80 Years, 20 Elections, One Woman

Nov 6, 2012

Selma Friedman, 102, since 1932 has missed just one presidential election. She was hospitalized with a broken hip in 1972.
Credit Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald

Today is  the 57th presidential election in U.S. history.  But we wanted to take a breath and talk about election number 37: Hoover v. FDR.

A little over a month ago, on The Florida Roundup, host Phil Latzman made a request for the Dispatches from the Swing State project.

"I want you to find somebody who's voted in every election since..." Phil paused here, presumably doing mental presidential arithmetic. "...FDR or something. You know, to be old enough to vote in every election since FDR. I don't know if there's somebody out there like that."

There is somebody out there like that. (Thanks to WLRN listener Elizabeth Liberty for the tip.)

Boca Raton resident Selma Friedman turns 103 in March. She lives in the St. Andrew Estates South retirement home and spends her days playing Wii Bowling, Mah Jong, and Scrabble.

Friedman spent most of her life in New Jersey. She became an art teacher, and after World War II, she opened a discount store with her husband and brother-in-law. In 1980, she and her husband retired to Coconut Creek.

A Brief History of a Life at the Polls

In Selma's first Florida election, she voted for Jimmy Carter. "I don't know why I liked him better than Reagan, but I did," she explained. "I thought Reagan was a movie star and I didn't expect him to be a good president. But apparently a lot of people thought he was a good president. He fooled me."

As a life-long Democrat, Friedman has voted on the losing side of more than a few landslides.

In 1952 she voted for Adlai Stevenson against Dwight D. Eisenhower. "I didn't want anything connected with the army," she said flatly.

In 1988 she voted for Michael Dukakis. "I didn't like Bush at all," she said, pausing, then added, "Are we talking about the old Bush or the young Bush? ... Old Bush? Well, he wasn't that bad."

And then there was 1972 - Nixon v. McGovern, one of the most lopsided elections in history. Democrat George McGovern took just 17 electoral votes compared to 520 carried by Republican Richard Nixon.

Foiled by a Fall

Friedman would have voted for McGovern, "I think I was in the hospital at the time," she recalled. "I think I had broken my hip. I just fell, just a klutz. Had a hip operation and that's why I didn't think of anything but myself at the time."

Other than that, Selma Friedman has voted in every presidential election since, per Phil Latzman's request, "FDR, or something."

When It All Began

Friedman actually has a clearer memory her first ballot than a lot of her others.

It was 1932. She was 20 years old, so it was the first presidential election in which she could vote. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running against incumbent Herbert Hoover.

Friedman was still teaching art in New Jersey at the time. She remembers making FDR posters with the kids. "I don't remember the children being as interested in politics or what was going on in the country as they were at that time," Friedman said. "Because it was affecting all of their lives so much. They were really suffering from the lack of money."

Eighty years and 20 elections later,  Selma Friedman said she watches more news and politics than ever, and, she added,  "I'll beat you in Scrabble any day that you play."