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1950s matrons, an inspiration for this poll worker

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    Connie Clements

Once upon a time, a very, very long time ago, a little pig-tailed girl walked into a schoolhouse and right away she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. If you’re thinking that little girl was me, you’re right. If you’re thinking she wanted to be a journalist when she grew up, you’re only half right - the journalist dream came later during high school. Don’t ask me why, but I wanted to be an election poll worker when I grew up!

Despite raising four children, I still don’t understand how children process the events and adult conversations around them. For instance, back in 1979, one of my sons would not turn in my check for his weekly lunch because he thought a check meant we had no money. That no money part was true, but we could cover that particular check! So, when I had this postelection mind-pop last week about this childhood wish, I was bewildered by my own childhood thought process.

Sitting down in a quiet place to let these repressed memories take the wheel, I remembered holding my mother’s hand, going into a school building, walking down the hall, and watching her vote. There was something about the distinguished, matronly ladies and the solemnness of the event that made me want to do what they were doing when I grew up.

While I have forgotten far more than I remember, I do recall that everyone in that school hallway was quiet. Even as a child, I sensed that this was an auspicious occasion. The poll workers, all women, were dressed in their Sunday best, and from my child’s viewpoint, they represented “the law.” There was no mucking around among these older women, after all, for half their life they weren’t even allowed to vote.

Looking at 1955 and 2020, voting today is only moderately more difficult for the voter, but it’s infinitely more difficult and physically demanding for the poll worker! It was after 7:30 when our last voter in line at 7 p.m. completed voting, and we could begin dismantling eight voting machines and their stands, a ballot box, shutting down two other pieces of equipment and sorting paperwork into appropriate envelopes. By contrast, it seems like all my silver-haired ladies had to do was pick up their big books, the ballot box, turn the lights out and go! 

All this deep-thinking brought to mind the poll tax of the 1950s. I found this quote regarding the poll tax in a 2016 Houston Chronicle article written by a journalist who had found numerous old poll tax receipts at estate sales.

He wrote, “It varied by county, but in 1950s Harris County residents paid $1.50, of which $1 went to the state's school fund, 30 cents to the state and 20 cents to the county.”

The poll tax was abolished by the 24th Amendment before I could vote, which by the way, was at age 21 not 18. The “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” movement actually began during World War II but pressure from student activists during the Vietnam War spurred the change. The 26th Amendment was effective Jan. 1, 1971.

I’ve had a lot of unfulfilled dreams in my life – a singing voice like Crystal Gayle, or a mind and wit as sharp as Laura Ingraham, but I’m proud of my childhood wishes that have come true. Every week, I assist The Examiner in documenting history, and every two years, I assist others in making it.

Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.