Emma S. Griffith went to the polls when women first won the right to vote 70 years ago, and she has done so every election since -- primary and general. Every one.
"Because we were given the privilege to vote, I want to keep it," Griffith, 96, said with a slight tremble from her room at the Oakland Manor Inc. assisted-living complex in Sykesville. "I just think we should vote."
She recalled that she was bothered in her younger years that women were not allowed to vote until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirmed that right in 1920.
Her voice turned coarse and sharp when she discussed the low voter turnout two months ago in Maryland and in Howard County, where she casts her ballots. Only 30 percent of eligible voters went to the polls for the Sept. 11 primary. Only 24 percent turned out in Howard. State elections officials are predicting a 47 percent turnout tomorrow.
"I think they're careless," she said of non-voters. "I don't think much of that."
A Howard County Board of Elections official said Griffith has voted in every primary and general election there since 1972, the year she moved to the county. Baltimore, where she had voted before that, didn't keep the earlier records.
Emma Loretta Smith was born Oct. 12, 1894, grew up in Baltimore's Walbrook section and married three times. She was a homemaker who raised two sons, helping to put them through college by making and selling candy from her doorstep, said son Louis A. Scholz, 72, who lives near Sykesville in western Howard County.
Scholz recalled that his mother had a penchant for writing letters to public figures about the prevailing issues of the day.
"She would write to people if she didn't like what they were doing and she would write if she liked what they were doing," he said.
"I just thought she was a very determined lady, and I think that's true now," said Scholz, who usually accompanies his mother to the polls. He said he often suggests which candidates his mother should vote for. Many times, she dismisses his recommendations and makes the decisions herself.
Griffith's eyes aren't as sharp as they once were and a stroke last March has slowed her, but she keeps up with political figures and the issues. She said her son helps to keep her abreast by reading newspapers to her. She said she values honesty more than anything in a public official.
She wouldn't say how she will vote tomorrow. "That's confidential," she reminded an inquisitor. But it seems Gov. William Donald Schaefer, up for re-election, has a good chance of getting her vote.
"I think Schaefer's a good man," Griffith said.
Her voting streak was in jeopardy on primary election day, Sept. 11, when she thought about staying home. She was worried that her failing vision might frustrate her attempts to read the names of primary candidates, she said. But she decided to vote after a five-minute talk with Jeffrey A. Pepper, Oakland Manor administrator.
"I wanted her to vote, if just to keep her string going," Pepper said. "I felt real bad about somebody not going after voting in every single election."
Griffith now says she's glad she did. Tomorrow, look for her to extend the streak.