... I became a registered voter in West Virginia. Two days after my 18th birthday (because my birthday was on a Saturday that year and the Board of Elections office was closed) I became a true card-carrying American. I could vote and have a say in the running of my country, state, county, and city. I registered as a Democrat and felt like I had truly arrived. It took me over two years after my 16th birthday to attain my driver's license, but by God I was spot on with my voter card.
I don't remember who was running for what in that year's May primary. I do remember voting and working at my local precinct as a clerk. I sat with a thick book containing the names and addresses of all the registered voters in our area and it was my responsibility to look up the person to determine if they were eligible to vote. As a brand-new voter (not to mention 18-year-old) I suddenly felt grown up. Responsible. I had arrived.
Throughout college, I dutifully had my father apply for my absentee ballots. During the 1992 Bush Sr./Clinton election, I remember getting hassled by my Republican sorority sister roommates for my Democratic voter status. I stayed up late the night after my ballot arrived, long past my sisters' bed times, to make my selection in peace. Without them looking over my shoulder, I placed my ballot on a thin piece of Styrofoam and punched the proper holes with my bent paper clip. William Jefferson Clinton received one vote from a 20-year-old out-of-place hillbilly in Georgia. The next morning, my room was plastered in Bush/Quayle campaign signs.
When I permanently moved to Georgia in 1994, my third day at my new home saw me applying for a Georgia driver's license and registering to vote. I found myself three months later staring at a ballot with Newt Gingrich's and Ben Jones's names for U.S. Congress. I voted for neither because I couldn't, in good conscience, vote for a reptile OR a man who played a man named after a woman's anatomy, to represent the good people of Gwinnett county in Congress.
My 16 years of Georgia have been hit and miss. I usually remember to show up at the primary and general elections, but I tend to forget the minor "vote on this bond!" elections. After moving from Cumming to Woodstock in 2000 and forgetting to change my address, I drove 45 minutes to an elementary school in Forsyth county in order to vote in the highly-contested Bush Jr./Gore election. The lines were brutal but it was worth it to have my voice heard. And yes, I voted for the younger Bush that year.
My political leanings have changed in the last 20 years. I've gone from working-man WV Democrat, to Independent, to tentative Republican, to disgruntled Republican, to flaming happy Libertarian. Still, I'm right back where I started - working at an election polling place and voting. I clerked the 2010 Georgia primary and primary run-off at the Rose Creek precinct and I plan on being there for the general election. Instead of a book, I now sit in front of a computer and rather than handing the voter a paper ballot, I give them a card with a chip. Two decades later, I'm still proud to be a registered voter, I continue to be in awe of our democratic process, I grumble when my candidate loses and cheer when he/she wins, and I always make sure to thank the voter across from me for taking time from their day to make their voice heard.
Because we all need encouragement that one decision, one selection does make a difference.