In 1944, twin sisters Edith McLean and Ardith Cooper turned 21.
It was their first chance to register to vote, and their father, Andrew Edward Engleman, had no intention of letting the opportunity pass them by.
"My father, he told me to get down there and register to vote because it was my God-given right," Cooper said.
"He was really just an outstanding citizen," McLean added. "The United States meant everything to him."
The sisters celebrated their 85th birthdays Oct. 1, and the two have never lost the message their father delivered more than six decades ago. For 64 years, McLean and Cooper have voted in every election.
With the myriad problems the country faces, McLean said she sometimes wishes her father still were around to help her sort through the mess. Now she gets all the questions, the oldest in the family by a few minutes.
"Yeah, I don't know how good I am answering them," she quipped. "But I do my best, I guess."
Neither sister feels the country is in worse shape than in the 1940s and 1950s, however. Things were tough when they started voting, and they're tough now, they said.
Cooper and McLean look to past experiences to inform their decisions, but history doesn't make anything less complicated.
They remember the way things used to be, when a person might struggle to find a job and then struggle to survive on the wages.
"Then the unions came in and started working for the poor souls who were working for a dollar a day," McLean said. "I really think they saved the bacon of a lot of people working in the '40s and '50s. But, that's all different now. I don't think everything (unions have) done is good, because it just isn't."
They also remember their friends and family members who served in one foreign war after another, and think about the families going through challenging times now because of sons and daughters serving overseas in what Cooper called "this mess in Iraq."
"It just seems like every 20 years there's a big war and all the kids have to leave to go fight," Cooper said. "It gets to wearing on you, and you start worrying which one of your kids and grandkids is going to have to go into the next one."
The economy sits in people's minds a lot these days, they said, but it is, thankfully, nothing like the era they grew up in as little girls.
"I don't think we've had anything near as bad as we had in the Great Depression," Cooper said. "People were committing suicide. It was just awful for a lot of people."
Her sister, too, remembers the times vividly.
"Bread lines everywhere trying to feed the poor that didn't have a nickel," McLean said. "I was just a kid, but I remember that. It's something you don't forget. I'll sure be glad if one (of the presidential candidates) can come up with a plan for the economy and this Wall Street mess."
Cooper said this year's presidential race is one of the harder decisions she has made. She still doesn't know who would be the right choice.
"It seems every year, the lies and the controversy gets worse and worse," Cooper said. "And it's so hard when you have two parties nagging at each other more than getting anything done. They weren't nearly as vindictive and ornery as they are now.
"I look at one and I look at the other and I think, 'Oh, Lord.'"
The sisters have always considered themselves independent, another value they learned from their father. Although national politics have become more polarizing, they like to trust their own sense of right and wrong.
It's part of taking seriously their privilege of being American.
"This time, I'm a registered Republican," Cooper said. "But, I have never voted straight Republican, that's just ridiculous. If you don't know what to vote for, then you shouldn't vote at all, I think. Democrat or Republican."
Their valued independence can divide them as sisters, too, despite the near-identical features on their outsides.
The girls ended up voting for different presidential candidates, although they've been through this drill enough times for it not to be a big deal, McLean said. She decided with her son they would vote for Sen. Barack Obama.
"We have our ins and outs every four years when it comes to elections," McLean said. "For twins, we don't really have that much in common."
Cooper said she settled on Sen. John McCain, despite neither candidate doing much to motivate her.
"I'm not too fond with either one of them, but I guess I have more in common with McCain," she said. "There's just something about Obama. He's just so green. I think he's an intelligent person, but he doesn't seem to have a grasp of all this corruption and everything. I think he's naÃive."
Although it's tough sometimes, Cooper added she hasn't become discouraged with politics or doubtful of the people's ability to make things right.
Both earnest believers in American democracy, the twins keep plugging away each year, listening to ads and stump speeches, learning as much as they can and trying to make good decisions.
The years of history have done little to darken their optimism.
"Some of those people (in politics) are pretty decent people," Cooper said. "Even if you get discouraged, though, we've got to get somebody in there to do it right. With wars and, oh my, it's just awful sometimes, we've got to get somebody in there to do something right."