108-year-old Beaufort woman, first-time voter, backs Obama

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 26, 2012 

Joanna Jenkins, 108, of Yemassee sits for a portrait in her living room while holding a photograph of President Barack Obama and his family. Jenkins voted for the first time in her life via absentee ballot for the 2012 election.

DELAYNA EARLEY, THE ISLAND PACKET

With a wide smile and high-pitched laugh, 108-year-old Joanna Jenkins points to a framed photo of the first man -- and possibly last -- she has ever cared to vote for.

" 'Bama!" she shouts.

The Yemassee woman has watched decades upon decades of elections come and go but never voted.

Cousin Arinethia Ferguson, 43, gathered voter registration forms year after year in the hopes Jenkins would exercise her right before it was too late.

But something and someone stood out to her in this election.

"She just got kind of carried away with wanting to vote," Ferguson said. "Every time she sees President Obama on television, she really gets excited."

Even after the abolition of Jim Crow laws that disenfranchised her and her parents, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, relatives still feared she'd be unable to vote because she cannot read or write and does not have a state-issued ID.

On a recent visit to her doctor, he asked if she had registered to vote. When she said no, he agreed to help her through the process.

Elections officials informed relatives that the recently enacted voter-ID does not apply to this year's general election, so photo identification is not required to register to vote. With the help of her doctor and the Beaufort County elections office, she registered as an absentee voter.

So earlier this month, Ferguson helped her cousin fill out the ballot, reading her the names of the listed candidates and asking which ones she wanted to vote for.

"She really didn't draw any interest other than hearing Obama's name," Ferguson said. "Her main interest was voting for the president. ... She didn't want to hear any other name."

Elections officials say Jenkins' case is rare and inspiring.

"I thought it was awesome," county elections director Scott Marshall said. "This is a woman born in 1904 and grew into an adult when Jim Crow laws were fully in effect and voter suppression for minorities was the norm. At that time voting was a fight, not a right, if you were of color. For her to live through and personally experience those times and is now voting for the first time is phenomenal."

Ferguson said she'll never forget the experience nor take her own voting for granted.

"Here it is, we have healthy, young, able people who have never been told they can't vote, but don't," Ferguson said.

The message, she and Marshall said: It's never too late to exercise your right to vote.

"Everyone who is eligible and able to vote, should," Ferguson said. "If a 108-year-old woman can do it, so can you."

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service