Andrew Dys

17 years old or 101 years young: They will vote

At 100 years old, Lessie Cole can do anything she darn well pleases.

On her 101st birthday, June 13, like she has every time she could, she will go vote.

As far as York County elections officials can tell, Cole is the oldest active voter in the county.

She can't remember who she first voted for back in the 1920s, but she knows she voted.

"I'm a Democrat," Cole said. "Except for Gary Simrill."

Simrill is a Republican state representative for part of Rock Hill. He is running unopposed.

"All my life, I've known his family," Cole said. "He gets my vote."

Any American citizen 18 years old who is not a convicted felon can vote, but many don't. Most don't vote in elections like the June 13 primary, an off-year from presidential and U.S. Senate races. People in Iraq with bull's-eyes on their backs wait in line to vote, and we can't stop on the way to Starbucks to decide who our leaders will be.

Persecuted South Africans denied freedom forever get the right to vote and stand in line all day in torn clothes.

We complain if there is one person in front of us at the polls who needs a few seconds to decide.

In 2002, the last similar election cycle without national elections, 10.89 percent of eligible York County voters got off their rear ends and voted in the June primary, county elections statistics show. Almost 25 percent of voters in the state participated.

Cole wants to know, why not everybody?

There are contested primary races for York County Council, a Statehouse race, governor and other statewide offices. There are county council elections, school board and solicitor in Chester County. What's at stake is only the people who decide how much to hike our taxes or change our laws or decide if we get better roads and safer schools.

The only thing at stake is the future.

The York County Voter Registration and Elections office found Cole after Gov. Mark Sanford -- running for re-election in the primary -- and the Legislature declared May voter education month in South Carolina. The state election commission offered up the idea as part of the Help America Vote Act.

County staffers pored over records to find the oldest voter.

"We found some people still on the rolls who were deceased since the last time they voted," said Wanda Hemphill, elections director.

York County not being Chicago, elections officials frown on the dead staying registered to vote.

Cole voted in the Rock Hill city election last year. Almost 18 percent of the city's eligible voters participated, double the amount from four years before that.

Hemphill tracked down Cole at the Sterling House retirement center, where she presides as the reigning bingo queen, eligible single gal and oldest resident.

"I don't have a boyfriend," Cole said. "Like one, though. As long as he could push my wheelchair."

State election officials also searched voter registration records to find each county's youngest registered voter. Linsey Fish, 17 of Fort Mill, will be 18 years old Oct. 30. Because the primary is considered an extension of the November general election, anyone who is registered to vote for the November election -- even if that person is still 17 in June -- can vote in the primary, Hemphill said.

Fish will vote.

"I gave blood at school and registered at the same time," Fish said.

Fish met Cole at Sterling House.

Cole asked Fish a few questions. Fish answered them all.

Especially the one about whether Fish would vote.