Noble: Every vote really does count
My friend Danielle ran for Northglenn City Council in 2017. I followed her campaign on social media as she knocked on doors and connected with voters. What I knew of Danielle I learned from a class we took together and she impressed me as just the kind of person I would want as an elected official — smart, informed on the issues, kind, and caring. Hers was a race that taught me that the phrase “every vote counts” is more than just a cliché.
When the votes were counted she and her opponent tied at 642 votes each. A recount did not change the results. A slip of paper fished out of a bowl determined that Danielle’s opponent was the winner. Thus it was chance that decided the outcome of the election, not the voters.
Danielle’s was not the only race decided in a similar manner. That year the Virginia House of Delegates race between Sarah Simmonds and David Yancy, with more than 11,000 votes cast also ended in a tie. It was Yancy’s name that was drawn to break the tie. Simmonds again challenged Yancy in 2019 and this time prevailed thanks to the will of the voters, not the fates.
Admittedly, examples abound of inaccurate claims where one vote swayed the course of history. A visit to Snopes.com debunks many of the most persistent of these claims such as one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England in 1645 or that one vote resulted in America choosing English over German as the national language. However, close tallies do occur, even in presidential races.
While we have never had a tie in a presidential election, we have had presidential races that were amazingly close. In 1960 John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by 120,000 votes out of more than 68 million votes cast. Who could forget the saga of the hanging chads from the 2000 matchup between George W. Bush and Al Gore? Gore would garner approximately 500,000 more votes nationwide than Bush, but lost in the electoral college 271-266.
Which brings us to 2016 and how Donald Trump managed to win the White House while losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Four states that went for Obama in 2012 flipped to red in 2016 — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin. In each of these states the margin was close — less than 2%. In fact, the election of 2016 was effectively decided by about 107,000 votes, less than in 1960 despite the number of votes cast nearly doubling to more than 128,000,000 votes.
Colorado has an engaged citizenry with one of the highest voter turnouts in the country. In 2016 Colorado had the third-highest voter turnout in the nation, with only Wisconsin and Maine edging us out. Mississippi was dead last. What might account for the difference? Generally, states with the highest voter turnout make it easier to vote, while states with the lowest voter turnout make it difficult.
Consider that since 2010, 25 states have made it harder to vote. Restrictions include cutting back on early voting, more onerous voter ID requirements, and fewer polling places. What did these states have in common? Virtually every single one is a red state. Fortunately, we live in a progressive state that does just the opposite. Mail-in ballots in addition to polling places attempt to accommodate everyone’s schedules and preferences.
The first ballots of the 2020 election season will be mailed in just a few weeks. We have the opportunity to vote three times this year — on March 3 in the presidential primary, on June 30 in the primary for state assembly and federal congressional candidates, and in the general election on Nov 3.
Elections have consequences that impact everyone — whether it is environmental legislation, infrastructure investment or judicial appointments. The right to vote has evolved since the founding of our nation. While it did not make it into the Bill of Rights, it was subsequently mentioned five times in other amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Eighteenth-century statesman Edmund Burke observed, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” It may only be one vote, but your vote counts, now more than ever.
Claire Noble can be found online at clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.