Why Every Vote Counts, Every Time

By YeOldeScribe ~ April 30th, 2011 @ 3:43 am

At Political Progressives, we believe strongly in informed voter participation. It’s really disheartening to us when for most presidential elections, only half the electorate bothers to go vote. Even in 2008, one of the highest turnout rates ever, only 60% of Americans exercised their right to vote. Think about that. Then grab your closest friend in the whole wide world. Then ask yourself if you voted in the last presidential election. And if you did, statistically speaking, your friend didn’t. For every person you know who voted, you also know someone who didn’t.

And that’s a crying shame.

Remember, we’re looking just at Presidential elections with those numbers. For midterm elections, it’s less than 1/3rd. And for state and local elections? It can go as low as 1/10th or 1/20th. Especailly for elections like school board, local referendums, etc., only 5% of the electorate turns out. So go ahead and grab 19 of your best friends. Then ask yourself if you voted in the last local election. And if you did, statistically speaking, not a single one of them did.

So what do we do about voter turnout? Some people have suggested making it mandatory to vote with fines if you fail to do so. Sure, countries that have compulsory voting have turnout  rates in the mid 90’s. But is that really what you want? It’s definitely not what’s best for the country. Think about it – we said earlier that we believe strongly in informed voter participation. Enough people already go out and vote because “they saw a commercial” or “that politician looked trustworthy” or our personal favorite “but who wouldn’t want a woman who looks like a sexy librarian leading our country?” (A note to our readers: We don’t know what we’re disgusted at more – the fact that people actually find Ms. Palin attractive or the fact that her perceived beauty makes her a viable leader of the free world. Actually, what disgusts us the most is that anyone would think for any reason that Ms. Palin is capable of leading the free world, come to think of it).

Another suggestion is to make election day a national holiday. A lot of people have this annoying thing called a job that prevents them from going to vote at least 8 hours out of the day. We’ll look past the fact that most polls are open for 12 hours, but expecting people to go vote on their lunches or right after work when they’re supposed to be picking up their kids or running errands might be a little much to expect. We actually think creating a federal holiday for voting day wouldn’t be such a bad idea – but don’t expect it to actually work. See, even if the federal government is shut down and asks other businesses to shut down as well, nothing says they have to. And even if you gave all people the day off, I guarantee that voter turnout would go up only 10 points. Maybe, if you were really lucky, you could get it to 75% for a presidential election, and that would be a miracle. But even at that, one in four people would fail to exercise their right to vote.

As we eluded to earlier, in our current societal state, that might not be a bad thing. Enough voters are going to the polls uninformed as it is. Some states are cracking down on voter registration laws, including Wisconsin. Some people are going even further, suggesting you should have to pass a test to vote. The test could be as simple as knowing who is on the ballot or what position the candidates are running for. It could mean passing questions that are on the US citizenship exam. While such voting tests do have the power to be abused (see: Jim Crow laws), they might not be a bad idea.

So what do we need to do to clear up this problem? Well, it’s actually very simple. People need to believe that their vote counts. Every time. If you go around asking people why they don’t vote, we assure you the number one response will be that their vote doesn’t matter. The answer will come out in one of two main ways. Either they’ll argue that statistically speaking, their one vote will never decide an election so there’s no point in voting, or they’ll say all politicians are crooks so it doesn’t matter which one I vote for. We’ll break down both of those myths.

The first argument as to why one vote doesn’t count seems to have some legitimacy. Even the closest presidential elections are still determined by millions – or at least tens of thousands – of votes. With such a seemingly huge gap for close elections, can one vote really make a difference? They sure can. And that’s not a typo. Yes, we used a plural pronoun referring to a singular noun. Because every election is about one vote. It’s about your one vote. And my one vote. And my neighbor’s one vote. And everyone else’s one vote. And when all those one votes start to add up, it’s not just about one vote any more, is it? But what happens when I don’t use my one vote because I think it’s not important or because I think my candidate is going to lose? And you, my neighbor, and everyone else does the same? Well, then the election is still about one vote – it’s about the people who did decide to go out and vote. Because you never know what could happen if you don’t.

Our most recent State Supreme Court election in Wisconsin was determined by a mere 204 votes before a woman previously charged with election fraud sealed the vote for her former boss. Think about that though – Out of 1.5 million votes cast, the difference between the two candidates was 204 votes. Do you see how quickly those “one votes” start to add up? But let’s take this one step even further. Recently in Nevada, there was a local election that had 656 ballots cast in it. And wouldn’t you know, the final tally was 328 votes cast for each candidate. How was the election settled? The only way anything in Nevada is truly settled – by drawing cards from a deck of playing cards. The high card determined who won the election. We’ll put aside the larger issue of how messed up Nevada’s tiebreaker scenario is, but look at it this way: Had one more person voted for either candidate, they would have won the election outright. One vote could have determined the outcome of that election. And I can guarantee you that more than one person was sitting at home that night going “If only I had known…” The thing is, we don’t know what the outcome is going to be before it happens. Don’t take a chance, and do your civic duty.

The second big argument against voting is it doesn’t make a difference. First of all, that’s not even close to true. The two parties in Washington aren’t different? Really? So they agree all the time on everything, right? So they don’t get into petty squabbles and almost cause the entire Federal Government to shut down because they’re so much alike? Make no mistake about it, the two parties before us today are more different and divided than they ever have been, and to claim that all politicians are the same is as nonsensical as claiming that President Obama was born in Kenya. So if they’re not all the same, they’re at least all corrupt, right? And that answer is sadly true. All people are corrupt, and all politicians are people, so yes, all politicians are in some ways corrupt and fallible. But is that a reason not to vote for one candidate over the other? No. Look, a kid on the street who is CPR certified and a heart surgeon are both trained to some degree in health care, but if my ticker stops ticking, I’m going with the doc to repair it. Some politicians are better trained for their job than others. Some politicians are simply better than other options. That doesn’t mean that they’re perfect or even the best members of society. It just means they have a job to do and they happen to be good at it. And sometimes, it might be even simpler than that – it might just be that one candidate sucks less than the other. This is basically how our writer felt about the Wisconsin State Supreme Court race. He didn’t really think Kloppenburg was the perfect candidate for the bench or even a good one. But she was a much better option than Justice Prosser, so that’s who got his vote. Many times in politics, you do have to choose between the lesser of two evils and when something inevitably goes wrong, you just have to tell yourself it could be worse. But the point is that no matter how you boil it down, when you do (and if you’ve done your research), one candidate should be better than the other (in your mind).

Until we change the culture surrounding voting, it will never be truly successful. Until people actually believe their vote counts, they will refuse to even cast it. Maybe we need more education about voting. Maybe we need more stories like the one in Nevada so people can actually see that their vote matters. Whatever needs to be done, it should be done – because people have to know that every vote counts, every time.

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