Election Day 1980 : Inspirational Neighbors Then & Now
An Old North Election Story by Tom Bratkowski
It was election day in November of 1980. The previous weekend Gloria and I were
involved in a non-partisan effort to distribute fliers in the neighborhood to get out the vote for the Presidential and general election. I told people that I would be available to take them to our local polling places if they needed a ride on election day.
On election day I got a call from Betty Marver, a social worker, at Grace Hill who asked me if I could take Mr. and Mrs, Aho to vote. The Ahos lived on Wright Street, They were elderly and arthritic. Mrs. Aho had very weak vision and Mr. Aho was hard of hearing. They didn't drive and didn't get out except for doctors' appointments.
I packed them into my car and we got to the polling place to vote, but there was a big problem. They were not on the registration roster in the local precinct. What to do?
The Ahos really wanted to vote.
We were told to go downtown to the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to see if there had been some mistake or omission. The clerk at the Board told us that the Ahos voting registration had been dropped and they were legally no longer registered. What to do? The Ahos really wanted to vote.
We were told to go to the Civil Courts Building and make a case before a Federal Judge for why the Ahos should be restored to the voting register. We went into the courtroom. The judge came to the bench and we were sworn in. The judge asked if I was the Ahos' son and I answered that I was their neighbor. The judge asked the Ahos to explain why they should be allowed to vote.
Mrs. Aho explained that she and her husband didn't know that their voter registration had lapsed and that they were dropped from the voter roles. She said that she didn't remember receiving a notice to that effect in the mail. Mrs. Aho said that they were ill. They didn't get out of their home except for doctor visits and received meals-on-wheels. Mrs. Aho cried and told the judge that she believed that this was the last time that she and her husband would be able to vote for U.S. President.
The judge nodded, paused and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Aho you are going to vote today.”
He signed a document and handed to the court clerk who passed the paper to Mrs. Aho. The judge explained that this paper is a court order. The judge directed us to go back to the Board of Election Commissioners with his court order and the Ahos would be able to vote there today. Mr. and Mrs. Aho thanked the judge for his help and we left the courtroom.
At the Board, the clerk examined the court order and issued two ballots for the Ahos and two large envelopes to be sealed when they finished voting. The clerk said that I could read the ballots to the Ahos, but they must make their own selections without any bias or suggestions from me.
When I took the Ahos home after the long afternoon, they were really exhausted, but they were very happy that they got to vote. It meant a lot to the Ahos to be able to vote for the last time.