October 24, 2018
By Jill Penley
In 2016, barely half of all registered voters in Tennessee actually turned out on Election Day. So why don’t Tennesseans feel the need to vote? When asking around, the reasons vary. One might say “I just never took the time to register,” while another will proffer “I’m just too busy to vote.” These common excuses can be quickly debunked as the State of Tennessee has made tremendous strides in not only making it much easier to register to vote, but also participating in an early voting period where voters are invited to drop by the local election office and cast a ballot at their convenience.
Other reasons for not voting are not so easily remedied. Many feel as if their vote will never make a difference and others are so disgusted with the entire political system they want no part of it. There are hundreds of examples where one vote, or a hand full of votes, did make a difference.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of research to learn English is the official language of the U.S. because of one vote in 1776. In 1800, one vote elected Thomas Jefferson instead of Aaron Burr and five states gained statehood by one vote: Texas 1845, California 1850, Oregon 1859, Washington 1887 and Idaho 1890. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was acquitted from impeachment by one vote. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was elected as president by one Electoral College vote that was cast by an Indiana congressman who had won his election by one vote. Women gained the right to vote in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment. Tennessee was the last state needed, and it ratified it by one vote. There are many other examples, but one that really stands out is that Adolph Hitler got leadership of the Nazi Party in 1923 by one vote. So basically, using the “my vote cannot make a difference” excuse is just false.
Finally, the “dirty politics” excuse, while understandable, is basically a concession that everything and everyone in politics is evil so prospective voters choose not to participate. Intellectually, we know lumping people together is dangerous. It causes an “us versus them” attitude that can seep into the everyday fabric of our lives and relationships.
To lessen this, we have to reject all the negative campaigning. While it is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from the constant barrage of radio, television and internet ads, we can choose to carefully investigate what candidates say, their plans, and their background and qualifications. Candidates have strengths and weaknesses—they are neither “all good” nor “all bad,” and just because a claim is made against someone in an advertisement, does not make it entirely true. Do some personal research. Make some phone calls. Send some emails.
But, for goodness sake, VOTE.