Joe Laliberte: For those who cannot

On a rainy Election Day on Tuesday, an elderly woman no more than four and a half feet tall named Elena stepped out of a Red Top cab in Rosslyn, Va., and made her way to her polling place at Fire Station 10, just a few blocks from the Metro stop.

As she carefully stepped out of the cab, her daughter Teresa, who was elderly herself, extended her arm to help her aging mother. Dressed in her Sunday best, Elena leaned on her daughter as she politely passed Obama and McCain supporters trying to hand her sample ballots.

As they walked into the fire station garage draped with American flags and fire helmets, these two women remembered a time when they were not allowed the option to vote, something we as Americans can take for granted.

Only 30 years ago, they were living in Cuba under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

Teresa and Elena, who have resided in Arlington County since 1970, are just two of the American citizens who voted yesterday, but they represent people who at one time or another were refused the right to vote.

“Here, you have a choice of who you would like to be president,” said Teresa.

When I asked them how they voted, they gave me an uncomfortable look. They respected voting so much and took it so personally that telling a member of the press who they voted for was forbidden.

On Tuesday, amid long lines and rainy weather, we may have finally understood the humbling opportunity that we as Americans are granted every four years.

According to the Associated Press and Michael McDonald of George Mason University, it looks like about 136.6 million Americans voted on Tuesday. That’s almost two out of every three eligible voters, or 64 percent. It’s too early to say, but this turnout could be one of the largest in over a century.

The United States of America has ranked 139th in terms of voter turnout behind countries such as Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Italy, who has had 14 elections since 1945, has the highest rate of voter turnout at 92.5 percent. The U.S.’s low ranking, however, does not include the 2008 election.

When I was in elementary school, my father would take me to our polling place in Merrimack, N.H., to instill in me at a young age the importance of voting. The polling booths in New Hampshire are still contained by a red, white and blue striped curtain. He would lift me up as I would take a Sharpie and connect the arrows.

Using his free hand, my father would point and say, “That one,” referring to the candidate he wanted. When he said this, I would happily connect the arrow and complete his vote.

Some people in this world don’t have the humbling opportunity to elect their leader. In January, when we inaugurate Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, there will be no rebellion, no military takeover and no installed dictator. This peaceful transfer of power is an example of the authority and strength of our Constitution and the voters who stand behind it.

We finally came to honor people like Teresa and Elena – and all the others who cannot participate in a democracy.

Maybe someday it will be more than two out of three of us.

The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

Comment on this column

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.