Get out and vote, if you feel like it

Your vote probably won’t make a difference today.

That’s obviously not very politically correct to say, but it’s true. It was first pointed out to me by one of my favorite professors at UMass, Vincent Moscardelli, in fall 2000. (The traitorous Moscardelli now teaches at UConn.)

In one of the three classes I took with him, Moscardelli confounded us once by asking, “Why should you vote?” He pointed out that elections were rarely won or lost by one vote, and that our vote for President in Massachusetts was moot since Al Gore would carry the state easily. What was the point?

He grinned as he shot down every argument we made – which were really just arguments we were parroting from feel-good public service announcements about civic engagement. When our faith in democracy was sufficiently shaken, he broke his point down for us: voting was a collective, not an individual action – like cheering at a ballgame. If you see a game at a stadium of 45,000, and a few people aren’t cheering, no one really notices. But if the entire stadium isn’t cheering, then it is very noticeable.

After that discussion, I never again thought of voting as a “civic obligation.” I cast a ballot in 2000 because it was the first Presidential election in which I was eligible, and also because I was able to vote against Ted Kennedy. Neither race was close, but both votes were personally important to me – just like cheering for the Yankees is important to me when I see them play. Voting is a personal choice.

This is a fact that has seemed to escape organizations like Rock the Vote or the now-defunct Youth Vote Coalition – nominally non-ideological organizations that try to encourage voter engagement. For a citizen to actually go to the polls, they must feel like their vote is important – not just to drive up turnout numbers, but based on a genuine enthusiasm and understanding of their candidate.

Tonight, with Virginia apparently close, I’ll brave the long lines and cast a vote – because it’s important to me.

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