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Opinion

The polls are open! The polls are open!

Voting a privilege we ought to respect

Grandma Rose was a force to be reckoned with. All 16 of us grandchildren absolutely adored her. She taught us to play Scrabble from the moment we could spell a 3-letter word. And she made the best-ever pancakes for us on Saturday morning if we were lucky enough to spend Friday night. But outside of the treats and good times, we also knew to carefully consider what she said. One of my favorite lines, spoken by the pastor at her memorial service, was “Rose was never lacking for an opinion on anything.”

She paid attention to what was going on in the world and remained engaged in life until her very last day at the age of 91. I recall her calling me at work one day back in 1981. “Did you hear Ruth Love has been named the new Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools? She will earn $120,000 a year. That is ridiculous! No one in education should be paid that much. You do the work because you love the children.” Grandma was qualified to have that opinion. She was an elementary school teacher herself. But I’m not sure what she wanted me to do about it. Especially from my insurance underwriter’s desk. All the same, those kinds of conversations always made me think and take note of the news.

Another piece of advice from Grandma Rose was to vote. She herself worked at the polls until her extremely poor vision made her more of a liability than a helpful servant. Even if she didn’t like any of the candidates, she would say, “Well unless you are going to run yourself, someone else is going to win. You better figure out which one is most closely aligned with your beliefs and go over there and cast a ballot.”

Never wanting to run afoul of Grandma’s advice, I still make it a point to vote … in every single election. That includes Presidential elections, mid-terms, primaries, local elections … ALL of them. And in the process I’ve enjoyed some incredible moments.

One year, the only time that worked for me to vote required that I be standing at the door of the Circuit Clerk’s Office first thing in the morning. Like clockwork, the door opened at 6:00 am. Out walked a woman who yelled very loudly to the mostly empty parking lot, “The polls are open! The polls are open! The polls are open!” I instantly recognized that as an extremely old tradition. Certainly back in the early days of voting, that is how people knew they could come and cast a ballot.

She confirmed this when I questioned her. “Why do you still do it, though?” I asked. “It seems like it wouldn’t be that useful these days.” I loved her response. “Well, it’s still in the directions. It’s very important to do as we are asked.”

That particular voting experience spoke volumes to me. It was a priority to me to get over to vote because Grandma Rose, a woman who began her adult life without that right, had instilled in me that it was a privilege that I must respect. I was able to connect to a tradition dating back two centuries, when communication was quite different. And I was greeted by an election judge who was truly committed to ensuring all procedures were proper so our St. Charles, Illinois votes would be valid.

Many things have changed in voting methods over the years. It makes sense to incorporate the available technology for simplicity and accuracy. Early Voting has been added to Absentee Balloting to make the process as accessible as possible. What has not changed a bit is that voting is a supreme privilege in this country.

Let your research begin. You might not like anyone running for office. But … the people that have put in the work to be on the ballot are the choices we have. “The polls are open! The polls are open! The polls are open!” I will be there on November 6. I hope to see long lines of neighbors I can catch up with as we wait. Outside of the fact that it’s an important duty for me personally, I don’t want to be answering to Grandma Rose some day for skipping an election because I couldn’t get my lazy bones out of bed. That would never do.

“Slices of Life Along the Fox” is a column that runs every other week in the St. Charles Kane County Chronicle. Sandie Benhart has family roots in the Fox Valley dating to pre-Civil War days. She has lived in St. Charles and been active in Tri-Cities life for many years. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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