Monday, October 23, 2006

Get Out The Vote: An Absentee Ballot for Mary

Yesterday I was at Depak and Neeta Sane’s house making GOTV calls from Bryan’s call lists. I was with a small group of committed students. First we took one precinct and split it up evenly, and mass-called the residents of it with our cell phones. That done, we then took on our own precincts and continued the calling. At the bottom of page one I noticed that the woman I was going to call was 90 years old.

This could be an interesting call.

So I dialed and waited for 6 rings, 7 rings, and then it was picked up.


“Mrs. . . . Mrs . . . “ (God, how do you pronounce that name?) “Mary?”

“Yes, who’s calling?”

Then I went into my spiel and she stopped me at “straight Democratic”.

“I’m sorry, did you say Democratic?”

“Yes ma’am, this year we are asking people to vote a straight Democratic ticket.”

“Well I have voted straight Democratic all my life and wouldn’t ever have a reason to stop. My daughter takes me to that school and she reads the ballot to me. But these days it’s hard. I fell last year at Foley’s and broke my leg, and the year before I broke the other leg at . . .at . . . I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. And now I can’t see out of one eye so that’s going to be hard. I’ll do it but I just hope I don’t fall.”

“Mary, have you heard of an absentee ballot?”

“Oh, yes, but I’m going to be here.”

“Well, Mary, it’s also for people who are over 65 or are disabled” (I left out the being in prison part). “You could vote at home and send it in”.

“Oh, that would be wonderful. But how do I get the ballot? My daughter who helps me is in Dallas for a wedding. I wanted to go too, but you know, it’s hard to travel. She’s the one who helps me vote you know. She goes with me to that school and reads the ballot to me.”

“Would you mind if I came by with an application for an absentee ballot?” You could fill it out and I will see that it goes in.”

“Those words are so small I can’t read them. My daughter usually reads to me but she’s visiting in Dallas. But if you will bring it by, yes, I will take a look at it.”

“OK, I’ll be in touch”.

“OK, bye now.”


So later that evening I found where you can get an absentee ballot application online at the Fort Bend County Elections website, printed one, and called Mary after work the next day.


“Hello, Mary?”

“Who’s calling?”

“It’s me, Hal. I’m the one who said he would get you an absentee voter ballot application. I can drop it off in about a half an hour if you’d like.”

“Oh, yes, I’m up.”

So I googled a map and drove to her house, a nice single story in the northern area of my precinct. I rang. She opened the door after about 2 minutes and said “Come in!”

“I hope it’s not too warm in here”

“No, not at all,” I said, as sweat started pouring down my back. Damn, why did I keep the sweater on?

She was a perfectly delightful “little old lady”, 4’ 10” tops, maybe 75 pounds. She had a clear strong voice full of humor and conviction.

Mary shuffled with her walker back to her chair where she had her crochet and needlepoint projects. She cleared her TV tray and sat down. I produced the form and a black ink pen. She stared at it closely and said “Oh, my, that print is small”. Then she got out a massive magnifying glass, the kind with illumination, and said “Will you hold this for me? I can’t write and hold it at the same time.”

So I became Mary’s sight enabler. She wrote in a clear strong Spenserian handwriting and was very proud to put her birth date even though it was optional. Then she said, “well, I guess I check the one that says ‘over 65’ and gave me a wry smile. Then she signed her name and it was done.

But I knew that I wasn’t done.

I got to find out that Mary does her own yard work, but doesn’t do it in the summer when it’s too hot. I found out that Mary’s neighbor is an Indian woman who was currently in California where they had another house and Mary thinks that they have a lot of money. I found out that the neighbor next door doesn’t say a word to her because she is Catholic. Then she identified all of the people in all of the framed pictures on her wall, table, and television set. She told me about her daughter’s mother-in-law who just had a stroke, and she’s so young. She talked about her own stroke that occurred when she was taking a bath and thought that she had gotten shampoo in her eye and that’s why she lost sight there, but no, it was the stroke that did it. Then she told the same story to me again 5 minutes later. She talked about getting old, that it’s not fun but that she’s not afraid to be 90 and likes it that she has lived this long. I asked her who was the first person she voted for, and got the answer I was expecting: she couldn’t remember.

Finally she was done and started to get up and we slowly walked to the door while she told me about her daughter’s mother-in-law who had a stroke.

We said our goodbyes and she thanked me and I thanked her for being a Democrat.

On the way back I slipped the application in a pre-addressed envelope and mailed it.

And that’s how you get a straight ticket Democratic vote.


Mark said...

I just got home from class. In between breaks, me and some friends made calls. I got an 89 year old man from Missouri City who positively gushed when he found out why I was calling. He began telling me about being a Democrat in the 1950s when Houston was a hot-bed of racial conflict.

He was right in the middle of a very interesting story when he suddenly stopped, exclaiming "Never mind that! Listen here, youngblood! You get off the phone with me and you keep calling folks, ok? You got something more important to do than talk to this old man..."

It was kinda disappointing. He was right, but I wanted to keep chatting with him. So I asked him if I could call him after election day to hear the end of the story.

To which he replied in a fit of laughter, "Oh hell, I don't remember how it ended anyhow..."

Hal said...

That's it exactly, Mark. Mary was so down to Earth, minding the stuff that hurt, and remembering what was important to her, remembering the people who touched her life. It may not have been evident in my blog but I absolutely cherish my time with Mary.

a good friend said...

You guys are super!