She’s 70 years old and had never voted. But this election was too important to sit out.

By Karen Heller,

Heather Ainsworth for The Washington Post

Judy Kosik of Scranton, Pa., voted by mail for Joe Biden — the first candidate to ever receive her vote.

Here is what Judy Kosik would like you to know: She has two grown children and a beloved 9-year-old grandson, Judah. “I’m a young 70. I’m not an old lady.” She did clerical work at many places — her favorite was in a hospital’s oncology department — and also worked as a nurse’s aide. She lives in Scranton, Pa. She’s divorced. “I like to look nice,” through daily crunches and lifting weights; her pixie cut is styled every six weeks.

Kosik is the oldest of seven — all their names begin with J. She’s Irish Catholic (her maiden name is Brennan), believes in God, prays regularly, doesn’t attend church. She watched the general election debates, all of them. On the outside of her apartment door, she taped a sign in support of George Floyd that reads, “I can’t breathe.” Kosik made it herself.

And she didn’t vote in 2016. Or 2012.

She sat out 2008 and 2004. Also, 2000, 1996 and 1992.

The presidential elections of 1988 and ’84 came and went, and Kosik didn’t vote.

She chose not to in 1980 or 1976, either.

Four years earlier, when Richard Nixon obliterated George McGovern, the first presidential election in which Kosik was eligible to vote, she didn’t.

“I was a hippie a good part of my life,” she says. “I got married. I had children. My whole life, I had no interest in voting. I had no reason to care.”

Earlier this month, Kosik did something she had never attempted. She voted.

This is the first year Pennsylvania residents can cast ballots by mail without needing a reason. Kosik triple-checked to make sure she did it right.

“This year, I have all the reasons in the world to vote,” she says. “I want Biden because he cares about the people. Trump doesn’t care about us. He thinks this virus is just going to go away. This world is chaos. This world is nuts.”

Kosik is one of 92 million eligible voting-age Americans
40 percent of the population — who didn’t participate in the 2016 election.

“And I like Hillary, too,” she says. “I had no interest. I’m telling you, I didn’t care. I could care less about voting.”

Like 51 percent of non-voters, as opposed to 30 percent of voters, she has a high school education (technical school in Kosik’s case), according to a Pew Research Center study of the 2016 electorate.
She often earned less than $30,000 a year, joining 56 percent of non-voters in that income bracket, twice the share of voters overall.

Kosik is also bipolar. About 10 years ago, “I got very, very sick with depression. A lot of bad things happened,” she says. She lived in a group home. She got better. Almost a year ago, she moved into her own one-bedroom apartment with a view of Lake Scranton in a complex for adults 62 and older. Kosik loves Lake Scranton. “I am doing so wonderful.”

Chronic non-voters tend to be poorly informed about political issues. She’s a devotee of “The View” and the evening news, the one with David Muir: “He’s so handsome.”

Several times, though, she says, “I’m not into politics.”

This is perhaps the only patently untrue thing Kosik says during our many conversations by phone, a landline. She owns neither a cellphone, though her son has offered her one, nor a computer.

She posted a handwritten Biden-Harris sign on the outside of her apartment door. Kosik says of the Democrats, “They reach out to the people. You see all these families who are unemployed and they need to feed their families. You have the rioting. And those racists. Vice President Biden talks to Black people about these things.”

She talks about how much she likes her governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, and, for crying out loud, praises the state health secretary, Rachel Levine, by name.

“God love her,” Kosik says of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She bought her grandson “Joey: The Story of Joe Biden,” Jill Biden’s children’s book about her husband’s childhood as a stutterer. She says of her fellow Scrantonian, an Irish Catholic like herself, “I think he’s a nice man. He’s levelheaded. He doesn’t lie to the people,” although she uses a barnyard expletive for “lie to.”

Kosik has many things to say about President Trump, some unprintable.

“He is all about money, you know what I mean?” she says. “I don’t like Trump calling out people who fight for our country as ‘losers.’ How can he be so heartless?” And, “Our country’s never going to get normal if Trump gets in again.”

Frankly, Kosik sounds like the polar opposite of someone who is apathetic about politics.

Heather Ainsworth

for The Washington Post

Kosik has decorated the outside of her apartment door with signs.

Kosik’s younger child, David, is 38, gay, a visual merchandiser, a resident of Northern Virginia and a dedicated Democrat.

“I’m a member of the LGBTQ community. My vote has to matter. I have to show up, now more than ever,” he says.

Unlike his mother, he participates in every election. “There is no bigger joy than casting my vote,” he says. “I live in my little blue bubble in Alexandria.” The difference he could make this time, he realized, was to inspire his mother to finally vote in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

Kosik and her son haven’t visited in person since the pandemic but speak regularly by phone, usually Sunday evenings. In June, after Biden clinched the nomination, he said to her, “There’s an election coming up. Are you going to have your voice heard?”

“No, I’m not going to vote. My vote isn’t going to make a difference,” she told him.

This is what 38 percent of people who don’t participate in elections say, according to the Knight Foundation’s “The 100 Million Project: The Untold Story of Non-Voters,” released in February. They tend to think decisions made in Washington have little impact on their lives.

Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, Kosik’s son told her, by 44,292 votes. “Your vote could matter in a very meaningful way,” he said.

“I’ll think about that,” she said.

David chose not press her: “She’s very strong-willed. She’s going to do what she wants to do.”

[Scranton became shorthand for the past. Its reality is far more complicated.]

Kosik made a plan. She talked to her social worker, who helped her request a mail-in ballot. Later, she worried about receiving her ballot on time.

In early October, she informed her son, “David, I voted. And my vote is going to matter.”

“Honestly, I was over the moon,” David says. “She never really talked about her true political feelings before. But that empowerment meant a great deal to her. I think she feels that she could make a difference.”

Kosik reflected on all those years of not voting. “What kind of an American am I?” she asks. “At least, I’m a good American this time.”

The other night, she wrote another sign in black ink, torn from a spiral notebook, for her apartment door. “Be kind to people,” it reads, a quote from Biden, the first candidate ever to win her vote. It’s hanging there with her messages supporting Floyd and Biden-Harris. And her “I voted” sticker.

“Everyone’s got fancy wreaths on their door. I’ve got signs,” Kosik says. “I got hell from people in the building. Too bad. Get used to it. I’m going to do more.”