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

The (Hilton Head) Island PacketOctober 30, 2012 

— 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 Ferguson helped her cousin fill out the ballot, reading her the names of the 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.

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