20 Famous People on the Privilege of Voting
—Carl Hiaasen, author of Razor Girl
"I always vote in the morning. Two reasons: First, so the day won't get away from me—I don't want there to be any excuse not to get into that booth! Second, I love that I VOTED sticker, because it proclaims that I exercised a right denied to so many for so long. On Election Day, I vote with them in mind. I rock my sticker and ask everyone I see, 'Did you vote?'"
—Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and Queen Sugar
"I grew up biracial in a small college town in central Pennsylvania, a battleground childhood in a battleground state where class and culture collided even on the playground. Brown, nerdy, and terrified, I never got into fights, but I feared getting into one every day.
All of which is to say, Election Day in 2008 was special for me.
That Tuesday I rented a car and drove five hours back to Pennsylvania from New York, where I was in grad school. I wanted to vote with my Sri Lankan father, who long ago had become a naturalized citizen. We got dressed up because as brown men in a white county, we assumed we'd be granted a smidgen more dignity if we were wearing better clothes.
The polling place was in a run-down mini-mall off a busy country highway. I was surprised when the volunteers recognized my dad, calling him by his nickname, Lucky. Still, one of them seemed flustered, saying she couldn't find his name in the voter rolls—implying somehow that the fault was his. With some effort, I managed to keep my mouth shut. When it began to seem he really would not be permitted to vote, Dad said, "I should have brought my passport."
"No," I said. You see, I'd researched this. That's what you do when you are black or brown or Latino or Asian—you research what can stop you from voting. "You don't need your passport to vote, Dad," I told him, as the volunteer listened. "We're registered right here." She kept looking and eventually found his name.
Back home, a neighbor snapped a picture of my 70-year-old father and me high-fiving in his yard. Eight years later, that picture is still stuck to his refrigerator."
—Sunil Yapa, author of Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
"I'm from the Bronx, and my parents always took me with them to vote. Back then, New York had those old-style voting machines with the knobs you had to flip and the big red lever you threw from one side to the other. My parents would let me pull the lever once they had decided. It made such a satisfying 'cachunk.' Super fun."
—Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes
"In 2004, I cast my vote for John Kerry, and when I found out he lost, I was overcome by despair. I realized that, yes, participating in a democracy can be exhilarating. But it can be heartbreaking, too."
—Aasif Mandvi, actor
"My family and I fled Nicaragua in 1980 as a result of a communist revolution. After a civil war lasting over a decade, democratic elections were held in 1990, and since then I've gone back several times as an election observer. Voting in Nicaragua is a time-consuming, cumbersome process typically involving multiple paper ballots and ink thumbprints. I have seen very old people vote for the first time. I have seen people with severe physical disabilities be helped to the polls. I have seen poor people next to rich, waiting for hours under a blazing sun or in heavy rains. There are few images more moving than seeing people once deprived of a vote cast it freely."
—Ana Navarro, Republican strategist
"Too many of my friends gave their lives for our right to vote. I think about them every time I step into the voting booth. I remember their faces, the sounds of their voices. I wonder what could have been, had we not been cheated of their light—of their lives. We must never, ever forget their sacrifice. We must honor it and cherish it. Tell your friends: We must vote."
—John Lewis, congressman for Georgia's Fifth District, civil rights hero, and author of March
"I never voted in a presidential election until Obama. I just wasn't excited about anyone.But the lesson I've learned is that you can't just vote when you're excited. When you say 'I'm not gonna vote,' you are voting—to hand over your power."
—Tyler Perry, actor and director
"I have two strong memories of second grade: endlessly practicing cursive handwriting, and our class study of the 1984 presidential election, which culminated in a trip to a voting booth we'd made from a refrigerator box. Like my classmates, I suspect, I cast my vote the way my parents had that morning. I grew up in rural Virginia, and school had already familiarized me with how my hippie family was different. My dad didn't hunt, my mom put sprouts on my sandwiches, and now we were voting for Mondale. My heart sank when my teacher announced the results just before setting us free for recess. Mondale lost badly in the real election, too.
In 2008, as a fifth-grade teacher, I had my students study voting history in the run-up to the election. They learned about women's suffrage, the poll tax, literacy tests—all the obstacles to voting Americans have faced. And then we built our own cardboard voting booth, but we didn't vote for president. We voted about recess rules. Longer recess won by a landslide."
—Belle Boggs, author of The Art of Waiting
"I joined the marines in 1992. When I deployed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the mission was to create a democracy like our own. I returned home before the first free Iraqi election, and my wife and I had our first daughter. Soon after, I began my second tour. It was a hard stint in Anbar Province, made harder because now I was a father. Casualties were high. I got wounded; men I'd come to know well were killed. This month my wife and I will drive the country roads to our little town hall in Michigan to vote, our girls in the back seat. War lifted my senses above partisanship and sloganeering. I want to know that my willingness to leave my daughter fatherless and my wife a widow is carefully considered by everyone old enough to vote. When I vote this month, I'll be doing so with blood in my pen."
—Benjamin Busch, author of Dust to Dust
"I grew up in Texas, a very proud red state, during the Reagan years. In a U.S. history class, my teacher would show us the presidential debates just so he could heckle the Democratic nominee from the back of the classroom. I was afraid to admit that I did not support Reagan. So in 1992, when I was first eligible to vote and I cast my ballot for Bill Clinton and he won, I cried with joy. My opinion mattered!"
—Renée Elise Goldsberry, actress
"In 1972, I went door to door with my mother canvassing for George McGovern. That year was my political christening. And now my children often accompany me to my polling place. They are starting to form their own opinions and ask hard questions. I try to summon my mother's grace and thoughtfulness in answering them."
—Sarah Jessica Parker, actress
"The hope and ideals of our country are bigger than the ego of any one person, and voting in accordance with your love of others is no small thing—it is and always will be a significant act of service."
—Cory Booker, U.S. senator for New Jersey
"The first time I voted in a general election was for Al Gore, in 2000. I went into the voting booth and was shocked by how many little switches there were—like the instrument panel of a Boeing. After several tense minutes of sweaty concentration, I flicked all necessary switches and then pulled the final big lever, a heavier-than-seemed-necessary piece of machinery that gave the whole process an element of steampunk drama. I remember thinking, Gosh, is voting technology due for an update? Well, I guess I got my answer."
—Jessi Klein, author of You'll Grow Out of It and head writer for Inside Amy Schumer
"Growing up, it was inconceivable to me that American women had the vote for only 60 years before I was born in 1980. In grade school, I collected Susan B. Anthony dollars, and whenever I got to choose a report topic, I picked something to do with the 19th Amendment. 1920, the year women got the vote, was my first ATM PIN. I guess I was a little obsessed."
—Anna Sale, host of WNYC Studios' Death, Sex & Money podcast
"Once I got into politics, I voted exclusively absentee. I was always working on Election Day."
—Nicolle Wallace, Republican strategist
"When I was a high school senior, in 1984, I had Mr. Suddith for political science. Walter Mondale was running against Ronald Reagan, and that was a very big deal to us—it wasn't every year a class got to study a presidential election as it happened. We held our own poll on Election Day, and then that night we gathered in the cafeteria to watch the results. It was a party! It was special. We felt grown-up and fortunate to participate in something bigger than us yet inherently about us and dependent on us. Thanks, Mr. Suddith! Party on!"
—Connie Britton, star of Nashville
"Whenever I meet someone who vacillates on whether or not to vote because there isn't a perfect candidate, I tell them the voting booth is the one place on earth where the least powerful and the most powerful are equal. Who would pass that up?"
—Gloria Steinem, feminist icon and author of My Life on the Road
"The five of us kids grew up in a rambling house, and when we left home, my mother rented out our rooms. Sometimes she took in homeless young people and made sure they got signed up for social services and school. And she always made everybody register to vote. If you lived there, you voted."
—Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
"I have lived in my head as an American since I was a child old enough to consider myself anything at all. Although my family moved to the United States from Nigeria when I was 4, I didn't become a citizen for another 25 years or so, on a rainy spring day this April. As such, national elections have been paradoxical for me. As a college student, I pestered people on the street to register, knowing I couldn't myself. I've written and argued for and against candidates without being able to back up all my talk. I've sat through election days like a grudging bystander.
Naturalization is a matter of speaking an oath and receiving a piece of paper. I have to confess, I felt mostly relieved when the process was over—not changed in any way, no more or less an American than I'd been a few minutes before. But my first opportunity at the ballot this autumn feels different, a chance to instantiate beliefs and commitments I've held for a long time. A chance—if it's not too grandiose to put it this way—to answer for my love, to be a citizen."
—Dotun Akintoye, O's assistant books editor
Photos clockwise from top left: Mike Coppola/Getty Images, Leon Bennett/Getty Images, Michael Kovac/Getty Images, Theo Wargo/Getty Images