FOOL ON THE HILL

Why Your Vote Matters

Tomorrow is Election Day, with many key races and issues on the ballot. Lost in the sea of numbers is the fact that your vote matters. If not for the good of country, cast your vote for the good of being true to one's own self.

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By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
November 4, 2002

You know how Tuesday night will end. Bleary-eyed poll workers will head home. Stiff-necked news anchors will break in with local results as the minutes drag. You will either care or you won't. You either voted or you didn't.

I live in Florida, where just 537 votes dictated the collective electoral voice of the nation two years ago. I think back to tight shareholder votes like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and its narrow victory in approving the acquisition of Compaq, but only after CEO Carly Fiorina went on a last-minute promotional spree to sell the deal to skeptics.

It's true -- even in these two skin-tight races, one ballot wouldn't have made a difference. I can count. But if that one abstention from casting is a direct result of apathy's contagiousness, that one non-vote is part of a much larger silent sum.    

Will you vote tomorrow? In an America Online poll over the weekend, 82% of the first 120,000 respondents indicated they would cast a ballot. Then again, those results are as scientific as a poll on Capitol Hill. After all, those clicking on the AOL Election 2002 area are clearly already interested in such matters. 82%? Right. And I'm the write-in incumbent candidate for the emperor of ice cream.

Four years ago, the first Tuesday in November greeted a pathetic turnout of just 35% of the voting-age population. The last time we were this ballot-box aversive, we were knee-deep in the early stages of World War II, without the wide range of transportation convenience we are blessed with today to get us to the polling station.

One absolute vote may not have influenced the results of any presidential election, directly. While it's been said that a single vote at every precinct could have turned the tide for Dewey and Nixon in 1948 and 1960, respectively, I realize there are many precincts. Again, even though I'm a proud Floridian, I can, in fact, count. Really.

I don't know where you live. I don't know the seats and issues at stake where you live. Maybe you have local lore of an election decades ago where one vote made all the difference. All I know is that if you can sit through an hour of Survivor: Thailand to see who gets booted off the island come Thursday, what's the harm in transforming the ballot process from a spectator sport into one that's more personal and less passive?

As a wee shareholder in a couple of publicly traded companies, I get the annual proxies to vote my mind. It may seem pointless. What's my small lot in a company worth relative to the massive stakes held by institutional investors and company insiders? In the vast majority of cases, the election of board members or the topics to vote are a lock with the board's blessing. Why should I burden the company, financially and fundamentally, with my mailed-in vote?

Because I can. Because I will. Because I do, and it helps me sleep better at night knowing that I've been counted. Whether I'm with the majority or the minority, at least I know I belong somewhere.

A half-dozen of us can get together to order pizza tomorrow night. Five of us want cheese. I want pineapple on top. I know we'll be having a cheese pizza. I'll enjoy it. But I've let everyone know where I stand. Maybe next time, it will sway another vote my way. Before you know it, someday, maybe we'll all be wolfing down slices of pineapple pizza.

One vote. My vote.

According to Paul Harvey's Conservative Chronicle, it was a single vote in Indiana's DeKalb County that decided a seat in the Indiana Legislature in 1844. That legislator was the swing vote in sending Edward Allen Hennegan to the U.S. Senate, who, in turn, proved to be the swing vote in admitting Texas as a state.

So when Texas and its meaty 32 votes in the electoral college come into play -- as it happened in 2002 -- you could trace it all the way back to a solitary vote in DeKalb County.

Vote. I don't care whether your inclinations fall to the left, right, or center of the political spectrum. Just make sure they fall. With a thud for all to hear.

It's funny when I see email stream in, accusing the Fool of being too liberal or too conservative. Fools come in all flavors. Cheese. Pineapple. You name it. Tagging an individual writer with a label may be shortsighted. Tagging an entire collection of diverse writers with a label, based on the opinion of one writer, is the product of no sight at all.

So vote, if simply for the practice of getting to know yourself a little better. Vote because you have more of an opinion than you think you do. Vote because you're happy and want to stay that way. Vote because you're unhappy, and you want to change things in order to make yourself happy so that you can vote for the status quo next time. At the very least, vote to cancel out my vote. 

If you don't think your vote is enough, rally the troops. Become a gadfly. Influence the votes of others -- though, ideally, you're better off influencing others to speak their own minds. Yes, you know how Tuesday night will end. But can you tell me how Wednesday begins?

Rick Aristotle Munarriz relishes the right to vote. He respects your right not to, though he wonders if non-voters understand the implications of their inaction. Rick's stock holdings (which he burdens at every proxy vote) can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.