Yvonne McClure’s first presidential election was in 1948, when Thomas Dewey challenged incumbent Harry Truman. 

She was 21, the legal voting age in the United States before 1971.

“The first thing I did was go down and register to vote,” she said. 

She lived in Seattle then, and rode the bus — with one transfer — to the county building near Smith Tower.

“That was my big day,” she said, adding she’s been a voter ever since. “It was a privilege.”

According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of people over 65 years old who vote is consistently higher than any other group. A quick survey of lunch-goers at the Ellensburg Adult Activities Center on Thursday found others who agreed with McClure. The center offers programs for residents 50 and over. 

The first presidential election Wallace Koernig voted in was when John F. Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon in 1960.

He called voting a privilege, too, and said he never could understand why people don’t take advantage of it.

Especially now, with Washington’s mail-in ballots.

“It shouldn’t be any problem,” he said. “Don’t have to stand in line, for one thing. Or find a place to park.”

Robert Johnston missed some chances to vote while overseas during World War II, but hasn’t missed an election since. Johnston said he never understood why more people didn’t show up at polling places on Election Day.

“Maybe they think there’s no use voting,” he said, or that one vote doesn’t really matter.

“But I vote anyway,” he said, adding that while one vote might feel insignificant in national campaigns, there are often plenty of local items on ballots that directly affect one’s community.

Rudy Sautter said he remembers caddying at a country club in Buffalo, N.Y, and seeing some of the big newspaper headlines that famously, and incorrectly, announced Dewey’s victory over Truman.

He said he guessed the first presidential election he participated in was when Dwight Eisenhower tangled with presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1952 or 1956.

One reason he said it’s important to participate in the process is to look at the alternative.

“Better than fighting to make your point known,” he said. “In so many of the other countries, that’s the way they decide it.”

Settling differences

Arvin Marshall couldn’t remember the first election he voted in, and didn’t want to share his age. “I might want to pursue a much younger woman,” he joked.

If everybody took the approach that their vote didn’t matter, the U.S. would lose its system of government, Marshall said.

“That’s the way we settle our differences, not by guns like they do in some of those other countries, by violence,” he said. “When they don’t like something they choose up sides and kill each other. We choose up sides and vote!”

Right to complain

Forgoing one’s right to vote, said Laurie Vidonne, whose first ballot was most likely cast in 1960, means one forgoes another deeply-respected American right: to complain.

“If you don’t vote, don’t gripe,” she said. “If you vote, you can gripe.”

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