BY NANCY SCHEWE
I always refer to my volunteer work as my work—plain and simple— because I am fully committed to its importance. It holds as much priority in my life as any paying job I ever had. My work registering voters, observing elections, and organizing public forums for the League of Women Voters has been a driving force in my life for the last ten years. Helping people secure a voice in the decisions that will affect their lives is work worth doing.
Here are some of the voices that I have heard at work.
Tenants in a Section 8 high-rise housing complex in Ypsilanti asked the League to conduct an election to select their first-ever residents’ council. This council would give the residents a voice they had previously not had in the simple, everyday things that affected their lives. They wanted to help determine how late they could have visitors, when they could use the laundry room, and how to get picnic tables outside. The residents turned out to vote in large numbers, with several people casting a ballot for the first time in their lives. This election would make a direct difference for them. It was a proud and happy day for us all.
While registering voters at the Ann Arbor District Library, a man looking over our materials said that he was not allowed to vote because he had a committed a felony earlier in his life. I was so happy that I could tell him that his felony did not prevent him from voting in Michigan. He had paid his debt to society and could vote. At first he couldn’t believe it. When we showed him that Michigan was one of the states that allowed past felons to vote, he immediately filled out the registration form. Then he quickly called his brother to tell him that he was going to vote in the next election. A new voice was welcomed as a voter that day.
I served as an election observer in the 2014 election at a precinct in southeast Ann Arbor. I watched voters stream into the poll that day, people of many colors, speaking many different languages, of all ages and abilities. There were sons escorting their mothers and children translating for their grandparents. They were all there to vote and the election officials worked tirelessly to be sure that every voter who showed up at the poll was able to cast a ballot. That day I witnessed our democracy at its best.
In 2016 I was once again an election observer. The image that still moves me is of a young woman in a wheelchair coping with severe physical challenges beaming as her parents snapped her photo. She had put forth enormous effort that day to cast her ballot for the woman who might have been the first female president of the United States. A determined woman made her voice heard that day.
As to the future, helping my 18-year-old grandson and two of his friends register to vote using Michigan’s brand new online voting system was the highlight of my year. These three bright young men were able to vote in the presidential primary in March and are ready to step up to the plate again in November. They are the future. I’m glad they know how to vote.
Including all voices in our democracy is important work, even if it is just volunteer work.
– Nancy Schewe