On January 21, 1980 I attended the Iowa caucus in Ames where I lived with my family. I was a senior in high school, and since my birthday wasn’t until March, I was only 17. However, since I was going to be old enough to vote in the general election in November, I could attend the caucus. (Iowa is one of 19 states to allow primary/caucus voting in this situation.) Although, even in those 19 states, only a small minority turn 18 during that window for a presidential election (Iowa’s window was bigger than most states since it comes early), so it felt like a unique opportunity. I got to “vote” at age 17.
I went to the Democratic caucus, which should have been boring since Jimmy Carter was the incumbent, and typically a sitting president runs unopposed within their own party (like Obama this year). But in 1980, Carter wasn’t popular so Ted Kennedy was running against him for the Democratic nomination.
It’s not an efficient process. It took an entire evening. But it was an opportunity to discuss issues and politics with my neighbors (my parents were at the Republican caucus). After you’ve done it a few times, it’s easy to take voting for granted, but it’s important and an honor that much of the world doesn’t have.
That night, I joined the delegates for Carter. Carter beat Kennedy in Iowa and eventually won the nomination, but he lost to Reagan in the national election.
Four years later (1984), Carter was speaking at a prayer breakfast near Stanford where I was a grad student and he invited anyone interested to join him for a run through the hills. I wasn’t at the breakfast, but one of my housemates was and he grabbed me and said, “Let’s go run with Jimmy! Let’s go run with Jimmy!” I ran with Jimmy and shook his hand afterwards. He’s a great man who’s done a lot to bless a lot of people.
Do you remember the first time you voted? How old were you? Who’d you vote for?