One of my most vivid childhood memories is a political one. I was eight years old, watching Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush on the debate stage, both vying to become the 41st president. I ate Ritz crackers—the same way I still do today, by placing the salted side down on my tongue—while the candidates spoke about things I didn’t fully understand. It was common for political discussions like this to float around our house; tariffs and equal rights were discussed along with homework and meal plans. We weren’t a family of politicians, but we were a family of voters.

Exercising my franchise, I learned as a kid, was an essential action. I repeatedly heard the story—it’s more folklore than fact at this point—of my great-grandmother, who, after the 19th Amendment was ratified and she was eligible to vote, threatened to hitch up the wagon herself to cast her ballot after her husband said he’d go to town and vote for her. I could rattle off suffragist names (Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Denver’s Margaret “Molly” Brown) like other kids spit out the names of sports heroes. I was told to cast a vote even when—especially when—I knew that others disagreed, because every vote matters.

As an adult, Election Day holds as much excitement for me as birthdays and the Fourth of July. I’ve lived in Colorado long enough to remember standing in an hourslong line at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building to exercise my franchise and place an “I Voted” sticker on my shirt. I saw the state’s voters become the first in the country to legalize recreational marijuana; strike down a measure to remove racist language from the state’s constitution in 2016, but pass it two years later; and, in 2018, elect a state Legislature that is one of the most diverse in the country.

Each general election, I study the issues. I still watch debates (with Ritz crackers in hand). And I vote—now from the comfort of my living room, thanks to Colorado’s mail-in system. When I finally do put pen to ballot, I do so gratefully, thinking about why it’s an important act and of all the people who fought to give me that right.

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Why I Vote: KC Becker

Speaker, Colorado House of Representatives

I vote because I want to have a voice, and voting is really the first step in civic engagement. For me, taking that first step meant casting votes for a long time. And then I wanted to make that voice a little bigger by running for office. And then after serving in office, it meant becoming a leader in office. I was on a call yesterday with most of the Speakers of the House around the country. There were four women on the call (there are eight women Speakers in the county), and I think that’s a hallmark; that’s the highest it’s been. It was so apparent to me, looking at this Zoom call, that it all started by women fighting for the vote and then casting their votes, and now women are actually the majority of voters. At the end of the day, you can advocate and advocate, but if politicians aren’t reflective of you and you can’t cast a vote, then you really have limited power.

Why I Vote: Fran Belibi

Fran Belibi. Photo by Sarah Boyum

Sophomore forward at Stanford University and the first woman to dunk in a Colorado high school basketball game

I told myself this past July when I turned 18 that I was going to educate myself on politics and the news so this year, when I could vote for the president, I would be ready. You hear it talked about a lot that the younger population didn’t come out because they felt like their voice didn’t matter. I understand that your one vote might not sway much, but if 1,000 people come together or 10,000 people come together, that might matter. Just having the opportunity to vote—one I didn’t have for 18 years and one women didn’t have for a great number of years—makes me feel like it should be exercised. Now that I have the chance, I’m really excited to make good on it.

Why I Vote: Fran Campbell

President, Asian Chamber of Commerce

Not only is voting my civic obligation—voting is also a family obligation. By voting, I honor my maternal grandfather, who bravely fought in General Douglas MacArthur’s Philippine Army and was decorated with a Purple Heart in both World War II and the Korean War. By voting, I honor my paternal grandfather, who was one of the Sakada, the Filipino laborers who were recruited by the United States in the early 1900s to work the sugar cane fields in Hawaii and the canneries in California. By voting, I honor my mother, who, throughout her life, refused to allow anyone to bully her family because of our Filipino heritage. In their own ways, they all fought for the right and privilege to vote. Their pride in being American was evident at every election. They never missed the opportunity to vote—an opportunity that they didn’t always have in their native country.

Why I Vote: Julie Leidel

Artist, the Bungalow Craft

My mother and my grandmother instilled in me that the right to vote was a hard-won battle. As a full-time artist, I have always been grateful for the freedoms our Constitution has given us. I can paint artwork that speaks my heart freely here. I can fight for our Mother Earth. I can speak my mind when I don’t agree with our current president. Even more importantly, though, I have the inalienable right to vote. I choose to honor all the women that came before me, that fought for me and took a stand together to let our voices be heard in equity. It’s a gift from our great-grandmothers, and I encourage all women to not take this for granted.

Why I Vote: Grow Love

Artist and muralist

I was actually so naive about voting that when I was first able to vote, I didn’t know that voting only took place on one day. When I went to the place where I could vote, there was such a long line that I was like, “Oh, I’ll just come back tomorrow.” For me, that was a huge wakeup call. I vote today because if I want my society, my community, my culture to be healthy and peaceful, my participation matters.

Why I Vote: Joyce McConnell

First female Colorado State University president

My mother’s family were Greek immigrants, so becoming citizens and being able to vote was a huge and meaningful event for them. In their house, there were two photographs on the wall: Jesus and John F. Kennedy. I remember standing in my very first long voting line and feeling this sense of pride. I also remember how important it was for me and my husband to introduce our daughter to voting. We always brought her with us to explain what the process was, what we were doing, and why it mattered. In part I vote because I feel responsible to all those women who came before me who fought so hard to gain the vote. Part of it is also looking into the future and saying, I take this responsibility seriously, and I want to make a difference.

Why I Vote: Karen McNeil-Miller

President and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation

I grew up in rural North Carolina with working class, working poor parents. Part of why I vote is that it was a hard-fought battle for them to be able to vote, and I can’t disrespect all that went into gaining that birthright. Like many things as an African American, it’s complicated. When the 19th Amendment passed, it actually didn’t change that much for Black women, particularly in the South, who were subjected to racial terrorism, voter intimidation, and bodily violence. All that happened in my parents’ lifetime and in mine. My parents would say they really didn’t feel like they had the right to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I vote today to exercise my voice and honor the people who for so long were not able to.

Why I Vote: Dana Rodriguez

Chef-owner, Work & Class and Super Mega Bien

I believe voting is the greatest platform to express your words without saying much. As an immigrant líder, I believe that this country is built by people like me from all over, and we all bring something to this land, including great creations and ideas to change different industries and our economy. Sometimes we don’t vote because we don’t agree with some political bullshit, but one thing I learned over the years is that not everything will always work for everyone, but you will find the way to make it work for you—if you vote. Another thing I have learned is if you don’t agree on something, you can vote no or against it and it will still be counted. If you vote, that means you are demanding your rights as a human, expressing yourself, and helping make things work for your benefit.

Why I Vote: Michal Rosenoer

Executive director, Emerge Colorado, an organization that helps recruit and train Democratic women to run for office

I vote for candidates who are really going to create change, and if those candidates aren’t on the ballot, I’m voting for the candidates who will get us closest. I don’t think candidates are the silver bullets to fix inequities and injustices. I vote because we need hope that democracy is a functional system. If we don’t vote, we give up on that hope. In recent years, I’ve been voting for more women. We can’t create change if the people in office can’t see the problems. Women suffer disproportionately from economic downturns, a broken health care system, climate change, and even COVID-19’s financial impact. Seventy-five percent of health care workers are women, and an even higher percentage of women are service workers. But women are still only 22 to 28 percent of people in power. We can’t have a government that is representative if we don’t elect people to those offices that understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that problem.

Why I Vote: Justine Sandoval

Justine Sandoval. Photo courtesy of Paul Valdez

Statewide engagement manager for Cobalt, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting reproductive rights

I’m not naive enough to think that the people you elect are the be-all and end-all to our problems, but it does really matter to have representation. You can see it in Colorado now. We have representation of women and people of color. When you have people who are direct lines from these communities and are policymakers, we see change happen. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and I’ve been part of that process with the work we’ve done with reproductive rights. But we know we’re one bad election away from losing the progress we’ve made in these policy fights. And voting is a big, important step, but keeping politicians accountable is vital. Your participation doesn’t end at the ballot box.

Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.