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What I Really Know About Civic Duty: Privilege

The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Judy Slack of Gilbert, Ariz., shares what she really knows about civic duty.

My mother worked the polls in our town, from as long back as I can remember until she felt she was too old to manage it. Polling days were long days, especially when she was juggling the needs of a husband and five children. But she always said, “It’s the least I can do.”

Because most of the voting was done in the basement of my school, I often stayed there after school on Election Day until someone older was at home to care for me. I’d do my homework, run around behind the stage and watch the people come and go. There was a miniature version of the voting machine on a table so the poll workers could explain the process to first-time voters. Mom and the other workers would stress how important it was to know how you wanted to vote, because once the levers were down and you opened the curtain, your vote was cast and couldn’t be undone. Working the polls seemed like a solemn task, even though Mom and the others caught up on neighborhood gossip between the coming and going of voters.

I found it especially interesting to watch my mother help older voters. She seemed to know so many of them personally. Occasionally, she’d meet one at the steps and offer assistance. Other older voters would ask her to remind them how to use the voting machine or, if they had poor eyesight, to read the candidates’ names to them.

My mother said it was good exercise for her to be a public servant. She was proud of her own right to vote and used it religiously. She said, “Women fought hard to earn the right to vote. I will exercise it as long as I live.” She voted by mail in her last years, so as not to be someone who needed help down the steps at the polling place.

To this day, I always make a point of thanking my neighbors who work where I vote. Fortunately, they don’t see working the polls as a duty, but rather as a privilege.

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