If you're still not sure whether you're going to vote, consider what it would feel like if someone said you couldn't vote. For Nettie Whittington, this was a reality for more than half her life.
Nettie was born in Farmhaven, Mississippi, in 1899…109 years ago. At that time, William McKinley was president, the Wright brothers had yet to fly a plane, people traveled by horse and carriage and television hadn't been invented.
On August 18, 1920, the 19th constitutional amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. Nettie was almost 21 years old at the time, but she didn't cast her first ballot until four decades later. Like countless other African-American men and women living in the South, racial tensions and Jim Crow laws kept Nettie away from the polls.
Then, in 1965, the government passed the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. Finally, every U.S. citizen could stand up and be counted, regardless of race, gender or economic status.
Over the years, Nettie has seen 19 presidents come and go, and she says she hasn't missed a single presidential election since she was given the right to vote.
Nettie has passed her passion for voting on to her family—a massive group of voters and future voters. Nettie has 11 children, 39 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren! "The simple fact that she, at 109, is very passionate about casting her ballot…it's very important to me to follow suit because she is our matriarch of this family," her granddaughter Alicia says. "She is living history."
Nettie's grandson Daryl says that when he votes, he's not only voting for himself. "When you vote, it's not just a racial issue, it's more than just a Democrat or Republican issue—it's an American issue," he says.
Lyndon Johnson was the first president Nettie's son Allie was able to vote for, and he says he's been voting ever since. "We have a voice now that we didn't always have, and that's a great opportunity," he says.
Nettie thinks everyone should exercise their right to vote and offers her words of wisdom to the youngest voters. "Everybody ought to vote," she says. "Because I think it'll be important. Important for the next generation."
For many people around the world, America is a symbol of freedom. For the group of new U.S. citizens standing onstage with Oprah, voting for the first time in the 2008 election is a gift they're not taking for granted.
Viorica is originally from the former Soviet Union and became a U.S. citizen in the summer of 2008. After becoming a legal citizen, Viorica knew exactly what she wanted to do. "The first thing that I did when I walked out of the courtroom was go and register to vote," she says. Viorica says there is no comparison between voting in the United States and her home country. "When you live in a communist system, the whole process is staged. There is only one candidate on the ballot; you don't have a choice. So voting there is meaningless."
Natalie was born in Rwanda and says the voting in her home country is nothing like in the United States. " I don't think I would have voted, because I don't think it would have made a difference anyway, simply because the votes are manipulated [in Rwanda]."
Now that she is a U.S. citizen and can vote in her first election, Natalie says she wishes her parents were still alive so that she could thank them for the sacrifices they made for her. Like 800,000 Rwandans, Natalie's parents and older sister were killed in the Rwandan genocide. "I wish right now I could call my father and say, 'Dad, thank you. Mom, thank you,'" she says. "I can't. But I know they're watching over me."
Farnaz is also voting in her first election after moving from Iran and becoming a U.S. citizen in 2006. "I came to America 14 years ago, even though I had a good job," she says. "I had good income, I had a beautiful house, I had everything—the only thing I didn't have was freedom." After Farnaz casts her ballot, she says it's like a dream come true. "Now, I made it."
Political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin may be husband and wife, but when it comes to politics, they're on opposite ends of the spectrum. "In preparation for the big day, we're moving to our respected corners," Mary jokes. While James says he'll be spending Election Day in New York at CNN, Mary says she'll be continuing her ritual of taking her daughters to the polls with her. "I get all choked up. I cry," she says. "They roll their eyes."
Although their daughters may not be invested in the political process yet, James and Mary say they hope their differing views teach a bigger lesson. "What we try to do at home is, rather than fight, [ask,] 'How do we resolve what we disagree about?'" Mary says. "And that's good for them to learn how to do."
While they may be political opposites, the couple strongly agrees on one thing—everyone needs to get out and vote! "To me, it's almost incomprehensible that somebody wouldn't care enough to go out and vote, particularly in a presidential election," James says.
Mary says voting makes people a part of their community as well as something bigger. "There's no way a vote doesn't count in this country, because this is a very closely divided country," she says. "That's not a bad thing. That's a good thing. But just for the fun, if you don't believe us, just go out there try it one time—you'll be hooked."
Sisters Ekiti and Zavier have already cast their ballots and are eagerly anticipating election night. They've invited 30 to 40 friends over for a voting party at their home in Durham, North Carolina.
To tide them over while the results roll in, the sisters have created a party menu with a bevy of election night treats. "We have Lipstick on Pigs in a Blanket," Ekiti says. "We have Democratic Deviled Eggs, Chili for Change, Battleground Greens, Tax-Free Country Salad." The drinks are no less patriotic—red, white and blue Battleground Blitzes, Election Day Delights and Ballotinis!
If you're itching to vote now but just aren't sure how, you can find your registration status and polling location at CanIVote.org.
If you have problems, call the election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Have you already cast your ballot and are now just waiting on pins and needles for the results? Click here for CNN's election map
with up-to-the-minute results from the 2008 presidential election. Learn more about the issues affecting your world.
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