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First-time voter at 77

Sierra McIver is an American Sign Language translator and outreach coordinator for the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Although being an interpreter wasn’t her first career choice, it was always her fallback go to.

“That was my Plan B — but I never found my Plan A,” she said. Being an ASL interpreter was also a fairly natural choice. “My mom was also a sign language interpreter,” McIver said.

Both of her mother’s parents — McIver’s grandparents — are deaf, including her grandfather Earl Lester Hafer, Jr., who, for the first time in his 77 years, is voting in the 2020 election.

McIver wasn’t that surprised to find out her grandfather had never before voted, she said, because living in the deaf world can be such a challenge when it comes to understanding English and making its concepts accessible.

“Part of it was shocking, but part of it resembles his life experience of a person who is deaf,” said McIver. “They’re either the last to know — or they never know. My grandfather was around 14 before he was exposed to sign language. Nobody, I guess, had taken the time to explain what (voting) means, to break down the ballot. English is his second language.”

With the help of ASL interpreter LaVona Andrew, I had the opportunity to speak with both McIver and Hafer on the steps of Boise City Hall on Tuesday, six days before the election. Hafer had planned on casting his vote that day but was still working through the ballot. He voted “for real,” McIver said, around 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 after completing it; it wasn’t a task he took lightly.

Jeanne Huff: Earl, are you excited to be voting for the first time?

Earl Lester Hafer, Jr.: I don’t know … excited? I’m concerned and want to be sure I’ve chosen the right candidates.

JH: Do you think you did choose the right ones?

ELH: I think so. I have a lot of experience over the years. The reasons I didn’t vote (before) were because I felt like the education I received was behind, I didn’t feel like I fully understood the ideas because it’s in a language that’s not accessible. My daughter and my granddaughter have helped me. I’m not dumb. I grew up without a language initially … now I know enough and I feel like it’s time for me to vote.

JH: What issues are most important to you?

ELH: The property tax issue for one. I want to ensure property taxes stay down. I understand the need for taxes, but I don’t want property taxes to be raised. And we need to keep jobs and our money here in the U.S. These are all issues I didn’t know for many years.

Sierra McIver: We also watched the presidential debates this year on The Deaf Professional Arts Network (DPAN TV). There were three interpreters, one for each of the presidential candidates and one for the moderator. Grandpa, when you watched the debates, was it easier to watch with the interpreters?

ELH: With the interpreters at the debates, I could see there was a lot of disagreement.

SM: Because people were talking over one another…

ELH: Yes, sometimes as deaf people we don’t hear overlapping conversations, it is frustrating. Closed captioning is great, ASL is so much better.

JH: Earl, do you feel like you are more connected to the community because you are taking part in the voting process?

ELH: I’m really looking forward to seeing the results. This is my first time and I feel like I’ve learned a lot through this process … I haven’t yet had a chance to reflect on it. Having two parties for 200 years arguing with each other … doesn’t seem like the best solution. It’s hard to know if they’re going to keep their promises. Talk is cheap. We’ll have to see if they follow through.

I’m interested in making sure we have sustainable growth. It feels like Idaho is full. I go backpacking, hiking, skiing, camping, fishing … I’m not much of a hunter. I don’t prefer killing animals other than rattlesnakes (laughs). I love our unspoiled wilderness it’s gorgeous. I want to keep Idaho green.

I hope whoever wins will do the best job for our country.

Jeanne Huff is the community engagement editor for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at 208-465-8106 and follow her on Twitter @goodnewsgirl.