November 6, 2012 11:15:56 AM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
The lunch crowd has thinned at Trinity Personal Care Home in Columbus and all that remain is a group of five friends who have gathered on the couch to talk, gossip and remember with fondness the way life use to be. It is Monday afternoon and with less than 24 hours before the polls open the conversational naturally turns to the presidential election -- current and past.
Cornelia Posey, 83, voted for the first time in 1947. Back then, you had to be at least 21 years old to vote.
Posey and her friends, Alice Cooper, 83, Sarah Allen, 84, Betty Cooper, 75, and Gerald Scallions, 67, talk for nearly an hour about how times have changed since they first voted years ago.
For one thing, there is the matter of etiquette. The group agreed that it was once considered rude to ask someone who they were voting for. Now, they say, it seems to be commonplace to talk about which candidate you are supporting.
Posey fondly spoke of her mother, who had been a champion for women's suffrage.
"My dad asked her, 'Who are you going to vote for?'
"My mother replied, 'Well, I'm going to vote for whomever I think needs to go in there and you won't know because I'll be behind the curtain!" Posey said, laughing. "That's really not right you know. The process is really what we should honor."
"It's almost become a social activity," Scallions observed.
Scallions, a retired teacher, said he voted for the first time in 1966 when James C. Eastland ran for U.S. Senate from Mississippi.
"How many times was he elected?" Scallions wondered aloud.
"Oh gosh," the women replied, trying to add up Eastland's terms in their heads.
"It was about 500," Scallions finally answered glibly.
Eastland served in the Senate from 1943-1978.
Scallions said he has become frustrated with the masses of people who regurgitate information that is simply not true.
"Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true,'' he said.
The retired teacher said he feels so few people take the time to educate themselves about each candidate and what they stand for.
"People just don't think anymore,'' he said. "You've got all these sound bites with no depth to them. They just vote for who they think is going to win."
Alice Cooper agreed with Scallions, saying she feels people want to be on the side of the "winning team."
Cooper remembers the first election where she felt she took a stand for her own beliefs and opinions and voted against her father's advice.
"My father voted straight Democrat, you know," she said. "Then when Eisenhower ran, I came home and he asked, 'Who did you vote for?'"
Cooper's eyes light up and she claps her hands together as she recalls the moment. "I told him, 'I voted Republican.'
Her voice grows serious. "I believed in voting for the person," she said.
Scallions said that politicians aren't held in the same regard they once were.
"They show up on comic shows, on Saturday Night Live," he said. "They're trying to be one of the common people and it just brings their status down."
He and Posey got into a dialogue about the corruption in politics and while Posey staunchly believed things will change for the better, Betty Cooper was not so sure.
"Things will get better..." Posey said, only to be interrupted in mid-sentence.
"Not in our lifetime,'' Cooper said.
Scallions said that with so many people feeling as if they cannot trust politicians, a sense of apathy has developed toward the voting process.
"It's just a short step to saying, 'My vote doesn't matter.' Then, it's just a short step to saying it doesn't matter who you vote for. Then it's a short step to saying it doesn't matter if you vote or not," he said, shaking his head.
Even so, Scallions is often disillusioned by the quality of the candidates.
"People don't think politicians have a brain," he wryly observed. "If they did, they'd take it out and play with it once in a while."
Why, then, should young people vote?
"If you don't vote, don't complain," Scallions said to a round of "That's right" and "Amen."
"And if you do vote, use your brain," he added.
Posey, who seemed to echo her mother's passion for the voting process, reaffirmed her faith in not only casting a ballot, but in the United States of America.
"Whether it goes the way we think or not, the U.S. will always remain united," she said. "We're Americans first."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.