WYOMISSING, PA --

Nancy Peters wouldn't have much of an excuse for missing an election.

The Lenhartsville woman has been the election judge in her precinct for decades. In that role, she leads the team that staffs the small borough's polling place on Election Day.

But there's another reason Peters, 78, hasn't let an election go by without her vote in 50 years.

"You can voice your opinion when it's time to vote instead of holding back and talking afterwards about what should have been," she said.

Peters was one of 296 Berks County residents inducted into the state's Voter Hall of Fame during a ceremony Monday. The event at the Crowne Plaza Reading hotel in Wyomissing honored voters who have participated in 50 consecutive general elections.

In Berks, voters are generally inducted every four years. The process of identifying candidates begins a year and a half out, said Berks election director Deborah M. Olivieri.

"I think it says a lot," she said of the large inductee class. "We keep stressing how important it is to vote."

The state's top election official, Commonwealth Secretary Pedro A. Cortes, addressed the voters. There are a lot of reasons - from weather to a stressful work day - to miss an election, he said.

But the longtime voters made it clear nothing was going to deter them from casting votes.

"You did so because of your deep sense of civic responsibility," Cortes said. "You did so because you understand democracy requires engaged citizens."

Cortes noted that this year's inductees began their voting sprees at a time when the right to vote was front and center in national politics.

The federal Voting Rights Act - the historic civil rights bill that banned racial discrimination at the voting booth - was adopted in 1965 amid turmoil and resistance. Some advocates lost their lives in the name of voting rights, he said.

"You have honored those courageous Americans for half a century," Cortes said.

The addition of the Berks inductees Monday brought the total number of voters in the statewide hall to an even 23,000.

County commissioners Christian Y. Leinbach, Mark C. Scott and Kevin S. Barnhardt read the names of the inductees and offered their remarks. Leinbach said it's fitting the ceremony coincided with a local election, which many voters consider an off-year.

"You are proof that you understand that every election is important," he said.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent attended Monday's ceremony. Several of elected officials also sent representatives: U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan and Ryan Costello; state Reps. Mark Rozzi and Thomas R. Caltagirone; and state Sens. Judy Schwank, Bob Mensch and John C. Rafferty Jr.

As James C. Dallessandro sees it, voting is what keeps the people, not politicians, in charge. The Muhlenberg Township man said that's something he always tried to impart on his students during his career as a social studies teacher.

And he imagines it's that attitude that's earned him a spot in the voter hall of fame.

"I believe that's a fundamental right of every American," said Dallessandro, 72. "And they should exercise it."

Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or lsmith@readingeagle.com.

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