Go to the polls: History shows us 1 vote does count

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

A recently released report suggests this year's general election campaign does not have the drive to move people to the polls come Tuesday.

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate predicts Tuesday's turnout nationwide will be as low or lower than it was in 1998. That election saw 35.3 percent of the voting age population cast ballots -- the lowest midterm turnout since 1942.

Two things have the potential to move the numbers higher: competitive races and the economy, Curtis Gans, director of the committee, told The Associated Press.

Those two ingredients are at work in Alaska. The race for governor is close, and a major theme of that race is the economy.

Filling the governor's seat and most of the seats in the House and Senate, as well as deciding several important ballot measures and bonding propositions, should be enough to propel people to the polls. Unfortunately, that may not be the case, even in what many consider to be one of the most pivotal elections in the state's history.

Our hope is Alaskans will defy the indicators and break all voting records.

Past state elections provide plenty of evidence on why every vote -- your vote -- matters in the outcome of an election:

In the 1974 general election, Jay Hammond won election over Bill Egan by just 287 votes.

In the 1978 primary election, Hammond won the nomination for governor over Walter Hickel by just 98 votes -- less than one-quarter vote per precinct.

In 1978, Tim Kelly was elected to his Senate seat by one vote.

In 1986, Rick Uehling won election to the Senate by just 17 votes -- out of 14,389 votes cast.

In 1990, 10 votes elected Terry Martin to the state House.

In the 1994 general election, Tony Knowles was elected governor with 536 votes more than Jim Campbell. That was a win with 1.1 votes per precinct.

Following the 1996 general election, there were two recounts in two close House races. The outcome made Ethan Berkowitz the winner over Casey Sullivan by 28 votes and Joe Ryan the winner over Ann Spohnholz by 13 votes.

Voters still not convinced that their vote really matters should consider the following, provided by the Division of Elections:

In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union.

In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.

In 1876, one vote made Rutherford Hayes president of the United States.

In 1939, one vote passed the Selective Service Act.

In 1960, one vote per precinct elected John F. Kennedy president.

In "A Century of Congress" published in 1877, James Garfield wrote: "Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature."

Mr. Garfield's words apply equally as well to all elected positions today. Our government is only as good as our voting habits. Our vote allows us to shape government -- and, in doing so, shape our society.

Alaskans should use their considerable influence Tuesday by voting.

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