Richard Schultheis, 83, sits at the Foster Community Center in Lansing, hunched over a table covered with sample ballots and “I Voted” stickers. The retiree is working the polls of the 14th precinct in Ward 1 during the Michigan primary. It’s a position he’s volunteered for each of the past seven years.
“I consider myself a good citizen and a patriot,” Schultheis said when asked why he volunteers as a poll worker.
“I try to steer people in the right direction in terms of understanding what they’re doing and what they’re voting on,” he said.
Considering himself a well-informed voter, Schultheis is most concerned with the economy and considered that the most important issue when deciding which Republican candidate he would choose. He takes his vote seriously, he said.
Schultheis represents something typical in his generation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 79 percent of citizens age 65 and older were registered to vote during the 2004 presidential elections. Of these, 71 percent report casting a vote that year.
Mark Hornbeck is the Communications Director of AARP Michigan, an organization that advocates for Americans over the age of 50. In Michigan alone, there are 1.4 million members of the group. While AARP doesn’t endorse any candidates, they will challenge them to address issues important to senior citizens.
“We’re looking for candidates to offer plans to protect Medicare and Social Security,” said Hornbeck. “We’re looking for candidates to look into offering plans for retirement savings because half of them don’t have plans now.”
The “senior situation” as Hornbeck called it, was unique in Michigan because of the sheer number of baby boomer’s retiring or nearing retirement age.
“Retirement issues are more important here,” he said.
But Michigan seniors that voted on Tuesday seemed to have more mainstream issues their minds.
Dave Wyrick, 57 a supporter of Governor Mitt Romney, admitted to taking several items into consideration when choosing his candidate.
“I think of all the issues when I vote,” Wyrick said. “I think about Social Security because I don’t know if it’s going to be there or not when I need it. But I also look at the economy, education and agriculture.”
Carol Graysmith, 58 and also a Romney supporter, focuses on several of the same issues, more concerned about the issues that will affect future generations than any that would more directly touch her life.
“For me, it’s the economy and education and healthcare,” she said.
Like all those heading to the polls today, the interests and issues of Michigan’s senior citizens are diverse. Only time will tell whose interests win out.