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Feels Like the First Time: Share Your Voting Memories

I guess the first presidential election I voted in was Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984. Four years earlier I'd been only a few weeks shy of turning 18 but I don't remember feeling any great disappointment at not being able to cast a ballot in Carter vs. Reagan. I wasn't overly political then and haven't changed much in 28 years.

I do remember, in the lead-up to the 1984 election, getting a taste of how the political can become the personal. Throughout college I went to classes in the mornings and worked at a photo lab in the afternoons. My job was to put the finished photo orders in bags, staple them shut (taking care not to staple through the prints) and deliver them to retail stores. One of my fellow delivery drivers was incandescent with his hatred of Ronald Reagan. This guy had always wanted to be a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps and held Reagan responsible for the fact that he was instead driving a Pinto loaded with snapshots. He had admitted in his Marine interview that he'd smoked marijuana in college and this had ruled him out for service. He was proud of having been honest but convinced that this policy was a direct result of Reagan's wishes. There was no way he'd be voting for him in '84.

I don't know the truth to any of this--was President Reagan personally responsible for this particular policy?--and I can't remember the particulars of my first presidential voting experience. Surely I voted. And for Mondale, the first in a long series of losers. But where? I was living in Langley Park but I have no specific recollection of a church hall or school cafeteria, or of feeling the hand of history as I cast my first presidential ballot. I certainly didn't have a Washington Post columnist writing about me, as I do in my column today about Rachel Eilbott.

I'm curious if your memory is better than mine. What do you remember about the first presidential election you voted in? Was there a Kennedy involved? Nixon? Goldwater? An obscure third-party candidate? What were polling places like in the days before the ubiquitous "I voted" sticker? Please share your memories of losing your voting virginity in our comments section. And if you haven't voted yet, go do it!

By John Kelly  |  November 4, 2008; 9:04 AM ET
 | Tags: voting  
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My first vote was for Jon Anderson in the 1980 Republican primary. I had registered Republican largely because no one else in my high school did -- also to tweak my friend's parents who were ardent Democrats and always worked the polling place (Broome Jr High in Rockville).

In those days there was such a thing as a liberal Republican, and Maryland was the last bastion, with the likes of Mac Mathias and Gude, so it wasn't that much of a stretch. I also felt that someone should vote against the hard right in the primaries. I later switched registration as reasonable choices dried up.

I kept my parent's address as my voting address until I purchased a home of my own, so voted in Rockville for years, though I lived in Hyattsville and College Park for a while.

This year was the first primary vote I ever cast for someone who made it to the general election!

Posted by: JP_in_MD | November 4, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I believe I voted in a local election on Long Island the first time after I turned 18. That would have been in the elementary school I attended. But my first Presidential vote was via absentee ballot. I can remember being pretty excited about the process and sitting at my dorm room desk in Upstate NY to fill it out. The candidates...Nixon v McGovern.

Posted by: mfromalexva | November 4, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I was in college and a friend called to ask me to vote for a friend of his for city council--one of those elect-gowns-to-the-town-government electoral efforts. I said sure, I'd vote for the guy.

But my friend the campaigner kept trying to talk me into doing what I already said I'd do. I guess he was working off a script of some kind, working to "overcome objections" which I did not have.

I suspect the candidate's platform consisted of easing restrictions on the sale of drug paraphernalia, or decriminalizing public urination, or some other matter of great civic importance to students in Kent, Ohio. Beats me. The guy won, I graduated and have no idea what happened afterward.

The takeaway?

That canvassers are talkers, not listeners?

That a recommendation from a friend matters more to me than issues?

That I'm not qualified to answer the phone between May and November?

Posted by: stoltzc1 | November 4, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Today I turn 42 years old. I brought my husband, my 8 year old son, and my 6 year old daughter to vote in what I hope is my most memorable election yet--a president I am proud of, campaigned for, and truly believe has the ability to move us into the 21st century.

Posted by: achase1 | November 4, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Ronald Reagan is a "love him or loathe him" president. I remember a young woman on the Blue Line in Springfield, Virginia declaring that she would never call National Airport "Reagan National."

Posted by: cktirumalai | November 4, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

My first vote was 2000. I was in Chicago for college and had to vote absentee in Virginia. My roommate and I bought two handles of liquor for the occasion. We started drinking as the returns came in, then toasted victory when the called Florida for Gore. We ended up almost finishing both bottles as the turmoil continued into the night. To this day, my first year roommate (he's still my best friend) gets sick even at the sight of Seagrams whiskey.

Posted by: Southwester | November 4, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

My first election was 1972, Nixon vs. McGovern. I voted absentee ballot (NY), as I was a sophomore at American U. here in Washington. My roommate, who grew up on a PA farm and had been a "Nixon's the One" gal in 1968, had by this time done a complete 180 and was rabidly anti-Nixon. She persuaded me to sign up to campaign for McGovern on Election Day. We were bused up to Hagerstown, where we went door to door. We were in what seemed a lesser part of town, slightly creepy, and very quiet. As I recall, we encountered a lot of nobody-home places. I remember that the HQ there was a storefront on Main Street. It was a completely different world to me, a child of the LI suburbs. Anyway, that evening we got to be at what was supposed to have been a victory party at the Washington Hilton. I don't remember much about it other than that there were a LOT of people. At that time of my life it was easily the largest function I'd ever been to, and even though we were losing badly, it was pretty cool. That day in general remains one of my fondest memories from my college days. I've never done anything remotely political since then (and haven't been able to anyway because of my jobs), but I believe it is important to vote and have never missed an election, general or local. I am headed out to my precinct shortly.

Posted by: batwings | November 4, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Clinton in 1992. It was my senior year of college (I was a few months too young to vote in 1988, which was infuriating). Having grown up mostly under 12 years of Republican rule, I found the fact that a Democrat had actually won both exhilarating and surreal. I hope to re-experience that feeling very soon!

Posted by: Janine1 | November 4, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

In the days when the voting age was 21, I was a bit young for the 1964 election. I had to wait four more years. When the day finally came I arrived home to find my little VW had a dead battery. Not to be detered I enlisted the help of my 66 year old Mom to help me push the bug. The two of us managed to jump start it and I was off to make my mark on history.

Posted by: threexy1xx | November 4, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Reader Katherine Kirkland sent me this memory of hers:

"In 1972, my father and I were two forlorn votes in Northern Michigan for George McGovern. My vote was because I really believed in Sen. McGovern. My father's vote was because he detested Richard Nixon. We voted in my old elementary school which meant we had a good 20 minutes each way in the car to talk. It was my first vote for president and, as it turned out, my father's last. He died the following summer and never got to see that Richard Nixon got what my father would have considered 'his just reward.'"

Posted by: JohnFKelly | November 4, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

November 1972 was my first Presidential election. The voting age had been lowered from 21 to 18 in 1970, so my older sister (by 5 years) and I were both voting in our first Presidential election.

I never paid attention to primaries until I was a voter, and what a primary season it was! My mother, a lifelong Republican until Nixon's first term, campaigned for Eugene McCarthy. Shirley Chisholm's longshot campaign inspired my feminist soul. And the power of the press became apparent to me with reportage of Edmund Muskie's "tears" when defending his wife, and the scandal of then-VP nominee Thomas Eagleton's admission of having been treated for depression.

A college student, I obtained my absentee ballot and sent it in early. I was eager to vote for George McGovern, with his anti-war stance. On election day, I forgot banks were closed, and tried to enter my bank in Ithaca. A passing businessman called out, "Election Day! Didn't you VOTE?" in a withering tone. I wanted to reply, "Yes. A month ago by absentee ballot!" but he was long gone before I found my voice.

I was crushed when Nixon easily won reelection. In frustration, my roommate yanked open our window and yelled out into the cold night, "World, you're @#$%&* (messed) up!" and at the moment, I couldn't agree more. I had friends with low numbers in the draft lottery, and I feared for their lives should they be sent to Vietnam. Little did I know then that I had already become a political junkie and that I would soon be glued to the television watching the Watergate scandal unfold.

Posted by: fisherj1 | November 4, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

The first time I voted in a presidential election was 1952 and I voted for Adlai Stevenson. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I did not vote in 1948, the first year that I could have voted in a presidential election. I would have voted for Harry Truman. I had moved back to Missouri from Iowa and didn't get around to registering. I'm so thankful that President Truman won without my vote. I have always voted for the Democratic nominee and plan to continue to do that depending on how many more years I have on this earth.

Posted by: helenfoxglazer | November 4, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Jimmy Carter, 1976, in the lobby of my dorm at college. I had never met a Republican before the dorm-mate who registered me to vote.

Posted by: SuperiorityComplex | November 4, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

My first Presidential election was 1980. My old kindergarten school served as my poll site. It had been many years since I last visted the place, and the enormous classrooms of my youth looked rather small. I cast my vote in an actual voting booth, the type with a curtain and lever that you threw to start and end the whole process. I don't much care for the touch screens used today.

Posted by: f-street | November 4, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't recall voting in a primary election in 1980 (I'm not sure if I was registered with a party then), but I cast my absentee vote in the general election for Barry Commoner.

Posted by: staxowax | November 4, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I wore a Nixon button on the school bus because my Dad was for Nixon. This was during the Vietnam war, and some green berets came to boy scout camp and showed us how to build a shelter and kill a chicken with your bare hands. They were cool.

Posted by: jimward21 | November 4, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

The first election I was able to vote in for real was in 1960, my senior year in college. In earlier that year I helped form a Kennedy for President club on my college campus and actively campaigned for JFK in the Wisconsin Democratic primary held in March of 1960. John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey were the main competitors in that contest. I was thrilled to meet both John and Jackie Kennedy during that primary season, as well as several other Kennedy family members and other campaign workers who later became famous. I have voted for every Democratic candidate since the 1960 election and have campaigned for and/or contributed to the candidates in each of those election cycles. I used to vote for at least one Republican candidate for a lesser office in each general election until 1995, when the Republicans gained complete control of congress and were responsible for shutting down the entire Federal Government twice that year, once for 3 whole weeks. I then made an oath to never vote for a Republican for any office, no matter how lowly the office, because the Republicans in congress showed me that they were not capable of governing. Subsequent actions by the party's elected officials have convinced me that my 1995 analysis of Republican candidates is spot on!

Posted by: mbogumill | November 4, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I just want to say that, though I waited an hour and a half to vote this morning, I had a great time. The workers at my polling place (King-Greenleaf in SW DC) were efficient and polite. The wait was due only to the massive turnout. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was there: old, young, black, white, rich, poor, cops, criminals. I lived on the South Side of Chicago in 2004 when I and all my neighbors turned out in droves to send Obama to the Senate, but even that paled in comparison to the enthusiasm I saw this morning.

Posted by: Southwester | November 4, 2008 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Reader Mike Creveling sent in this recollection:

You asked for memories of “first presidential elections you voted in.” I remember the last one I COULDN'T vote in: 1968. I was in the Marine Corps, in North Carolina, and Viet Nam was in full swing. You had to be twenty-one to vote (but only eighteen to fight…) Martin Luther King and Bobbie Kennedy had been assassinated in the spring. President Johnson had bowed out. The new president could change history and directly affect our lives.

I was incredulous as the majority of the Marines in the TV room “voted” to switch away from election night coverage to a mindless entertainment show.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | November 4, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

'84, same as you, though for the life of me I can't remember who I voted for in the primary. I was 20 that year. I also voted for Reagan, the one and only time I have ever voted for a Republican. I blame my youth and question if 20 really is old enough to vote.

I'm a reliable Dem vote and will remain that way as long as the GOP continues to vilify my life.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | November 4, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Although I was not old enough to vote in the 1976 election, I remember running into one of the sons of Gerald Ford at Winston's in Georgetown the Friday night after the election. (I was not old enough to drink then either, but hey, it was Georgetown in the 70's, which is probably why I can't remember which Ford it was.) I lied and told him I voted for his father. We danced to a Boz Scagg's song I think.

Posted by: newhdl | November 4, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

My first presidential election was in 1960 and it was an absentee ballot. I'm an Irish Catholic from Boston and I was very excited about the possibility of seeing JFK in the White House. At the time I was a flight attendant for Pan American Airways living in New York, and I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to vote. As it turned out, I was in Paris on Election Day, so I wandered over to Notre Dame Cathedral and lit a candle for JFK. It is a day I will never forget!
Jean Crowley, McLean, VA

Posted by: jcrowley1958 | November 4, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I am 25 and the first time I was old enough to vote was when I cast a ballot for John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004.
This year was different.
Today was different.

Today I did not vote for me, I voted for us. All of us. I voted in honor of this great country who will bounce back from these last eight years of darkness into a new day and a new role on the world stage.

today's vote was an honor.
Today I voted for Barack Obama and in honor of the following:

In honor of Rosa Parks.

In Honor of Brown Vs. Board of Education.

In Honor of Julian Bond and John Lewis.

In honor of our right to protest peacefully.

To honor the hope that one day we will rejoin the group of countries who abide by the Geneva

In honor of Dr. King and Malcolm X.

In honor of Medgar Evers and Emmitt Til

To Honor the idea of our rights to a fair trial.

To Honor the idea of protecting our environment.

To honor the idea that soon red and blue states will be inclusive and not exclusive.

To honor the ideal of separation of church and state.

To honor the idea that a government should not govern who people choose to marry.

In honor of all those who life’s savings have been marginalized and erased by the greed and corruption of the wealthy 1% who, James Madison once warned, were the personification of “the daring depravity of the times."

In Honor of the Mississippi Three and the Greensboro Four.

In honor of a candidate based on the content of his character, the depth of his intelligence, and the ability to motivate us to not accept the status quo or feel that our work is done this time tomorrow.

To paraphrase Dr. King, 2008 is not an end, but a beginning.

This is our Mountaintop; this is our March on Washington

Posted by: tumbleweedhips | November 4, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Kristine Tompkins of Springfield, VA., sent in this recollection:

I voted for the first time at college in 1972. It was a blowout for Nixon over McGovern. However I learned a lesson in Democracy that I have never forgotten. We were allowed to vote in our college towns so I was able to vote there. A man was running for reelection on the county council who among other things was a slum landlord for off campus housing. His apartments were so bad the housing office stopped listing his rentals.

All of my friends and yours truly voted against the man. He lost by seven votes, four of which came from my roommates and me. Never tell me my vote doesn't make a difference or doesn't count!!

Posted by: JohnFKelly | November 4, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

My first presidential election was in 1968, back when you had to be over 21 to participate. This was the Nixon - Humphrey - George Wallace election, in a hectic year that had seen the assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy, and the disorders at the Chicago convention. I voted absentee in Minnesota, and knowing that Humphrey was a shoo-in there, I voted for Eldridge Cleaver. I later found out that this caused terrific consternation back in my home town -- it was unthinkable to have someone voting for a black candidate. In retrospect I'm not proud of this vote, having seen where Cleaver ended up, but as a result this year is not the first time that I've voted for a black candidate for president.

Posted by: jbfoster45 | November 4, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I was a first-time voter in l964 and excited to be casting my ballot for LBJ although I was raised in a staunchly Republican household now firmly in the Goldwater camp. Dinner conversations were lively. My earliest memory of campaigning is riding around in a red convertible wearing a white dress printed all over with "I like Ike" while my mother, secretary of the local Republican Club, passed our grinning Ike buttons. Alas, I awoke election day '64 with a high fever, throbbing throat and a body too weak to dress myself. Sitting limply on the side of the bed, I rasped to my mother, "I have to vote." She helped me dress, held me up in the elevator, and asked the doorman of our NYC apartment to hail a cab, not easy on this cold, bleak, I think rainy, November day. At the polling place the line snacked around a a large room and down a hall. My mother went right to the election judge and explained her daughter was a first-time voter and was very sick. My paperwork was quickly reviewed and I was ushered to the next available booth where I went reverently behind the curtain while my mother waited outside. The taxi had miraculously honored her request to wait, and we were soon home where she fed me chicken noodle soup and tucked me back in bed. Then she walked back to the polling place to cast her own ballot and cancel out mine. Thanks, Mom.
Wendy Wall, Bethesda, MD

Posted by: wendyswall | November 4, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

My first election was 1988- Dukakis vs. George Bush Sr. I was 18, had just started college and my polling place was my old elementary school. I registered as a Democrat. Even though I was fond of Reagan, I couldn't bring my self to support his successor and his "read my lips, no new taxes" and "kinder, gentler nation" rhetoric. I wasn't too particularly excited about Dukakis either, espcially after the disastrous photo-op of him riding in the tank. Dukakis was bascially the lesser of two evils as far as I was concerned and I was not at all surprised that he lost to Bush.

GO OBAMA 2008!!

Posted by: Keith_CA | November 4, 2008 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Bush Sr./Dukakis was my first general election. I can't for the life of me remember the polling place (somewhere around Catonsville) but I do remember being unimpressed with either option - then Bush claimed a "mainstream mandate" about a week before the election and I decided to cast my vote against that mandate.

Posted by: MCVitaminD | November 4, 2008 7:40 PM | Report abuse

The first vote I ever cast was for Scoop Jackson in a Democratic primary in NY. I voted in my high school's gymnasium. I remember that my dad let me drive home because it was a special occasion.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 4, 2008 10:40 PM | Report abuse

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