Late for Nowhere

From life in Southeast Asia to backyard adventures in Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak Spotlight: Dedicated voter Margaret Hall passes away at 101

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On October 28, I conducted a phone interview with 101-year-old Kodiak resident Margaret Hall about her lifelong commitment to voting, and how she considered participating in elections to be an “obligation” and a “duty.” She was friendly and sharp-witted, and at the end of the interview she thanked me for calling and listening to her opinions.

Two days later, she passed away. But her wise words resonate, particularly on this contentious Election Day, and are worthy of noting down for posterity.

Margaret was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1919 – one year before the enactment of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Having gained this hard-won freedom in her lifetime, Margaret’s mother made sure her daughters grew up understanding its importance.

“I first voted in 1940 at age 21,” Margaret said. “It was very exciting because my mother had taken us three girls to the polls with her every single year, all the time, and she was always an advocate for women to vote.”

And so began Margaret’s lifelong commitment to voting, which she saw as the foundation of a democracy “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Like her mother, she also sought to pass her enthusiasm down to her own four daughters and two sons.

“The Constitution doesn’t say ‘we the president’ or ‘we the senators’ or ‘we the Supreme Court.’ It was written so it says, ‘We the People,’” she said.

The only presidential elections she missed were those in 1952 and 1956, following her move to the then-territory of Alaska in 1948. She said she found the inability to vote during that time “very frustrating.”

“For the first election (in 1952), I had just recently become a resident of Alaska,” Margaret said. “I could have still voted absentee in Minnesota had I not done that, but I had become a resident of Alaska so I couldn’t.”

 When Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, she was finally able to start participating again in 1960.

“Probably the most memorable election would have been the first time I was able to vote in Alaska (in 1960) after I had not been able to vote for two elections because we were still a territory,” she said.

Margaret made her way to the polling station in every election thereafter, even as she saw a disappointing drop in interest in politics among her fellow citizens.

“I think voting has changed over the years. I don’t think people think it’s an obligation or a duty or a privilege anymore,” she said. “They just don’t feel it. They think ‘I can vote or not vote. I don’t need to vote. Nobody cares if I vote. I don’t know who to vote for.’ They have every excuse in the world for not voting.”

She also noticed a “definite” decline in civility among politicians — a shift that she said is readily apparent when older political speeches are compared with those offered up by some of today’s candidates.

“It’s changed. Well, the only word I can really think of is ‘uncouth,’” she said. “When one candidate gets up there and says he’s going to kick someone’s butt, I don’t care for that kind of language. I don’t use it and those things can be expressed in many other ways … I’m afraid it’s changed forever. I don’t think we’re going to go back to the same kind of polite, sensitive conversations we used to have.”

Margaret was also less than thrilled by the increase in over-the-phone polling in the days leading up to elections.

“I do not like people calling and asking me for my opinion on an issue,” she said. “I’m firmly convinced that the secrecy of the ballot is important.”

The deterioration of respectful political rhetoric aside, Margaret continued to believe in the integrity of the electoral process. She also had a message for those who have grown jaded about U.S. politics or who don’t think voting is worthwhile.

“Two things I would say: You need to wake up and realize that an organized minority can overrule an unorganized majority of the people of the country,” Margaret said. “And you also need to realize that you, as ‘the People,’ have an obligation and a privilege to vote that many people in many countries do not have.”

Written by latefornowhere

November 3, 2020 at 4:50 pm

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