Voices on Voting: Getting My Grandmother to Vote

by V.E. Duncan

V.E. Duncan is a twenty-something queer feminist living at home with her parents in California. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Wilkes University and owns a cantankerous cat named Cleopatra. For the record, she adores the United States Postal Service.


“a short, true story by V.E. Duncan”

After falling and breaking her hip in April, my grandmother (my father’s mother) moved out of her house in Texas in August 2011. She moved into my parents’ house that same mouth and registered to vote in California, where we live, as soon as she could find a place to register.

In early September this year, my mother, grandmother, and I were talking about voting in the election on November 6th. My mother is a bastion of relatively liberal thinking in a city of conservatives, but she cares more about women voting—and being able to vote—than whether any one woman votes for (or against) “her” candidates.

So when my grandmother, a stereotypical Texan Republican, said, “I don’t think I’m going to vote this year”, mother’s expression went from disbelief to shock to you’re not getting out of this voting thing so easily in the short span of about a minute.

“Why not?” my mother asked.

“Because I don’t know how.”

“I can help you,” I offered immediately.

“You need to vote, Louellyn,” my mother said at the same time.

“Well, of course I’d vote if I still lived in Texas,” my grandmother said, “but California has a completely different voting system, and I don’t know what to do.”

My mother and I looked at each other. My grandmother has this thing about thinking she can’t learn anything new, which is really what makes her old and not her 84 years. When my grandfather was still alive, my parents set up my grandparents with a simple email system so that my father could communicate with them more frequently than postal mail would allow. My grandfather printed out my father’s emails to them both so that my grandmother could read them because she “didn’t know how to use the email”, and she would write back by hand via postal mail. Which, as you may imagine, was frustrating for everyone involved (no doubt including my grandmother, who saw nothing wrong with using the postal service, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, right?). After my grandfather died, my father took the email system out of my grandmother’s house in Texas and tossed it because she hadn’t touched it since her husband’s death. In fact, she’d never touched it.

“I can help you,” I said again. “I’m voting by mail, so I can show you what I do, if you want.”

“I doubt you’ll vote the same as each other,” my mother said, and I gave her a look. If my mother is relatively liberal in a sea of conservatives, my grandmother is part of the sea, and I’m so far to the left of liberal that my position isn’t even on most people’s liberal-to-conservative charts.

“She doesn’t have to vote the same way I will,” I said. “It’s the principle of the thing.”

“Though if you don’t know who to vote for, Louellyn, I can tell you.” My mother winked at my grandmother, who laughed.

“In Texas,” my grandmother explained, “early voting happened down at the courthouse for two weeks; then early voting closed for a week before the official Election Day, and then… Election Day. I don’t know where the courthouse is, here.”

“We don’t do it that way here—”

“Thankfully,” I cut in.

“—and I know where there are courthouses,” my mother continued without skipping a beat, “but I don’t know which one we would go to, in any case.” She gave me a warning look.

“See what I mean?” my grandmother said. “I don’t think I can vote this year because I have no idea what to do and I don’t even know where to go to find out.”

“You’re registered to vote in California, right?” my mother asked.

“Of course,” my grandmother confirmed, somewhat incredulous that she would even be asked such a question.

“All right; then you’ll get a sample ballot in the mail along with the rest of us.”

“Yes, but what good will that do if I don’t know what to do with it?” my grandmother complained.

My mother’s lips pressed into a firm line. “Louellyn,” she said, “women in the United States have not had the vote for even a hundred years yet. You are going to vote in this election even if it means I have to carry you into the voting booth on Election Day myself.”

“That won’t do me any good either, if I don’t know how to vote.”

“On the back of the sample ballot,” I interrupted before my mother had a chance to implode, “there’s a request for a vote-by-mail ballot. I’ll help you fill that out and then we can vote at home together, okay? I’ll walk you through it.”

My grandmother looked at my mother warily.

“I won’t tell you who to vote for,” I assured her quickly. “I’ll just show you what I’m doing and walk you through the choices and how to mark those choices on the official ballot. Deal?”

My grandmother looked back to me and shrugged. “All right,” she said. “I can’t promise I’ll figure it out, but I’ll try.”

“Good,” my mother said. “Women need to vote. If we don’t vote, some idiot might think we don’t want to vote and take the right away from us.”

We got the sample ballots in the mail, as my mother predicted. I showed my grandmother how to fill out a request for a vote-by-mail ballot.

In mid-October, we sat down together and, as I’d promised, I walked her through the official ballot, the candidates, and the propositions. There was one proposition we agreed upon (maybe she’s not as stereotypical as I once thought?), so I showed her how to mark her choice on the ballot using that as an example on mine.

A couple of days later, I helped my grandmother walk out to the mailbox and put her official ballot in the mail along with my father’s and mine.

I don’t know what choices she made on her ballot (though I can guess), but I’m proud to say that my grandmother voted, and I helped her do it.


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4 Responses to “Voices on Voting: Getting My Grandmother to Vote”

  1. W Duncan

    This was written by my niece about my mother. Very well done and very representative of my mother. I’m glad my niece got her to vote.

    Reply

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