A Valuable Lesson From Beyond the Grave
How Katie’s mother taught her about voting - long after she had passed.
From Katie's perspective:
Like Kelly, my mother believed in teaching children the value of participating in civic life as soon as they’re old enough to be toted around to political meetings and ride along on canvasses. One of my earliest memories is being strolled from door to door as my mother, who was a precinct captain for the local Democratic Party in Fairfax, VA., worked our neighborhood to get out the vote.
One of my other early memories is watching her dance with joy on our coffee table the night a local politician, known to me only as the man she wouldn’t vote for if he was running for dog-catcher, was finally ousted after many years in office.
Yes, I come from a long line of political geeks.
Voting for the first time was a big occasion in my household, and voting in every election—from local primaries on up to the presidential election—was considered a sacred responsibility, one that I’ve always taken very seriously.
In last week’s column we promised to tell the story about how I almost lost a school board race for a candidate whose campaign Kelly was working on. But it wasn’t really my fault. I actually believe that my mother was to blame, even though she had passed away a number of years before.
Every election day since the year I turned 18, my mother would call to tell me to vote, which annoyed me to no end because I’ve always voted, just as she had raised me to do. Yes, I would sigh. Of course I’m registered. Yes, I know where my polling place is. And yes, I’m voting. Have I ever not voted?
So the first time that I found myself seriously thinking about skipping an election—the weather was miserable, my children were driving me crazy, I hadn’t showered yet, all of the usual excuses people have—what tipped the balance against going to the polls that day was the fact that, well, how much could it really hurt to take a little break? Especially for a spring election?
After all, I had already gone above and beyond the call of my civic duties, voting more times in the years since Barry Commoner first ran for president (hat tip to anyone who knows who he is without Googling) than many people do in a lifetime. Sitting out one small local election was not going to hurt anyone.
Besides, my mother was no longer there to berate me.
Or so I thought.
Not long after the election, I was invited to a dinner party with one of the school board candidates, a friend of my husband’s I’d planned to vote for if I hadn’t taken the day off. The same candidate, it so happens, that Kelly was working to get elected. I hadn’t bothered to check the results, since he was, as far as I knew, widely regarded as a strong favorite to win.
When we arrived at the party and started hearing the school-board race chatter, I was happy to learn that he . . . wait . . . what? The race had ended in a tie?
The guests were seated around the table discussing the results while I sat frozen in my chair. Rendered mute. Wondering if I should ‘fess up to being the person who could have won the race for him but decided instead to stay home for the first time during her entire life as a voter. Decided to give herself a little break. Decided it would be just fine to defy her mother’s many years of lecturing about how every vote counts.
I tried to recall the rules, hoping that a tie meant a do-over and I could have a chance at redemption. I silently promised my mother that if I did get that chance, I would never sit another election out again. I imagined how amused she would have been by my predicament.
Then I began to imagine how amused she might likely have been, at that very moment, by how beautifully her apparent plan to engineer a devious reminder that yes, she wasn’t kidding—every vote really does count—was working.
“So a tied election is decided by a coin toss?” I heard one of the other guests ask. Oh that’s just mean, I thought to myself. Now this poor man is going to lose the election by the toss of a coin, and it’s going to be my fault. Enough already—I’ve learned my lesson!
I was beginning to think it would only be rubbing salt in the wound if I confessed and apologized for staying home due to hygiene concerns, thereby causing this whole mess in the first place, when I heard someone mention that the coin toss had already taken place. I held my breath . . .
Oh thank you voting gods, or Mom, or universe-with-a-twisted-sense-of-humor—my man won the coin toss and would be joining the school board!
I considered myself duly warned and have not missed an election since.
Not long after Kelly and I first began working together, we were sharing war stories when she said, “Believe it or not, I once worked on a race that ended in a tie,” which I couldn’t top. Well, not exactly. She went on to tell me about how stressful the coin toss was and how infuriating it would have been to lose a race by pure chance like that, all because just one or two people—spring election voters no less, who are supposed to be more reliable than that—decided to stay home.
I was one of those people, I told her.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. You, of all people, actually skipped out on the one race that ended in a tie, in how many years since I’ve been working on local elections?”
Yep, that would be me.
The Feb. 15 primary and the April 5 final elections for Milwaukee County Executive, County Circuit and State Supreme Court Justices, Nicolet School Board and village governments are just around the corner.
You may think your vote won’t make a difference in the outcome of those races, but please take the time to get to the polls anyway so my mother won’t have to show you otherwise.