Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Who me, Vote?


Why vote?

You’ve heard that, right?  Why vote, it just encourages them.  That’s the jaded citizen talking. The one who pays her taxes, keeps her lawn neat and her kids clean, and not one person she ever voted for got elected.  Except for the ones who did and then disappointed her, because they didn’t do all the great things they had promised.

“Why vote?” she asks. “My vote doesn’t count, not really, even if I vote for the winning side, they’re all corrupt anyway.”

It’s easy to feel this way. I used to feel this way.  When it came time for me to register to vote at the age of 21 (yes, that was the voting age back “in the day,”) I said why bother? It’s just a choice between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee.   I wasn’t thinking about things like Supreme Court appointments. I wasn’t thinking beyond the big national stage on which politics was played out like a high drama production on the nightly news.  We had bigger fish to fry, a war to end (Vietnam), women’s rights to secure, still more schools to integrate.

I didn’t connect the election with getting those things done, because I didn’t see that the national Strutters and Fretters on the (still small) screen were going to get a single thing done for any of those issues.
Direct action was where it was at. Marching and sitting in and  (for many of the young people around me) breaking things. Not so very different from today’s Occupy movement and the break away groups who take their rage and frustration into the streets, not the ballot box.

So none of my peers voted for Humphrey. At best, we thought he was the lesser of two evils. At worst, no difference.  Imagine, if we had voted, we may never have had Nixon and Watergate.  Would the war have ended sooner? Who knows; we never will.

Room for both:

Well, now I know there is room for both expressions of discontent.  March, sit it, write angry letters and rant, (I’m not advocating breaking things; that just encourages them to arrest you, not productive in the long run). 

But vote too. It’s fast and painless. (Yes, a little homework required.) You can do it in the comfort of your own home.  It just takes a little time and effort to understand the issues.  And I bet you understand more about them than you think you do, so why not just check a box expressing your opinion?

The go out and rabble rouse all you want.

What your single vote gets you: 

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, now a sage political commentator said this:  “Remember: The biggest party in America is neither Democrats nor Republicans. It’s the party of non-voters — a group that outnumbers the other two.”

So, see already, your non-vote has counted. The problem is it may have counted in a way you didn’t mean. It may have counted toward those not voting for something you wanted but didn’t vote for, because you thought your vote wouldn’t count.  

Voting lets you register a number, a statistic, on national issues, and even more importantly, on local issues.  Your vote may go into a big Halloween cauldron in the nationwide tally, but in your City, your County and even your State, your single vote can make a significant difference.  Here are some examples showing how your vote might just count a lot more than you think.

One vote in one small town’s very big election:

Here’s how it happened in one small town looking to raise money to keep a volunteer fire department going.

The fire tax needed a 2/3 majority to pass.  It looked like it would be fairly easy to attain as people in this remote coastal village relied on their volunteers as first responders in times of emergencies.  All voters were dutifully called by firefighters and their supporters before the election and many of them got a knock on their door.  Previous such measures had passed easily, but the volunteers were taking no chances as their need for up to date equipment was great.

On election night, the victory party turned into a wake when the final results were tallied and the measure came up one vote short.

The next day one of the volunteers casually asked another one if she voted before or after her shift. Very sheepishly, the volunteer answered, “I didn’t vote. I didn’t think my one vote would make a difference.”

You can bet that she hasn’t missed a vote since then.
                                                                     What could happen if an important tax measure fails. In this case, it wasn't 
                                                                     so dire; it passed at the next election and disaster was averted.
Slightly more votes in a bigger election:
In another election, this one for a crucial seat on the County Board of Supervisors, four candidates were in a hotly contested primary election.  One was a very popular sitting council member, and everyone agreed he would get the most votes. The race then was for the number two slot, to have a chance to go head to head over issues such as open space preservation and traffic in the fall.  

Two women were virtually neck and neck on election night, but there were still outstanding absentee ballots turned in too late to have been counted yet at the Registrar’s office.  Both women were fairly unknown and neither had served in elective office before. But one was a nurse and professor, with a strong environmental bent; while the other seemed more interested in smaller parochial issues.

Two weeks passed before the final votes were counted. The nurse had won the right to compete in the fall by 22 votes.  

The rest, as they say, is history. She fought a grueling general campaign, backed by the Sierra Club which culminated in victory in November and preservation of some of the County’s most important baylands. She has held her seat against tough challengers because of the coalition she was able to build in that first election. 

One last example: medium sized town, medium sized election, one anxious candidate:  

Another not so dramatic election was a school board election in a mid-sized city.  A challenger wanted to shake things up and ran against a popular incumbent. Without doing much at all, the incumbent led by 100 votes or so on election night.  The challenger was dejected." If only I’d walked one more precinct!" he lamented.  But wait, by the time the final late absentee votes were counted, he was victorious, now holding the 100 vote lead. He has not been challenged in his office since that time and has been an effective school board member.

So your vote counts. It might be your vote alone that does make the difference, or yours and a few friends you take to the polls or yours and hundreds who think like you, but have not taken the time to vote.

If nothing else, vote because so many people don’t want you to. They know that if people don’t vote, they win by default.  Why else are there so many voter suppression efforts underway, putting into place voter ID laws, machines that switch the votes, not enough ballot boxes, hanging chads.
If a few more people voted in Florida in 2000, maybe, just maybe there would have been enough of a critical mass to stop Bush before all the last chad was hung.