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Longtime, first-time voters share excitement

Libby Fankhanel, 99, of Bemidji, has already voted absentee. She has voted in every election since she was 21. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
From left, Bemidji High School seniors Hailey Williamson, Ashley Hirt and Marc Wax, who all turned 18 this year, look forward to casting their first votes today. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron2 / 2

Twelve years after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote, Libby Fankhanel entered her polling place - Newbre School near Brocket, N.D. - and voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt for president.

Libby, who turned 99 Sept. 7, said she has voted in every election since she was 21, the legal age at that time.

"I was interested in politics since I was 12 years old because my dad was interested," she said. "He was on the county board and school board in Ramsey County."

Libby said her father, Ray Thomas Cunningham, was also interested in the Nonpartisan League, which advocated state control of mills, grain elevators, banks and other farm-related industries in order to reduce the power of corporate political interests from Minneapolis. She said her mother, Gina Cunningham, also always made a point of voting.

She said the issues she is concerned about include taxes and schools.

"I'm very interested in the schools," she said. "I come from a family of teachers."

Libby said she voted absentee this year using a ballot supplied by Beltrami County Auditor Kay Mack.

"I'm very excited about the election, all elections," she said. "It made me feel very important to be able to vote."

And although she said she hasn't always been happy with the election results, she said, "I'm still here and the country is still here."

First-time voters also expressed excitement about participating in the election.

"I already voted," said Marc Wax, a Bemidji High School senior who turned 18 May 1. "I'm an absentee, too. I live up in Puposky, and we don't have enough population for a voting place."

"It's pretty cool, pretty exciting," said BHS senior Ashley Hirt, whose 18th birthday was Oct. 17.

BHS senior Hailey Williamson, who turned 18 Sept. 17, said she hadn't studied political issues until the run up to today's election. She added that recently, conversations among students usually end up turning to the elections.

"Even, like, we'll be talking with my friends, and we'll be talking about the economy," Ashley said. "Then we'll be talking about the president, and you won't even notice."

Marc said the political conversations go on continuously all around the school, along with candidate support bumper stickers throughout the parking lot and T-shirts endorsing various candidates.

"To cast my first vote in this high-stakes, high-intensity election really makes me feel my vote counts," Marc said.

Hailey and Ashley agreed that they believe their votes are important.

The three students said they also sense the advertisements and campaigns are more negative than they noticed in previous elections. But they said the discussions among their peers, whatever their positions, is more respectful.

"A lot of people are shocked how negative some of the older voters are," said Marc.

"I think a lot of people are respectful of each other and what they think, but they're really strong about what they believe," said Ashley.

Marc said he has friends planning to vote for Barack Obama, friends planning to vote for John McCain and one friend who has said he will write in a vote for T. Boone Pickens.

"It's a lot more about voting for your beliefs or your conscience or the direction the country should go," said Marc.

Bemidji High School had a voter registration drive, and there are 129 18-year-olds eligible to vote.