Hunched low over his ballot, Hill’s blue eyes moved rapidly over the page, reading the candidates’ and judges’ names. Red, white and blue voting booths helped ensure voting privacy in the Franklin County Clerk’s Office in the courthouse, 315 S. Main St., Ottawa.
Hill, 92, Ottawa, a longtime banker with Kansas State Bank, 236 N. Main St., said he’s voted in so many elections he’s unable to give an exact number of how many times he’s cast a ballot.
“A lot of them. When you’re 92 years old, you voted in several of them,” he said with a chuckle. “I haven’t missed any that I know of.”
As each election passes, Hill said he increasingly understands the importance of casting a ballot for local, state and national leaders, all of which are listed on today’s ballot.
“It’s a right we’re given,” he said. “That’s why we’re Americans. We’ve become a free country, and that’s what it’s all about.”
To him, the importance of this democratic and more than 200-year-old American tradition dates back to his time in the U.S. armed services. After graduating from the University of Kansas Law School in 1942, Hill was commissioned an ensign and attended midshipmen school at the University of Notre Dame. He then was promoted to a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.
He served in the European theater of World War II from 1942 to 1946. Hill was not in the first wave of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, but instead followed close behind. The troops in his craft, called a landing craft infantry, were deposited on Utah Beach 30 minutes after the invasion began June 6, 1944. Being in the Navy, Hill piloted the craft that transported infantrymen, but did not land on the beach.
“Thank goodness I was on Utah. A lot of the casualties were on Omaha instead of where I was,” Hill said.
More than 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded in the initial June 6 D-Day invasion. Casualties on Utah Beach, the western-most landing zone, were the lightest of any beach, with 197 casualties out of the about 23,000 troops that landed.
Back at the Franklin County Courthouse, it took Hill about 10 minutes to fill out the ballot completely. With steady hands, he walked across the small office to deposit his ballot in one of the three gray ballot lock boxes. Hill’s ballot, along with the hundreds of other Franklin County residents who chose to advance vote, will be counted tonight after the polls close at 7 p.m.
Hill’s daughter, Kathy Hill, drove from St. Joseph, Mo., to take her father from his home at Vintage Park, 2250 S. Elm St., Ottawa, to the clerk’s office. Rather than put his absentee ballot in the mail, running a risk of it being lost, Hill wanted to hand deliver it to the ballot box.
“I want to be sure my vote counts,” he said. “I didn’t want it to get lost in the mail.”
Kathy Hill said she did not mind the almost-two-hour drive she made Thursday to take her father to the courthouse. The motivation to vote was ingrained in her by her father many years ago, prompting her to study history and political science in college. She even ran for political office in Missouri at one time, she said.
“I think it’s very important. Our family has instilled that in us, and I think World War II guys really know how important it is to protect our freedom,” Kathy Hill said. “And too few people today vote.”
A registered Republican, Hill has been watching the presidential race with increased interest, trusting that the local races will “work themselves out.” He watched all three presidential debates with his daughter. And after observing the candidates’ performances, he said either one would be a good choice.
“We always have to have a choice, and we do have a good choice and may the best man win,” Hill said, without revealing which candidate he chose.
Hill said he believes more people are actively engaging in the elections these days.
“[People are] better educated for one thing,” Hill said, adding there is more information available to voters so they can make more informed decisions at the polls.
Regardless of smear campaigns, attack ads and other staples that accompany a rough campaign season, Hill said, he doesn’t feel like politics have changed much. It’s still one person with one vote.
“Politics has been politics for years. It’s ‘May the best man win,’ and that ain’t always the case,” Hill said with a laugh.
The Kansas Secretary of State office is predicting a 68 percent voter turnout in Kansas this election. But it’s not simply about casting a ballot, Hill said. People need to be informed about what they are voting for, he stressed.
“You need to be informed. You need to read or listen to the speeches,” he said. “If you just go in there and vote blindly, then you don’t know what you’re voting for or anything. You need to be educated.”
Despite being old enough, many people of voting age choose to forego stopping at the voting booths on Election Day. In the 2008 election, nonvoters constituted about 43 percent of the voting-age population, according to a Pew Research Center study. Various reasons for those people’s absence are given — lack of time, interest or engagement, among other things — but these voters’ absence at the polls has an effect as well.
This apparent show of apathy to the democratic process by almost half the voting population worries Hill, he said.
“Their vote counts,” Hill said. “One vote might make a difference in whatever happens, so they should be taught how important their vote is. Our country wouldn’t be what it is if our votes didn’t count. That’s what makes the world go around.”