Does your vote matter?
"Funny you should ask," said Cousin Dave. Years ago, Dave's brother served their New Jersey town as a municipal judge, a position appointed by the town council. At the time, the council held a Republican majority by one seat—until Dave voted for the Democrat, who won by one vote. When the majority on the council switched, Dave's brother lost his judgeship. And he still blames Dave.
Julie Rodewald, former San Luis Obispo County clerk recorder for nearly two decades, cites a plethora of local races that have been won or lost by literally a handful of votes.
"In 2012, two votes out of 600 determined the election for the San Miguel Community Services District," Rodewald told me. "In 2014, Shelly Higginbotham won the race for mayor of Pismo Beach by two votes over challenger Kevin Kreowski. And in the 2016 elections, Heidi Harmon won the San Luis Obispo mayoral race by 47 votes over incumbent Jan Marx."
This past June, the conservative majority on our county Board of Supervisors was retained because challenger Jimmy Paulding lost to Lynn Compton by 60 votes out of 18,861 votes cast. This outcome has far-reaching consequences for issues ranging from local affordable housing to climate change measures.
With all these razor-thin elections, you might ask what happens when the vote comes down to a tie. "It becomes a game of chance," Rodewald said.
"In 2017, after multiple recounts, the election for a seat on the Virginia House of Delegates was declared dead even out of 20,000 votes cast. The winner was decided by a blind drawing from a film canister," she said.
So, yeah, your vote matters.
Rodewald now devotes her fervor for voting as a volunteer for the League of Women Voters, the nation's largest grassroots voter registration organization. The League was founded in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Six months later, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle.
Along that 72-year journey, suffragettes were jailed, clubbed, beaten, and tortured. Always remember, too, that although the 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote in 1870, it wasn't until 1965—after a century of marches, lynchings, and murders of civil rights activists—that Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act to prohibit racial discrimination and disenfranchisement in voting.
Sorry about the history lesson, but Americans have died for the right to vote. I'm especially talking to you, 18- to 20-year-olds, whose turnout was less than 50 percent for the 2016 general election, and less than 20 percent for the midterms in 2014. Wow. That means you hold this election in your hands.
I remember my first vote. I was away at college and my Republican father called to extort me to vote for Richard Nixon, saying, "He has a secret plan to end the Vietnam War." (In truth, he had no plan.) At that moment, I took a fundamental step toward maturity. I critically assessed my own values apart from those of my parents. I am proud to say I voted for George McGovern.
Ian Levy, the 19-year-old president of the Cal Poly Democrats, voted for the first time in the June primaries. Since becoming energized by the Trump election, Levy practically carries voter registration forms around in his hip pocket.
"Along with ASI [Associate Students Inc.] and other student groups, our club is constantly registering voters," Levy told me. "It's so important to get my age demographic to vote because doing so establishes a lifelong voting habit.
"I encourage students to vote here, where they live," explained Levy, "because even though we're here a short time before we graduate and move away, our vote affects policy that impacts us now.
"Our vote is our voice. I am so happy when students come up to me and say, 'Ian, I just registered to vote and it was so easy!'"
Unforgivably, however, voter suppression is alive and well. Tactics include cuts to early voting, voter ID laws, changing laws to make voting less convenient, and purging voter rolls.
Rationale given for voter suppression? Voter fraud. At an event last spring, Trump said, "In many places, like California, the same person votes many times—you've probably heard about that."
No, in fact.
"I've never seen anything like that in my career," SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong told me. "Instead, I'm proud that California has pushed to make voting as convenient as possible."
Cousin Dave pointed out that while he has a "stellar" record of voting, he benefits from the time and transportation that makes voting easy. Imagine you're a single mom balancing a couple of jobs. You get no time off to vote or to apply for a voter ID, and you rely on public transportation.
California's automatic DMV voter registration and online registration system are steps forward, but why not make Election Day a national holiday?
"We should wave the flag and celebrate," Rodewald said. "Even more, by voting we both do our duty as citizens, and we honor those who fought and died for this right."
(Note: The Cal Poly College Republicans and the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comments on this subject.) Δ
Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at email@example.com.