Yesterday’s anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, coupled with tomorrow’s arrival of the Fourth of July spotlights the right to vote as a cornerstone of democracy. Third Actors recount memorable moments at the polls.

I first voted, in 1968, when Frances Farenthold ran for Governor in Texas. She ran against Dolphe Briscoe and only lost by a narrow margin.  At the time, I was a student at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). We walked through neighborhoods, helping folks to register to vote and actually get to the polls to vote. I have never forgotten the day I knocked on the door of an elderly woman who said that she’d never voted, but that her husband always did that for her. This statement stunned me! Not only did I vote for the first time, but she did as well. We women haven’t had the franchise for long, and in these deplorable times it may not be available much longer. 

Susan | Denton, Texas


I was raised long ago in a multigenerational household that included my maternal grandfather, my parents, my twin brother and sister, and I living in a downstairs flat. My Aunt, Uncle, and 2 cousins lived upstairs. After dinner each evening, we would all get together for coffee and talk about the day. Politics were always up for discussion. It didn’t matter if it was a local, state or a federal election, the pros and cons of each candidate or policy was dissected and discussed. This taught me that elections—all elections—are important and that I needed to understand all that I could about the candidates and what they stood for. I remember how powerful I felt the first time that I stepped into a voting booth and pulled the handle that closed the curtain behind me. Seeing the ballot for the first time in the voting machine was a powerful moment. I pushed the metal levers on my choices, pulled the handle, and the curtain opened. I could hear my vote being counted. Since then, I have always had a keen interest in politics. Although, when I was 8 years old, I wrote to leaders of countries who were killing baby seals and strongly stated that this needed to stop. So, perhaps I was really much younger when I started to find my voice. I volunteered with a few campaigns over the years, and I marched against the Vietnam war, and for Civil Rights in the 60’s and 70’s. I remember Black and White doctor’s waiting rooms, where 2 separate doors led to the same room, but a wide aisle divided the people between two areas. Without fear, I dragged my chair to the middle of that wide aisle. You could hear a pin drop. No one approached me, no one said anything. But, they all looked at me. I was young and way too brave for my own good sometimes. These are some of the small pieces of my life that do indeed impact my vote. When my son was born, I took him into the voting booth with me for every election. When he got to vote for the first time, I was giggling and a bit emotional and so was he. I told the election worker that he was a voting virgin and that watching him vote for the first time made me proud. It also made me think of my family all around a huge, oval dark oak table laughing, loving and talking politics.

Linda | Poughkeepsie, NY


Pretty much every time I vote, I get teary eyed; when I get my “I voted” sticker, I am literally moved to tears by the privilege. But the election and vote that has meant the most to me was in 2008 when I voted for Barack Obama. We stood in line in Alexandria, VA, for almost 2 hours (unheard of at our precinct), and I felt surrounded by joy. It was joyful to imagine ending the Bush / Cheney presidency of torture. Joyful to be voting for a young black man that had moved me to truly hope that America could actually rise to our promise for equal opportunity for all. I am a white woman who knows I have lived with tremendous privilege. But no privilege has mattered more to me than the day I stood with millions on the Capitol’s West Front Mall watching President Obama deliver his inauguration speech.

Elizabeth | Alexandria, VA & Washington DC


My first presidential election was in 1980. I was a poll worker for my first election. I was paid $50. I was the youngest poll worker that day, and I continued to be a poll worker for local elections for several years after. I no longer have to go to the polls because I live in Washington, but my kids remember going to the polls with me to vote. Now they are adults, making sure that their kids see them fill out their ballots and discuss voting. My 5 year old was so happy to have a new president that he danced on the dining room table! It normally wouldn’t be allowed, but this time we couldn’t bring ourselves to curtail his enthusiasm. I hope he is always excited about voting.

Sally | Oak Harbor, Washington


19 year old Sergeant Shoup (left) and Reserve Officer Shoup (right)

I was in an Army hospital in 1968 after returning from Vietnam and voted for Hubert Humphrey for President. I was only 19, but as a resident of Alaska, I could legally vote. I remember that an Army nurse helped me vote from my hospital bed, and I was so proud to have been able to cast my ballot. This is one of the many reasons we Democrats and Independents have to fight so hard to protect this precious right for all voters in our country.  A right that the Republican-run states and members of the Congress are trying so hard to take away from us! This is a party whose policies are so unpopular with the majority of the country that they must literally cheat to win elections.

Rick | Concord,  MA


For a number of years, I had used a wheelchair. There were two times the “wheelchair” access to the voting location was so difficult to find and navigate that it actually blocked my ability to cast a ballot. Barriers to voting go beyond manipulating districts to weaken voting access to people of color. Even today, I am not able to stand in line for hours if that would be my only way to cast my vote. I’m blessed to live and vote in Oregon where ‘kitchen table’ voting is the standard. Mail-in ballots need to be an option for all voters in our country.

PEG | Salem & Boring, Oregon


The first time I heard about voting was when I was 5 years old, I thought my parents said boating—or rather that we were going boating! But it made a big impression on me. It was an important event. Several decades later, I still feel that every time I vote, it is an important event. The most important of all was in 2016.

Julie | Oregon


I am 65 years old and have voted in every election since I became eligible to vote. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the positions of the main party candidates didn’t always seem too different. I voted, but I didn’t always feel strongly about my choice. That has changed in recent years as I have seen the extremes to which Republicans are willing to go to win elections and stop the passage of laws they oppose. In my life, the vote that meant the most to me was in 2020. I voted for Joe Biden AND against Donald Trump. I also voted for Julie Oliver for Congress. The personal significance was that, for the first time in my life, I donated to both Biden and Oliver’s campaigns (and others) and worked numerous hours in support. I feel strongly that our country needs to up our game in the matters of social equity, climate change, health care, and more. The first step will always be to elect good leaders, and protecting voting rights is key to that. I want to contribute to bettering the performance of our elected officials and the behavior of our citizens, starting with me.

Todd | Lakeway, Texas


I did not vote in 1964. I was working with CORE, a sponsored voter education project in Gadsden County Florida. There was resistance against Black people registering to vote that led to arrests, beatings, kidnappings, and even drive-by shootings. Despite the intimidation, hundreds, and then thousands, of folks registered. One lady, Miss Pearl, explained she was between 108 and 113 years old. She had been born enslaved. She registered to vote and voted in the November election, proudly declaring Johnson was “her man”. Today, I am not sure she would be able to register and vote under the proposed changes to voting access by Republicans. I have voted in every election and primary since 1967. If I ever feel reluctant to vote I remember Miss Pearl, and I am energized. Only in the last election, at 78,  did I take advantage of mail-in ballots. I enjoy the thrill of standing in line with other voters on Election Day.

Stuart | Gadsden County Florida


I voted for Jimmy Carter in my first Presidential election. Little did I know that, as a young kid fresh out of college, I would shortly join his administration to work for disarmament! I also worked for Obama! Two amazing Presidents.

Beth | New York


In 2020, my son was in college at NYU. As a politics major, he cared deeply about the outcome of the election, and so he requested an absentee ballot from Georgia. As the deadline for submitting ballots approached, he had not received one — so I called the county. The woman I spoke with told me it was “probably too late” for him to receive it and return it via USPS regular mail. She said that was okay because “as a college student, he’s probably got other things on his mind… like exams.” When I asked if she could send a replacement ballot, she said he might not be able to tell the original from the replacement — and might, therefore, submit the wrong one. When I asked if he could FedEx it back if he received it in time, she said the county wouldn’t accept a FedEx’d ballot. I asked if the only option was to fly him home and she laughed, incredulous that we would consider the expense. I was outraged that she was so profoundly unhelpful and so casually dismissive of my son’s right to make his voice heard. A day later, my son called to say his ballot had finally arrived — at 4pm, the day before ballots were due at the county elections office. I told him to find the nearest USPS office and send the ballot overnight; I would cover the cost. As it turned out, the nearest USPS office offering that service and open past 4pm was 25+ minutes across town. He’d have to take a train, then navigate through a totally unfamiliar part of New York. I told my son to hurry — that I would cover any cost he needed to incur to get to the USPS office, overnight his ballot, and get back to campus. He was uneasy about traveling so far from familiar territory on his own after dark in NYC, but he did it. I tracked him on “Find Friends” in case he got lost. He prevailed (at a significant expense). The county received his ballot, and his vote counted, but it should never have been this hard to vote. What if we hadn’t had the resources for me to say, “do whatever it takes and spend whatever it costs”? I decided to start working as a county poll worker, to do anything I could to improve voter services from the inside. I used to watch Rachel Maddow and think “Why doesn’t somebody do something?!” Then, I realized, “I am somebody.” I have progressed from poll worker to poll manager, worked advance voting, the Senate runoff, and the GA 2020 recount, field tested a plan to expand absentee ballot drop-offs (after the GA Legislature voted to remove drop boxes), and been offered new county-wide opportunities to: 1) oversee expansion of the library drop-off program, and 2) revamp poll worker training. I say YES to every opportunity I get to serve my fellow voters, and I am happy to support this effort any way I can.

Susan | Georgia


Vickie’s daughter, Rachel, voting for the first time in 2012.

It was not the first time that I voted that mattered the most to me. I’m 68 and I’ve voted in every election except 1986, where I was in the hospital early giving birth to my first child. The most meaningful time I voted was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. I was thrilled that this good-hearted, brilliant African-American man was running for president (I’m white). I believed that people in the US were learning better and would do better, so much so that I registered voters and canvassed for the first time in my life. I was watching the results on TV and literally cried when he was declared the winner. I went to DC and stood in the crowd for his inauguration—on maybe the coldest day I’ve ever stood outside—with my 18 year old daughter (who was later treated for hypothermia). But our hearts were warm with the camaraderie of all those happy people, of all races, who believed that hope and real change were on the way for the country.

Vickie | Durham, NC


Fifty years ago, I cast my first vote in Wayzata, MN on November 2, 1972 for George McGovern in a booth next to my mother. That afternoon, I flew to Sioux Falls SD with my father and step-mother, Joyce. Joyce was McGovern’s campaign manager in his hometown, so I got to stand at the foot of the stage, front row, looking up at the brave man I had just cast my first vote for. A man who took on Richard Nixon and lost so disastrously. I was thrilled to at last be part of our great democratic process, even if I was on the losing side. Back then, at age 18, I knew I had to keep on fighting for a peaceful and just America. The loss did not dampen my spirits; instead it made me realize that creating a country for all of us meant I had to work at building my dream every day. I have remained a politically active and engaged citizen ever since. I walked the halls of Congress for many years as a human rights advocate. Now I make phone calls to people all over the country to get out the vote and support voting rights organizations with my dollars. For the first time in my life, I now wonder if I have made a difference, and if there is hope for my grandchildren to grow up in a participatory democracy as I did. All I can do is keep going—keep voting. I am 68 now, and 50 years have gone by since I cheered for a man who stood up to the anti-democratic impulses of that time. I think about him whenever I feel it doesn’t matter. I still have hope. 

Susan | Sioux Falls, SD


I first voted in 1960 at age 18. I voted for Jack Kennedy, which was kind of radical because my parents—my whole family—had been Republican forever. When I saw my boyfriend that night, I told him who I had voted for and he replied, with a very stern expression on his face, that I had canceled out his and to not do it again. That was the first lesson in gender inequality that really stuck with me. I’m still flabbergasted when I think about it.

Linda | Winnetka, Illinois


I cut school to register to vote, which may have been my first act of civil disobedience. Our town hall was down the block from my high school and voters could register there. It was my eighteenth birthday, and I wanted a say in what was going on in this country. 2 years earlier, the 26th amendment to the Constitution had lowered the voting age to 18 years old, in recognition that people that age were fighting (and dying) in Vietnam, working, paying taxes, and participating in our democracy in every way, except by voting. I was angry about a pointless war and a range of social justice issues. I had hoped we could move in a positive direction (the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and Clean Air Act of 1970 had fueled that optimism). My mother had suggested to me that progress is not linear; it works more like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Today, that still appears to be the case. Civil rights, environmental rights, wage equity and more seem to have swung backwards in recent years, urged by divisive social media and histrionic commentary that masquerades as news. Now more than ever we need to awaken from apathetic despair and fight back, through voting and activism. The sure hands of social justice need to swing that pendulum back!

Nancy | Boontown, New Jersey


Coming of age in the 1960’s, I marched against the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights. I resented being a criminal because I enjoyed a joint with friends. We used to say, “You can’t trust anyone over 30” because we young people were the driving energy behind progressive views. But by the late 1970’s, I looked out at my students and thought, “I can’t trust anyone UNDER 30!” Youth’s world view had shifted; society became more interested in individual material success, instead of in one’s community or country’s welfare. My generation and my country lost their bearings. But bright lights of reason and humanity appeared amidst the dark skies of apathy and greed, and they spread. Until one day I could gleefully exclaim, “I lived long enough to vote for the legalization of marijuana and for a Black president!” The optimistic road is long and bumpy . . . but it’s the one worth taking.

Sharon | Southern California


I am 72 years old and a lifelong Democrat. I was a poll watcher and voted for the first time when I was 18 years old. As a young person, I watched the Civil Rights Movement on TV, and witnessed the African-American community struggle for the right to vote. They sacrificed blood and tears for that right, and now it’s being suppressed. My last vote in the general election was the vote of a lifetime, and despite the unfair obstacles put in our way, my husband and I were able to cast our votes with a drop-in ballot. Biden won but we’re still in very precarious times because of Trump and the right wing GOP that has their boot on our necks. Climate change, income inequality, racism, and the loss of democracy in this country, and throughout the world, leaves us wide open for right wing governments to soar. We need to open our eyes to what the future holds for us, if we do not hang onto this sacred right to vote.

Providence | North Carolina