To many Americans, voting is an inconvenience. We complain: It's raining. Parking is a pain. I'm too tired after work.
The U.S. Census Bureau asked 15,167 registered voters why they didn't vote in the 2008 presidential election. More than 30 percent said they were too busy or not interested. Voting is too much of a bother.
But for one local young man, Election Day 2012 represented a day of perseverance and celebration.
On the evening of the presidential election, I visited my daughter at the Obama campaign headquarters in Appleton. The place was abuzz with excitement and activity. Catie was busy at work.
"I'm helping a man who wants to register to vote. Before he can even register, he has to get verification of his residence. He lives in temporary housing. Then he has to get to the polling site in time to register and then vote. It's already seven o'clock. The polls close at eight. He rode the bus."
I saw a man holding a little girl's hand. She wore a pink backpack. He seemed about 20-something. Tall, strong-looking. Pierced ears with large, black, rubber rings. Tattoos.
"OK, I'll drive them," I said.
I walked up to the young man. He extended his hand.
"I'm David, and this is my daughter. I've never voted before. I was incarcerated."
"What were you in for?" I asked.
I said hopefully, "The person on the receiving end didn't happen to be a short Asian woman by any chance?"
"No, and he had it coming."
Well, that made me feel better.
David needed written proof of his residence. At his motel, I met Angel, David's partner and the little girl's mother. They lived there because the Emergency Shelter was full. David's childhood was rough. He had moved around a lot. Angel also had never voted before.
With proof of residence and IDs in hand, we raced to the polling place. A poll worker greeted the couple and helped them fill out their registration papers. Their daughter witnessed her parents voting for the very first time. It was a big day.
Driving back to the motel, I asked the couple how they managed with no car, and only a small refrigerator and microwave in their room. They took the bus or walked to Woodman's. They had to cross busy College Avenue, and walk quite a distance. Winter was a challenge.
David had taken quite a bit of time to ride the bus with his daughter from the far west side into downtown. It was already dark outside. When he learned what he had to do - return to the motel, get written proof of residency and then go to the polling place to register and vote, he could have said, "It's too much work."
But he didn't. He wanted to vote.
I asked if they would allow me to buy food for a celebration meal to thank them for letting me be a part of this momentous occasion. After all, this had been quite a journey. They were speechless.
I told them to get anything they wanted. This was their big day. Then I realized I had not set a dollar limit. What would they pick? Cartons of cigarettes? Cases of booze? Lottery tickets?
Shame on me. The little girl never asked for anything. She hummed while we pushed the cart. I asked her what foods she liked.
"Yogurt," she said.
When I told her to pick out some yogurt, she chose one small container. I told her to get more. She chose two more.
As Angel selected bread, I told her to get a special treat for herself. She hesitated. She said she didn't want to spend too much of my money. I insisted. She asked if a $3 bottle of scented lotion was OK.
I told David to choose something for himself.
"No, thanks, I don't need anything."
I learned from Angel that I'm not the only person who likes mayonnaise with French fries. So mayo it was.
Waiting at the check out, David grew serious.
"I've made a lot of mistakes with my life. Bad choices. Some of my family wrote me off. You're a total stranger. You drove us to vote. You're buying us food. Why?"
Because, all my life, there have been people who helped me along the way. If we all took an honest look at our own lives, we would recognize that we all have received help from others in one way or another. Plus, it made me happy.
- Jennifer Edmondson is an Appleton resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com