By Danny Priest
Many are touting this Presidential Election as the most important election of all-time. While that statement may have some merit to it given the issues plaguing the country currently, each election is important in its own way.
For the student body on campus, this is likely the first election many of them are casting votes in. For professors and faculty on campus, they’ve done this before.
Tim Allen, a Professor in the Business Department, casted his first vote all the way back in the 1972 election between incumbent Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern.
Back then, the overriding issue with the election was the ongoing war in Vietnam. A war that eventually claimed over 280,000 U.S. military members lives.
For young voters like Allen, joining the military wasn’t a choice like it is today. He was eligible to be drafted and sent to fight at any time.
“It was on your mind that we were in this war that nobody thought we should really be in. We’re stopping communism 4,000 miles from here in this little country,” Allen said.
“That’s what it was about, theoretically. If we stop communism here, this is where it’s got to stop, otherwise it’ll spread here, here, and here. People like myself, there was a draft, it wasn’t a volunteer army. You don’t have to sign up, you can choose to do what you want and not worry about being drafted,” he added.
Allen voted for McGovern in that election, who was considered to be the “peace candidate.” Of course, he lost to Nixon, but it was not long after that the Watergate scandal came to light and Nixon was out of office anyways.
Daniel Zukergood, a Professor of Education, also voted in the 1972 election. Similar to Allen, his focus at the time was the war going on.
“The Vietnam war was going on and my friends and I were against the war. We were also in the draft lottery. If your birthday was selected early, you would be drafted and go to war,” Zukergood explained.
“On the day of the lottery, I took a walk in the hills of Oneonta, NY (where I went to Oneonta State College) and vowed that if my number was high, I would still fight to the best of my ability to do whatever it took to end the war. In fact, I drew number 255, so I was not going to be drafted.”
For Zukergood, the first time he ever voted he felt informed on what was happening. That is a sentiment many students today don’t necessarily share.
“I have noticed that many of my students today are not planning to vote in this election. One of the reasons they say they are not voting is that they don’t know enough about the issues. Back in 1972, we were very much up on the issues of the 1972 election because our lives depended upon it,” Zukergood said.
“To this day, I continue to be a political junkie and am very aware of the key issues in any election. I see one of my roles as a professor is to educate our students on being active and aware citizens who participate fully in our democratic process.”
The 2000 election between George Bush and Al Gore was another popular one on campus.
Paul Thifault, an Associate Professor of English and the Chair of the Literature, Writing and Journalism department, voted via an absentee ballot as he attended college in Boston, but was originally from New York.
Now 20 years later, he credits his mother for his ability to be informed on voting.
“When I cast my vote around Halloween 2000, I knew little and needed my mother’s help to figure out how to secure a ballot, she’s still better than Google for such things. But by Thanksgiving, as the drama played out, all of American youth had gained a working knowledge of complex voting procedures and recount protocols. Even punk bands had names like ‘The Hanging Chads,’” Thifault said.
Professor of Religion Kat Dugan is someone who’s been invested in voting her whole life and that began in 2000.
“I was in college at the time (in 2000) and I remember staying up late, waiting for the counts to come in from Florida. It was such a confusing time,” she said of the election.
“I’ve always been invested in voting. My mom modeled the importance of voting for me–she never missed an opportunity to vote, from school boards, to town leadership, to national elections. It taught me to be an educated voter and to value that I get to participate in democracy in this way.”
Annie Warchol, the Director of Student Activities and Campus Union, was also influenced by her family to be an active voter.
“My family always made it a point to take us to the polls to vote,” she said. Warchol had intended to vote in 2000, but she was unable to obtain an absentee ballot in time because she was attending college in a state other than her hometown one.
“My understanding of how to vote now is 100 times clearer than when it was my first time to vote. I think partly due to age, but also I think with social media and the press information is all over the place now. When I was growing up, you only heard of MTV Rock the Vote campaign, now I feel like it is everywhere,” Warchol said of how voting awareness has grown.
A few other elections were represented by various staff around campus. Associate Director of Alumni Relations Maria Crawford first voted via absentee ballot in 1988.
Like others, she’s become more educated with time. “For me, the older I have gotten, the more I realize how important it is to take advantage of our right to vote and play a key role in selecting our leaders who in turn, are instrumental in developing and enforcing policy that in many cases, affect our everyday lives. I take great personal pride in voting whenever the opportunity arises, whether it be for our local school committee or the President of the United States,” she said.
Assistant Professor of History Ian Delahanty voted for the first time in 2004 when George Bush squared off with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
“Being from Massachusetts, I was even more interested in this election than others because I was very familiar with Senator Kerry. Like a lot of other college students, I was also strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, especially since I had a couple of close friends serving in the military. Beyond this, I disagreed with many other policies and initiatives of the Bush administration,” Delahanty said.
He urges students that no matter how little or much they may feel they know about the election, voting is still an important right to exercise.
“I am still learning and don’t expect that I will ever know all there is to know about elections and voting. I think it’s important to emphasize that ‘I don’t know the issues or candidates’ isn’t an excuse for not voting–there is always the opportunity to learn about the issues and candidates, and there is always room for additional knowledge,” he said.
Another thing about voting in 2020 is that it’s become more convenient. There are ways to vote now without even leaving the house.
Alice Eaton, a Professor of English, first voted in 1980 in downtown Cleveland and she had to use a hand lever machine to cast her vote.
“It must have been 75 years old. You push a small lever for all your choices, then a big lever to submit the whole ballot, which I believe was hole-punched by the machine,” she said. “It took some strength to push the big lever, which was at least a foot long, and the machine made a very loud clunk when the lever was pushed all the way.”
While this election presents a lot of uncertainty, one thing that is definite is that voting has become more convenient and it will always be an important part of life in the United States.
Photo: Springfield College Archives