Starting at age three, a couple of times a year on a school day, I was offered a tough choice by my grandparents: wake up at 5:30am and be ready to leave home by 6:45, or sort out homework, afternoon play, and dinner to have 6:15 to 7:00 pm free. No matter the weather or how I felt physically, I was going to the polls on Election Day with one of them -- and they voted right across the street from home -- to learn appreciation for the privilege of voting and the importance of exercising my right to the ballot once I turned 18.
While I grew up across the Potomac River from the capital of the United States and went to public schools with the children of Congressmen, Senators, White House senior staff, and Cabinet officials, my family was not overtly political. Nonetheless, we understood the importance of partaking in political processes and taking choices, even when the ballot offerings seem like Scylla and Charybdis. My grandfather, a military retiree, was a staunch Republican during my childhood, though my grandmother sided with Democrats based on her interest in social justice. I often wondered why they even bothered voting, as their votes seemed to cancel each other out.
Their responses to that notion were similar. My grandmother was born less than two years after women across the U.S. gained the right to vote, but her mother never cast a ballot during the 23 years years she lived with the right. As an airman, my grandfather felt that one of the most important freedoms he had defended in World War II was the right to vote in -- or vote out -- elected officials tasked with creating policies that serve the public good. The vote is one’s voice, and one should never be silent.
Even before my eighteenth birthday, I felt my way to my political voice, volunteering for campaigns and causes while waiting for the day I would attain voting age. On my eighteenth birthday I registered to vote in Harris County, Texas on my college campus, though six weeks later I would move my voter registration to my family’s home in Dallas County. A year later I would dive deep and hard during the summer into presidential and Democratic party politics prior to the eventual re-election of Ronald Reagan, and I would associate with political Gays and Lesbians for the first time.
In the three decades since that election, true to the lessons of my grandparents, I have not failed to cast a ballot in any election for which I have been eligible to vote. I have also made certain that any friends too sick to go to the polls were able to vote by mail.
Often, there have been stark contrasts in how candidates have felt Queers and HIVers should be treated, making my vote easy to decide. Sometimes, mostly in party contests, the differences have been less apparent, and impressions of integrity, honesty, and humility have prevailed.
Early in my voting life I looked forward to the social exercise of voting en masse on one day. For the last dozen years or so, I have relished the opportunity to vote absentee or early to avoid lines and to secure my vote in the event of competing life demands.
Near the end of May my partner and I moved within Maryland to reduce our commutes. After informing the postal service and financial institutions of the change of address, I promptly notified the Board of Elections directly, rather than count on the Motor Vehicle Administration to convey my new data. Within three weeks of the move, early voting would start for party primaries for local and statewide offices; and with an Out Lesbian running for governor on a platform that included decriminalizing and regulating cannabis, this was a vote I simply could not miss!