate who beat my husband in that race that found its home in my purse for many months, until I finally threw it away. I knew that my husband would be standing in front of a poll that day, and hoped that his efforts that day and in the past few months would pay off for his (local) candidate. With so much excitement, I wanted to make sure that I was part of it on November 6th.
I try to impress upon my daughter that the right to vote has not always been one that women have had in our country, and was amused at her comment on the eve of the election; “we need a girl president, mom.” Yes, many think we do.
My emotions at being able to vote ran even higher this year as I thought of my beautiful niece and nephew. They, like the President we just re-elected, trace some ancestry to Africa. As I begin to play a larger role in their lives, I realize that issues of voting rights, and civil rights in general, is no longer just an abstract political idea. It is now very, very personal.
And I could not help but be moved by the fact that the eyes of the United States, and in some ways, the world, were on what the citizens of Ohio decided that day. For weeks, we have been hearing that the election would be decided by who won the eighteen electoral votes from our state. After months of having candidates constantly in our state, it is fitting that the results from Ohio were the ones that finally ended the anticipation, even if both candidates had once again slowed traffic in the Cleveland airport earlier that day.
I have to admit that voting would be easier if I took advantage of the ability to use an absentee ballot, but there is something special about being there in person, seeing my neighbors and some poll workers I know and getting a sticker that proclaims that I voted. It takes a little more effort, but I would not trade the opportunity to be there, on the front lines of the big, bold, messy democracy that our ancestors risked and gave their lives to build.