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Voting remains precious franchise for 102-year-old Illinois woman

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SPRINGFIELD – You’ll likely not find a more experienced voter participating in this year’s election than my grandmother.

At age 102, she has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, and 18 presidents, and seen more Illinois politicians indicted than Bayer has aspirin.

Despite this, she has not become cynical.

She approaches the voting booth with the devotion and faithfulness of a communicant kneeling at the altar of Democracy.

The political world in which she was born was much different than today.

William Howard Taft was president, the flag bore 46 stars, the Constitution hadn’t been amended yet to allow the income tax.

And the major political issue of the day was whether the consumption of alcohol should be legal.

But for my grandmother, voting is a precious franchise. After all, she was born into a world where women weren’t allowed to vote.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right was passed when Grandma was 10.

She was born only 45 years after the Civil War, and veterans of that conflict were her neighbors. And she knew folks who voted for fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln.

As a child, I remember my grandparents studying sample ballots before an election and researching the candidates with the intensity of students preparing for an exam.

Neither Grandma Eva nor Grandpa Ralph were wealthy people.

They farmed for most of their lives in Schuyler and McDonough counties. They worked their fields with teams of horses and, later, tractors. When money was short, sometimes my grandpa would mine coal or work an assembly line.

The Great Depression left an indelible mark on both of them. For the past 47 years, I’ve listened to Grandma talk about when the next depression will arrive.

At age 102, her memories are sharp. And she can recite her voting history with the ease of a kindergartner reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

It wasn’t that she wouldn’t consider voting for a Democrat, it was just that few rose to her high standards. She voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 – but every election since, it has been a straight GOP ballot for her.

A few months ago, I asked her why she voted for Roosevelt.

I was expecting her to talk about the New Deal, instead my grandmother, a lifelong teetotaler talked about Prohibition. She didn’t like the lawlessness that engulfed her rural community. It was a time when Al Capone reigned in Chicago.

“Prohibition was bad, Scott. Folks had stills out in the woods all over Schuyler County and were making whiskey. It had to go. President Hoover supported prohibition but Roosevelt didn’t.”

Today she talks about the things important to her in simple words: frugality, honesty, opportunity.

She loves her family and delights in her great-grandchildren. She wants them to have great opportunities, too.

When she casts her vote this November, it will be with their future in mind.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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