As a 30-something millennial, voting is important to me because it's fundamental to the health of any democracy, it's my power as a citizen, and people before me fought to ensure my voice could be heard.
I remember voting in my first election. It was Nov. 3, 1992. President George H.W. Bush was challenged by Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. Forest Park Elementary was holding a schoolwide mock election, and I was excited to be casting my vote. Sitting in my afternoon kindergarten class, ballots with candidates' pictures were distributed, and I confidently circled Perot because of his smile.
When my family discussed the election around the dinner table, I was proud to proclaim I had voted for Perot – to which my older brother blurted out, “Wrong vote, Mary!” I was visibly embarrassed, but my parents took the opportunity to discuss whom they voted for and issues that were important to them.
I decided: Never again will I vote for a smile.
At 18, I registered to vote and cast my first official ballot in a May primary. I haven't missed an opportunity since, voting in every primary and general election in my precinct. But that's not typical of voters locally or across the nation.
Election data shows only 55% of Allen County's eligible voters participated in the 2016 presidential election, with just more than 60% participating nationally. Ranking democracies by voter participation, the Pew Research Center puts the U.S. 26th.
I believe nothing speaks more to citizenship than voting eligibility. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, and 55 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These monumental events ensured the expansion of voting access and opened our democracy to greater representation.
I hear fellow millennials, along with others in Gen X and Gen Z, say they don't or won't vote because they are fed up with our flawed political system. I understand their despair, but the only way we fix our system is to vote.
Not participating in the system does nothing to improve it. Our vote is our voice and our power in the system. If we all speak up, we cannot be ignored.
If you are registered, please don't sit this election out. At every level of government, this election will determine who has the power to make decisions that affect our lives.
This year we are reminded how important local elections are; it's our city and county councils that set budgets. Along with the mayor, sheriff and school board, our elected officials have a tremendous effect on our community. The state's attorney general has immense power in our judicial system. Our local schools and teachers need the support of our governor and state legislators to succeed.
There is no shortage of important issues at the forefront of this election. Whether it's the environment, equality, criminal justice, education, Supreme Court, pandemic response or any others that resonate with you, look for the candidates who support your position, or who most closely support it.
For me, it's health care.
At 18, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and began a life with acute chronic illness. This was before the Affordable Care Act and, to remain covered by my dad's insurance, I had to be enrolled as a full-time college student but would be kicked off at 22 regardless of my educational status. I wasn't well enough for a full course load, and frequent hospitalizations kept me from attending classes.
I did my best, but was forced to medically withdrawal from half, or more, of my classes each semester. When the ACA passed, I was 22 with a preexisting condition and the stress of the looming insurance cutoff was relieved overnight. The ACA allowed me to stay insured until 26. Without insurance, there was no way I could afford my medications, surgeries and other treatments.
Early voting is open now. This week you can vote at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with more locations and times to come. Your last chance to be heard is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Call a friend, pick your day and time, grab your mask and vote.
Mary Timm-Zimmerman is a Fort Wayne resident.