SF Voting Rights Advocate Maxine Anderson Still Lives for That Sticker

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Longtime San Francisco voting rights advocate Maxine Anderson. (Courtesy Maxine Anderson)

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women's constitutional right to vote in the United States, is on Aug. 18, 2020. So we're asking politically engaged women in our community to share their personal voting stories with you.

Today: longtime San Francisco voting rights advocate Maxine Anderson.

The thing Maxine Anderson remembers most vividly about the very first election in which she was eligible to vote was ... "The Machine."

"It was a big machine," Anderson said. "You flip levers for whatever you were going to vote for. Click, click, click, click, pull. And then you were out of the voting booth."

It was 1971, and the clunky, old lever-operated voting apparatus hadn’t yet been displaced by more modern voting systems where she lived in Chicago.

Demo version of lever-style voting machine on display at the National Museum of American History. (Courtesy RadioFan, Creative Commons)

Voting was a big deal for Anderson’s family. Because it was a novelty.

"For most years up until the time I was old enough to vote, there was no guarantee that Black people could vote in an election," Anderson said.

The Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, wasn't passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson until 1965. And Anderson’s parents grew up in Mississippi, where voter suppression was rife.

"Even though my father fought in World War II, his access to the vote wasn't there," Anderson said.

She moved to San Francisco in 1978 for a job in the insurance industry. The voting technology had evolved. It was now more ... minimalist.

"It was like the little push tabs, where you punched out the little holes in the voting ballot," she said. "Then we had pens."

Share your own voting story with KQED — we'd love to potentially feature you, too

19th Amendment Centennial

Anderson’s understanding of the voting process had evolved, too. Her family’s history of disenfranchisement in the South, plus growing demonstrations against the Vietnam War, helped her see the importance not only of voting — but also of getting to grips with the policies that shape the voting system.

"It's the policies that make a difference," she said.

She got involved with the League of Women Voters in San Francisco, a nationwide, non-partisan voter education nonprofit. She eventually became a member of the league's local and state boards.

Every election, she says she made it her business to deeply understand the voter guides.

"I read the ballot measures," she said. "I mean, really read the ballot measures."

Anderson is concerned about the impact the coronavirus might have on this year’s voting process. Mail-in ballots are a way to keep people safe, and she’s frustrated with the current administration’s attempts to discredit this method of voting.

She’d also like more young people to step up to be poll workers, to encourage vulnerable elders who usually do the job to vote by mail.

Not that she plans to stay home this November. "I have not mailed vote-by-mail in years," Anderson said.

Anderson and her sister have a whole routine of debating the candidates and ballot measures around the kitchen table. Together, they fill out the paperwork.

"And then I walk down to the polling station and drop off our ballots by hand," Anderson said. "I gotta have the 'I Voted' sticker."


Now share your story with us

Use the box below to tell us about the first time you voted. We'd love to potentially feature your experience on KQED: