My mother had what we used to call an Irish temper. Her last name was O’Donnell, and though she didn’t come from Ireland (her father was born there), she could turn, when prompted, from a gracious, well-mannered woman to a seething, manic force in seconds. Sometimes it was after a few drinks, but mostly, her metamorphosis came when her principles were challenged. One of those convictions had to do with the importance of voting.
When I was 23, I had never voted. It was the presidential election, and President Richard Nixon and George McGovern were opponents. I was for McGovern, and I planned on voting for him. Many of my friends had marched on his behalf, and though I liked the idea, my work (and sleep) schedule didn’t motivate me to join them. Still, I was planning, really planning, on voting on Election Day.
I’m not sure why I was abnormally lazy on Nov. 3, 1972. There was really no excuse besides youth and political apathy. I started out that morning thinking about when and where I’d cast my ballot, but, ultimately, I did not vote. It was the last time I didn’t vote in a presidential election, and part of that had to do with my mother.
She called me that night to confirm the actions of my day. She was an ardent Democrat, married to an ardent Republican, and knew that my vote would move the cause one vote further. I was lazy, yes, but I wasn’t a liar. I admitted I hadn’t voted, and my mother yelled at me, then hung up on me. I was embarrassed but didn’t fully understand the extent of my moral crime. My mother could barely speak to me for weeks.
As I matured, I understood the responsibility and the privilege of voting. I never missed the chance again, but it wasn’t until this morning, when I walked my husband’s and my ballots to the mailbox, one day after receiving them in the mail, that I felt the full weight and honor of being a citizen and doing my part.
Naturally, I hope my candidate wins. I pray he wins. But regardless, if I hadn’t put my ballot in that mailbox, the ghost of my mother would have visited me the rest of my days. I’m glad she’s not still alive to see the state of the world in 2020, but I am here, and I’ve done my duty to my country and my conscience today.
It has never felt more like a holy process.
This article was originally published in the Seattle Times on Oct. 23, 2020.