The political views of Bob and Margaret Fidler and Bonnie Kantner may differ, but there is one thing on which they agree.
“Our vote is our voice, and I am of the opinion that if you don’t vote and you don’t like what’s going on, then you don’t have the right to complain,” said Kantner.
“It’s our civic duty to vote,” said Margaret Fidler. “I learned in civics class in high school the importance of voting.”
Their views on voting are not just lip service. All three religiously practice what they preach.
The trio was recently honored as Super Voters and also elected to the Pennsylvania Voter Hall of Fame for 50 years of continuous voting in Pennsylvania’s general elections, which occur the first Tuesday in November.
All three told LebTown that they started voting at a young age.
“It was quite an honor when I realized it was 50 consecutive years,” said Kantner. “I basically got in the year I was eligible. The first year I was able to vote, they moved the age requirement down from 21 to 18.”
Despite working different shifts throughout their lives before retirement, Bob and Margaret have always voted together on Election Day. Bob said he was on day shift at the Air Force base in Middletown and then later at New Cumberland Army Depot for 31 years while Margaret was a registered nurse who tended to patients at night.
“We’re two peas in a pod. If you ask people who know us, they’ll say they always see us together,” said 85-year-old Margaret, who added that she worked as a full-time nurse until she was 75. “There was that window after he got off work and before I went to work and we always went together to vote. We believe husbands and wives should do things together.”
Another trait the threesome share is being taught to value their right as American citizens to cast their vote in every election. All three said they vote whenever the polls are open, including in spring primary elections.
“My parents were active voters and they instilled in me the importance of voting,” said Kantner. “I remember going to the polls as a young girl.”
Margaret also remembers going to the polls with her parents before she was old enough to vote and she’s passed on that passion to her children and at least one in-law.
“I took it upon myself as a responsibility as a parent to bring my children into vote after they turned 18 and I got them registered to vote, too,” said Margaret. “When we had grandchildren, I did the same thing when they turned 18 and we have five grandchildren. When our daughter-in-law became an American citizen in Philadelphia, I took her to register to vote the very next day.”
Although the state’s Voter Hall of Fame may not be as well-known as those who are enshrined in the halls that honor athletes, it’s arguably as important — perhaps more so, at least for our democracy — than its sports-related counterparts.
“I don’t think too many people know about this and that it exists,” said Kantner. “I kind of was in shock and pleasantly surprised when I learned about it.”
Kantner said she was researching on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website when she saw a link listed at the bottom of the page to information about the Voter Hall of Fame. That piqued her interest and she contacted Lebanon County’s elections office to learn more. (With the latest round of inductions, the number of Lebanon Countians enshrined in the Voter Hall of Fame is 187 individuals.)
“The website has the qualifications listed and it says you must have 50 consecutive years of voting in the general election,” said Kantner. “I knew I had qualified, so I went up to voter registration and asked Sean about it.”
Sean Drasher, department head for Lebanon County Voter Registration/Elections, said individuals interested in learning if they qualify as a Super Voter must apply through his office since voter records are maintained at the county level.
“I am the one who does all of the research, and I just notify the state that I have researched and confirmed this voter and then they do whatever they do,” said Drasher. “And then a certificate (of recognition that’s signed by the governor) shows up a few months later.”
Since the county only transitioned to an electronic record system in the early 2000s, researching old paper records takes time to complete. Drasher said he never knows what to expect as he goes through voter archives.
“It is really on this office and the Department of State working together and if you ever moved to another county, you have to track down those paper records and go to the archives, dust off the old archives and the old books and it takes a long time,” said Drasher. “There are some records that are, sometimes, just hard to get information because we’re going back 50 years. For example, it’s all paper and you get water damage or the paper is pressed together from humidity and you go to pull them apart and you can’t read the dates.”
Drasher added that the Fidlers and Kantner were easy to research since they have spent most of their lives in Lebanon County. The Fidlers currently live in a retirement village in Myerstown while Kantner resides in Newsmantown.
Regardless of whether county voters are lifetime residents or have lived elsewhere, Drasher strongly encourages those who believe they may qualify to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so his office can research that person’s voting record.
“Send us all of the information you have on an individual – name, address, addresses – even if you start with a name, that’s good, but everything you can give us is helpful because this is an investigation,” said Drasher. “The email goes to a group that I have specifically assigned to track this stuff. We have the information in one location, we can see it and track it from there.”
Drasher asked applicants for patience since his office won’t be able to conduct research until December. Today’s election will have to be processed and it also takes time to search the county’s voter archives, he added.
“It is kind of fun, it is difficult, but it is kind of fun,” said Drasher. “You’re doing it for a good cause and it is something that is a little bit different than our everyday job of registering voters, which is good work but the same thing every day.”
Mixing up the usual 9-to-5 duties for a good cause is a great feeling for Drasher.
“We’re calling up counties and we’re driving to counties to go through warehouses of old records from the 1960s. That’s awesome, man, that’s what makes it interesting and you’re doing it to honor someone, which is great.”
The Fidlers and Kantner plan to keep their voting traditions and personal consecutive voting records alive when they cast their respective ballots for the candidates they want to represent them in the halls of government. And they encourage all registered voters to vote for those individuals they believe best represent their personal views.
“Our local elections have more impact on our lives than the presidential election,” said Kantner. “And the primary election is also important since that determines who gets on the ballot for November. People say they only vote in the important elections and what I would say to them is that every election is an important election.”
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