people voting wearing masks

Why we should vote

Br. Matt Ryan, OFM


This year marks the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in the United States. After years of struggle, debate, and polarization, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote – One step in a long road to a “more perfect union” that sometimes feels further out of reach. The Civil Rights movement, not just assigned to the 1960s, continues as African-Americans continue to seek justice, reconciliation and equal representation. Immigrants come to our country seeking a better life, but millions have no civic voice. So many have sacrificed so much to be with us, become one of us, or fully reflected in us.

We are especially reminded of our history, challenges, and rights every four years when we vote for president. There are good reasons to vote for either of the two main candidates and plenty of reasons to vote third party. Regardless, the rhetoric concerning the process of this election is alarming. Is absentee voting rife with fraud? Should we go to the polls in a time of pandemic? Will the loser accept defeat or challenge results in court or in the media?

2 women holding vote for women sign

Suffragettes in 1911

The first time I voted was in 1992 in Lexington, Ky., when I was a student at the University of Kentucky. The poll booth was right off campus. There was a long line, but much youthful energy anticipating a new generation of leaders. Say what you will about Bill Clinton once he was elected, but it was certainly exciting on Election Day.

In 2000, George Bush won the electoral vote as well as the election without winning the popular vote. This happened again in 2016. It drives people crazy. The winner and their supporters feel insecure in their victory; the losers feel cheated and everyone is divided. One way to deter this from happening is for the winner to have a decisive victory. A decisive victory reflects the desires of a clear majority of people who have exercised their right to vote.

The anxieties of our time are very present this election. People wonder if their vote will make a difference, whether certain types of votes count as valid, and whether some votes will be counted at all. It is not a perfect system, but we must stand up and be counted. Vote as if our democracy depends on it.

(Br. Matt Ryan, OFM, is a Temporary Professed friar studying in Chicago, Il.)


 The first time I voted

Br. Giovanni Reid, OFM
Cincinnati, Ohio

Br. Giovanni Reid, OFM

The first time I voted wasn’t for a president; it was for different proposals and issues. It wasn’t that exciting. I do remember the first time I voted for a president. That was John Kennedy. I was at Oldenburg, Ind. The first Catholic candidate in my lifetime – now that was kind of exciting. I can remember sitting in the rec room and listening to the debates he had with Richard Nixon.

I remember telling the guys when we were watching the debates, “I want to see what Kennedy’s gonna say and do. They say black people are free, but we’re really not free.” I had a discussion with my brother, Joe Montoya, who later went out west. We were debating that. I said, “A Catholic president is good, but if he doesn’t do his own thing, it’s not good.” I remember we encouraged other people to vote.

Oldenburg was not too “black-friendly” in those days, and I remember going to vote and having everybody watching. Later a couple of us stayed up all night, waiting for the returns to come in to see who won. Most people went to bed, tired of waiting. But Kennedy came out on top and we were very excited.

I learned then that everybody needs to get out and vote; it’s very important. Your vote counts.

Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced, OFM

Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced, OFM
St. Petersburg, Fla.

I have had the opportunity to vote for the first time twice. The first time I voted was back home in Puerto Rico. I was very proud to be able to elect the leaders that would make important decisions for my homeland. I had the opportunity to vote again for the first time as an American citizen when I moved to the U.S. in Alabama. It was exciting, since in Puerto Rico we are not allowed to vote in the U.S. presidential elections – even though we are U.S. citizens. I turned in my vote this week for the coming elections, aware of the importance of this right in these challenging times.

Br. Dan Barrett, OFM
New Orleans, La.

Br. Dan Barrett, OFM

The first time I voted was in the spring of 1968, the Pennsylvania primary. I don’t know if it was exciting, but it was a good feeling, the first time I had an opportunity to express through a vote some of my ideals, even though I didn’t write down anything other than who I was voting for. It was a time of reflecting a little bit more on what a right it is to vote, how much more appreciated it was at that time.

I was young, just 21, and we have ideals at that age. I thought, finally I can express in a way that says I’m not just an adult but also I have ideals. And finally I can vote FOR the party, the person I feel can maybe lead us into some of those ideals and express them. That was my feeling at the time. I guess I wasn’t too impressed with what was going on in the country in the ‘60s, a time when almost every institution was being attacked. There was so much uprising.

I had two younger sisters, both in high school, and they were very outspoken and very much into the college scene at a time when every institution was to blame for everything. I appreciated that I didn’t have to argue with them or anybody else trying to be such a rebel. I had a chance to express my ideals through MY vote. It’s my mind and my country and my ideals – and this is what I’m voting.

Br. Michael Charron, OFM

Br. Michael Charron, OFM
Cincinnati, Ohio

I turned 18 in 1993, which meant I missed the big Bush v. Clinton vote in November 1992, about which I cared a lot. I have a December birthday as well, so I also missed the November 1993 general election by a month. The first time I was able to vote would have been in some forgettable 1994 primary, but I remember feeling very empowered, after missing the last two general elections.

My most memorable vote was in 2008 for the Obama v. McCain race. It was the only time I had to wait in line to vote. I was inspired to see all my African-American neighbors voting for potentially the first African-American president.

Fr. Art Espelage, OFM

Fr. Arthur Espelage, OFM
Tucson, Ariz.

The first time that I voted in a presidential election was 1964. I was an immature boy-man whose civil and church worlds were in flux or conflict. John F. Kennedy’s murder on November 22, 1963, shook me to my core, and I felt safe with Lyndon Baines Johnson. He implemented what got started in the Kennedy years and got through Congress the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act and the Medicare Act of 1965.

At that time, the Vietnam War was heating up and my emotions were conflicted toward supporting the young troops until Kent State happened; it was like 1963 again. At the same time Vatican II ended in 1965, and I was wrestling with all the ideas it implanted in our minds which did not seem to change things in real church life. Perhaps, that I why I believe Paul VI was the greatest pope of the 20th Century, since he implemented the conciliar documents.

Now in 2020 I still vote for people whom I believe will provide safety and actually work with others to implement the structures we need to live in peace and unity.