It's nearing Election Day, and it's not a big presidential contest, only the midterms, so you're likely to hear a lot more people asking the age-old American question: “Does my vote still count?"
(This article originally ran in the October 29, 2018 issue of The Delphian)
It’s nearing Election Day, and it’s not a big presidential contest, only the midterms, so you’re likely to hear a lot more people asking the age-old American question: “Does my vote still count?”
It’s a fair question. For instance, why should a Democrat in Utah bother to send money to Jenny Wilson in the Utah Senate Race? There is no statistic possibility at all that Mitt Romney will lose this red state. Why should a Republican in New York care about Chele Chiavacci Farley’s policies or debate performances or whatever? Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democrat; she’s a lock. And for that matter, why should we go out of our way to vote for Romney or Gillibrand when they’re going to win anyway?
Another point to this discussion is shown with the Electoral College. Countless Americans cite this institution as a prime example why our votes do not matter, since the popular vote—the sheer number of Americans voting—does not decide the president. A lot of the time it really does seem like our vote doesn’t have an impact.
But this could not be further from the truth. How did the South and the Frontier become so Republican? Republicans built up a voting block over years, encouraging new voters to turn a once reliably democratic area into a Republican stronghold, something that could be changed. The same goes for the coasts, the democratic strongholds. At one time, the Republicans easily held these areas, and even when the party became more conservative, it still easily carried the coasts during the Reagan years. Democrats hold these areas now, but, once again, with party policy change, this could also change.
The reasons why such massive parts of the country can switch from red to blue or blue to red is because of energized voters who get out there, volunteer for their preferred candidates, and, most importantly of all, vote.
The lamentation of the Electoral College is also a sign that you should vote. In 2016, for example, Trump’s sweep of the Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is what catapulted him into the White House. Without these three states, Hillary Clinton would have been the victor. But while Democrats continue to dream about how much they would prefer Clinton in the White House and lambast the electoral system as the institution that kept her away (since Clinton won the popular vote), they ignore the reality that the Electoral College itself is only as successful as it is because people vote.
Trump won Wisconsin, sure, but it was extremely close, and he only won it because many people who passionately supported him decided to vote and many who were lukewarm on Clinton decided not to. The average Wisconsinite Joe or Jane, therefore, played a detrimental role in deciding who would become the most powerful person in the world, and the same went for voters of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa and countless other close states, where more passionate voters on one side decided the whole state.
“But Hillary Clinton won New York by a million and a half votes!” I can hear you saying, either because you read a statistic you Googled or you’re incredibly knowledgeable about election numbers. “How can a Republican convince themselves that their vote really matters here after looking at those numbers? And how can a Democrat convince themselves that their vote is needed when a million and a half other people can do all the work for them?”
Look, these are very partisan times; I get it. Reagan-Bush were victorious in California and New York, and Clinton-Gore won Louisiana and Montana. I’m not sure that these victories would happen if either duo ran today due to a very different political climate.
But if you want to change the political climate, there is an easy, completely free way to do it—vote! It’s not completely impossible to see, in a decade, Beto O’Rourke winning over enough Texans to reject the party of Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz and grant O’Rourke the Lone Star State in an election. Nor is it completely unfeasible for Republicans to get enough Northern Californians passionate under someone like Ben Shapiro for another Bush-Dukakis-style close California election. A sway is possible even in New York—if, say, Donald Trump Jr. put up a fight for governor, it is not difficult whatsoever to imagine passionate Trump 2016 and Trump 2020 voters from upstate and the Island making sure they vote for his namesake, potentially creating a very close election.
These various scenarios prove that your vote does, indeed, have power, and if you don’t believe my possibilities, then look no further than Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for the democratic candidacy for governor, which only ended around a month ago. After a democratic convention roundly handed the nomination to incumbent Andrew Cuomo, Nixon started a petition to allow herself a candidacy. Her petition needed 15,000 votes. Supporters gave her 65,000. Now, the race was called for Cuomo from the start, and by the time the nomination was voted, Cuomo had a bit over 400,000 votes more than Nixon.
But Nixon, an actress and activist who had never stepped foot into the political foray, had still amassed over 500,000 votes. You only need to see that to realize the power of your vote. If all the people who privately supported Nixon actually went out and voted for her over Cuomo, it isn’t hard to imagine her winning.
And this brings us to the 2018 midterms. It seems that everything hangs in the balance—Democrats see this election as their chance to drive a wedge into the bigoted, dangerous agenda of Trump and the Republicans, while Republicans view it as a fight to stop the wild, unhinged Democrats from launching their mob politics onto the country.
Regardless of your support, both parties have their eye on you. But whether you choose an independent candidate, a third-party candidate or even just writing in some other name—which New York allows you to do, and in my opinion is an underappreciated form of protest if you do not like either candidate—it remains as important as it has been since our founding that we are a democratic nation that depends on the people’s right to vote.
It may seem at times that your vote doesn’t matter, but most of the institutions cited as “undemocratic” are often where democracy really makes its biggest impact.
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