This year, I’ll be doing it by mail.
Voting has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. I also love to campaign. As soon as I could walk, I was going door to door with political brochures.
My mother was a Republican Committeewomen in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. She had to run for her position in Ward 2. She sometimes had competition, and I seem to recall that she needed more than 400 votes to win. She was undefeated.
My first vote for President was when I was in second grade for Lyndon Johnson. I voted by secret paper ballot. Pennsylvania Republicans didn’t like Barry Goldwater because he trounced our favorite son candidate, Governor Bill Scranton. I worked on the 64 Scranton campaign, and I met him when he landed in a helicopter at the Miracle Mile shopping center in Monroeville.
My first political management job came when I was in 6th grade. I managed the Nixon campaign versus Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was known as HHH. Given that my mother was a Committeewomen, I had all of the supplies I needed: three color signs, buttons, and bumper stickers.
However, my teacher, Mr. Antol, hated Richard Nixon and campaigned against me. I learned that year that every vote matters, and we won by a vote total of 13-12. All of the boys voted for Nixon and all of the girls voted for Humphrey. I think I inadvertently created the gender gap.
In college, I had the privilege of serving in the Indiana University Pennsylvania Senate. A friend of mine had me appointed. When it came time for me to have to run to keep my seat, I turned out to be a lazy campaigner.
My girlfriend at the time was an art major, so I had the best-looking signs of everyone running. A total of 26 seats were up that year, so I only had to be in the top 26th to win. No problem, I thought. I didn’t spend a minute on election day shaking hands at the poles.
I lost by 5 votes, and I never forgot that college lesson.
In 1980, the late great Elsie Hillman tapped me to help with the Bush for President campaign in Pennsylvania. It was a good year from me, because I met someone Erie County was grooming to run for office, Tom Ridge. By the time the April primary rolled around, Ronald Reagan was marching towards the nomination, but we beat him in Pennsylvania.
After the Pennsylvania win, Bush won Michigan. I have no doubt that Bush winning both of those states was a primary reason that Bush became the President Reagan’s running mate. Governor Ridge likes to remind me that Erie County had the highest vote total for Bush that year. From that day, my vote and my political work played a small but real part in history that lead to two Bush Presidencies and a great Pennsylvania Governor.
My first chance as an adult to fully manage a campaign was the 1982 Ridge for Congress campaign. I had a really good job with the late Senator John Heinz but helping this newcomer Tom Ridge get elected was too compelling.
My friend and now Ridge Policy Group business partner, Mark Campbell, was the only other paid staffer on the campaign that year. I was paid a full salary and Mark received a generous $75 per week pay check plus room and board, living with Governor Ridge’s parents.
It was a tough election year. There was high unemployment and more Democrats than Republicans in the district. But we had Tom Ridge, and we outworked our opponent.
We won by 729 votes, or .02%. Hence, Congressman Ridge earned the name “landslide” when he came to Congress.
This taught me that every vote matters.
Write-in votes matter too. In 2000, the year of George W. Bush’s campaign, there was a vacancy for alternate delegate for the Republican Convention in my mother’s congressional district. Elise Hillman asked my mother Nancy to run for the seat even though she was not on the printed ballot.
With the help of many friends, John Denny, Scott and Leslie Baker, and others, we waged a write in campaign. We gathered well over 700 votes, and she was elected.
Voting is accomplished in many ways. When I lived in Virginia, I always to took advantage of the opportunity to vote early. Not knowing my travel schedule, it was so convenient and there were no lines at the polls.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. I think open primaries are a great idea.
I now live in Washington DC, where they offer “no excuse” absentee ballots. With the COVID-19 pandemic this year, being an absentee voter made the most sense. To those who say it opens the door to fraud, they should know that when I signed my ballot, it reminded me, under oath, that the penalties for trying to vote again could result in a $10,000 fine or up to 5 years in jail.
I served on a Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Security last year and learned that the true threat to the integrity of our voting systems come from cyber security threats. Virtually all of the election security experts agree that in order to ensure the accuracy of the vote count, we need a paper record of every vote. With what will undoubtedly be a new record of citizens voting by mail this year, we will likely have the most accurate count of an election in modern times.
This year, voting patterns are going to change. I believe for the better. With a worldwide pandemic, we need to encourage people to vote by every safe means possible. For those most vulnerable, that surely means voting from home.
Perhaps in the midst of this crisis, we will have the highest voter turnout in our nation’s history. I hope so.
For more information about voting by mail, visit VoteSafe at www.votesafe.us.
This post was written for Ridge Policy Group by partner Mark Holman.