Kadner: Lesson in citizenship from early voters
By Phil Kadner email@example.com November 2, 2012 8:54PM
Ed McSweeney, center, an early voting equipment manager with the Cook County Clerk's Election Department, helps Stephen McGee and his mother, Patricia McGee, right, during early voting at Orland Township Hall. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:32AM
There was a 92-year-old woman who cast her first vote for President Franklin Roosevelt; a woman born in Colombia voting in a U.S. election for the first time; and another from Croatia who didn’t speak English but cherished an opportunity to participate in a free election.
They were among the hundreds of people at the Orland Township Hall for early voting Friday.
I was there because I had heard tales about long lines and waits of up to an hour to vote.
That wasn’t true during the lunch hour voting that I witnessed, but the story I ended up with was better — people still believe in democracy.
It’s easy to forget that, what with all the negative political commercials, nutty emails circulating and people just complaining about their government.
Victor Petersen, 79, was leaning heavily on a walker when I asked him why he was voting early.
“I believe that even though my voting probably doesn’t have much effect on the end result, you never can tell how things are going to turn out,” he said. “It’s my duty as a citizen to make my views known. And the way you can do that best is by voting.”
Nevenka Stasic, 88, originally from Croatia, was standing in line with her son and daughter-in-law who were in from Florida.
When I asked Stasic why she was voting, she looked somewhat baffled, but her daughter-in-law spoke up and said the woman’s English isn’t very good.
“But in Croatia we didn’t have free elections,” the daughter-in-law said. “We cherish this opportunity.”
Ann Raber, 92, of Orland Park was using a tripod walking cane and explained, “I think it’s important to vote every election, but especially in this one. I want my candidate to win. And as long as I’m able, I vote.”
Asked who she backed the first time she cast a ballot, Raber said, “Oh, my gosh. I’m not sure. I think it was probably Roosevelt.”
A younger person standing several people behind Raber said to another waiting voter, “Did you hear that? She voted for Franklin Roosevelt.”
Iliana Gilliland, of Orland Park, came to this country 21 years ago from Colombia.
“I’m finally a citizen and get to vote,” she said with pride. “That’s why I’m here.”
Edward McSweeney, 65, was orchestrating the early voting line in a hallway outside the area where the voting booths were located. A retired tool-and-die worker, he became an election judge “because the grandkids are too old to babysit and I got bored sitting around the house.”
“It just feels like you should do something productive, help your community, instead of sitting around watching TV,” McSweeney said.
The line on Friday wasn’t long compared with Thursday, I was informed, but nevertheless it remained a constant 30 to 40 people outside the polling booth area.
“You’ve got to fill out this paper. Fill in the center portion only,” McSweeney instructed each potential voter as he handed them an early-voting application. “Sign your name in the box. Have a photo ID ready when you go inside.”
The guy was a whirlwind of activity — handing out the paperwork to people on his left and right, behind and in front of him as they streamed in, repeating the same words over and over.
“Sometimes it seems like they come in by the busload,” McSweeney said. “You get almost nothing for a few minutes and then suddenly there’s a whole group of people at once.”
Several people told me they decided to vote early because they were going to be out of town on Election Day, but far more said they were trying to avoid Election Day crowds at their normal polling place.
“This seems like a much longer line to me,” said Stan Czaja, of Orland Park, who was voting early for the first time. “On Election Day, I usually just walk right into my polling place and there is no line.”
I’m glad Czaja made that observation because I’ve never seen long lines at my polling place, and that includes 2008 when more people turned out to vote than at any time in U.S. history.
But it was encouraging to see how many people seemed to take their right to vote seriously Friday, especially after getting emails from people who don’t seem to do so.
I’ve received dozens of emails, asking if rumors about Obama being born in a foreign country are true, or if he falsified his college entrance application, or inquiring about some evil hidden agenda.
The man has been president for nearly four years. He has been a U.S. senator and a state senator. He has now gone through two, grueling national campaigns.
If there was a grain of truth to any of the damaging rumors out there, don’t you think Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney would have used them?
Do you see anything in political commercials to indicate that the candidates or their political action committees withhold information during election campaigns?
More importantly, Romney and Obama have vastly different views on Medicare, national health care, gay marriage, abortion, military spending, taxation and host of other issues.
So why devote time pondering baseless rumors, smears and outright lies before deciding which candidate to support?
Hearing that sort of drivel for months has made me wonder if folks understand that it’s their job to become informed voters.
I felt reassured in talking to the people at the Orland Township polling place.
It doesn’t matter who you vote for or which party you support. Just take your responsibility as a citizen seriously.
And if a 92-year-old woman who needs a cane can get to a poll and cast a ballot, so can you.