Gaithersburg woman, 108, votes in her 22nd presidential election
Geneva Garner remembers when women weren't allowed to vote and says voting is part of being American'
Dan Gross/The Gazette
Born when William McKinley was in the White House, Geneva Garner rolled up to her 22nd presidential election like a pro at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg.
As her granddaughter-in-law Joanne Evans read her a sample ballot, Garner, 108, told her to pick Republicans — as she has her entire life — and against the slots referendum.
But the lifelong Republican was there first and foremost to cast her vote for president.
The historical significance of this election — with a black man and a woman on the tickets — and the buzz it generated will place it among the country's most dramatic, she said.
Though she predicted victory for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), in part because of his ability to mobilize young voters, she just couldn't get herself to buy into either Obama or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). So the 20-year Asbury resident — who moved to Annapolis in the 1920s and worked as a teacher — broke from the Republican ranks for the first time to vote for Ralph Nader.
"Oh no, I don't expect him to win. It's just on principle. … It's a protest vote," she said. "[Obama and McCain] are good businessmen and I think they're both smart," Garner said. "But they don't have the extra intelligence that some of our great presidents had. There are so many great people in our country, why can't we find some of them?"
Her indifference for the two major candidates did nothing to dim her energy and passion for democracy, a commitment forged in her childhood in Terra Haute, Ind., where her father pushed his children into political awareness.
Teddy Roosevelt's fiery speeches are still clear in her mind. Her memory has grown cloudy, and she cannot remember her first vote. (That would be for Calvin Coolidge in 1924.) She surely didn't vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt — though she put him on her list of great presidents alongside Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"Of course our first presidents, just remarkable what we got, George Washington, [Thomas] Jefferson, such a miracle that we had such wonderful men to make our Constitution," she said. "I wouldn't think we could dig up as many fine people with the education and the character today than we had at the beginning of our country."
One memory will never grow dim: the unbridled joy of Aug. 26, 1920, when the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. She might not have followed through on the giddy plans she and a friend made to run for office, but she hasn't missed a presidential election since, and she wasn't about to miss her 22nd — her wheelchair and the touch-screen computer be damned.
And 80 years on, voting hasn't lost its thrill, or the pride it gives her.
"I feel it's a great privilege to be voting," Garner said. "It's part of being American."