During my college years, I moved to a beautifully quaint, small town where I rented an apartment over the town’s chicest boutique. The main street in the town was lined with wonderful, wood buildings and homes that were built in the mid-1800’s, many of which had been historically preserved. What I didn’t know when I moved to that seemingly tranquil town was that it was utterly and exactly split in two over a referendum authorizing the purchase of a new fire truck.
The fire truck then currently in use had been bought with donations from the townspeople in 1947 and was well beyond its serviceable life. That it was still used to fight fires in the town was a miracle on wheels.
In spite of the obvious need for a new truck, the town was divided on whether to go into debt to purchase it. Two referenda had been held, and, incredibly, both times the vote ended in a tie. I’d like to tell you that I was the person who registered to vote and cast the deciding vote, but it wasn’t me. As a college student, I had kept my voter registration in my home state. However, another new resident to the town did register to vote, voted in the third referendum (which was the limit on allowable referenda for the same issue), and it passed – by one vote. The next day, to the delight of one half of the town and the dismay of the other half, a new diesel fire truck was ordered for $95,508. Shortly thereafter, the townspeople came together to volunteer for and celebrate their annual holiday celebration.
A couple of years ago, I attended a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing that was taking testimony on maintaining voter registration rolls. One of the witnesses at the hearing, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted
, said something that has continued to resonate with me on the power of a single vote.
He said, “Presidential elections get the most attention, but every year, there are thousands of state and local elections in Ohio, and in the last 15 months alone, 70 elections were decided by one vote or tied.”
SEVENTY elections in just one state, in just a little over one year!
Presidential elections do get the most attention, and of course, one of the closest in electoral history was the Bush v. Gore race in 2000, which was ultimately decided by 537 votes out of almost six million cast in Florida. That handful of votes gave George Bush a majority of the electoral college, even though Al Gore had won the popular vote by 543,895 – .005% of the total number, 101,455,899 – of votes cast. That election caused Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act,
creating the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, on which I am honored to sit as a commissioner.
Less than one year after the Bush v. Gore election was decided, the nation experienced one of the most devastating days in its history on 9/11/2001. It has been 16 years since that day, which was Election Day in New York City by the way, and it has changed the United States in so many ways. I remember that day well, and I also remember the unity and camaraderie of our country after those horrible events. We’ve just seen more examples of that American spirit in the response to Hurricane Harvey, and we need to come together in these days to help those who are being affected by Hurricane Irma, as well.
In the political realm, unfortunately, our nation has become more and more divided. While close elections are not new, in recent years it seems more and more elections are divided by fewer and fewer votes. But like the townspeople who were divided over the fire truck, we CAN put aside political differences and be united. Along with our American will-help, can-do spirit, something that still unites us politically is that we believe in the power of the voting booth. While we may disagree about many issues, we are so blessed to live in this amazing, strong country and to be able to have a voice in our government. Our history shows, past and present, that we can and will come together even though we may be politically divided. Your actions do matter. Your voice does matter. Your one vote DOES matter.
This month, please reach out and help those who are in need. If you aren’t registered to vote, this month, please also take a few minutes and register to vote
. You really do make a difference!