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Why vote?

by Ann Freeman

Published on October 30, 2004

Why vote? First and foremost, voting is a civil right, hard-won for women, African Americans, and other citizens, and the foundation of our democracy. Secondly, millions of people around the world have no say in who governs them, so don't squander your own power. And thirdly, every single vote really does count. The 2000 presidential election was the closest election in the United States to date. Polls indicate that the upcoming election could be even closer yet.

If you're not convinced that your vote can make a difference, consider these results from the 2000 presidential race:

Nationwide, Al Gore won the popular vote by less than 1 percent and George W. Bush won the electoral vote--and thus the election--by less than 1 percent. Gore needed just four more electoral votes to become president. (See sidebar for an explanation of the electoral vote).

The Electoral College

The President of the United States is elected by the Electoral College, not by popular vote. The framers of the U.S. Constitution created the Electoral College as a compromise between electing the president by popular vote or by members of Congress. Each state's U.S. senators (two) plus the state's U.S. representatives (number determined by population) are part of the Electoral College and cast their state's electoral votes. For more information about the Electoral College, visit the Federal Election Commission or the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Web sites.

Still not convinced?

Consider this scenario: In the now infamous 2000 presidential vote in Florida, Bush won by just 537 votes. A change of only 269 votes from Bush to Gore would have resulted in a victory for Gore in the Florida popular vote and amounted to another 25 electoral votes.

Need more reasons to vote?

The current presidential race between President Bush and Senator John Kerry is heading to November 2 in a dead heat. Anywhere from 10 to 14 states--including Minnesota--are "swing states," meaning that the candidates have equal support within a poll's margin of error. Bush and Kerry have targeted 10 of those states as "battleground" states and are focusing their campaign activities there. Recent analysis suggests that results in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida could determine the election; that the candidate that wins two of those states will have the advantage in capturing the 270 electoral votes to win.

Not sure voting is worth the effort?

The presidential race is not the only important election this fall. Control of both houses of Congress is also at stake. Democrats would need to win 12 seats in the House of Representatives--a bit of a long shot--but that is not the case in the Senate, where just two new seats would give Democrats the majority, and there are half a dozen senate races that are very close and could fall either way.

The Supreme Court is also a factor, as the next president may have the opportunity to appoint two to four Supreme Court justices, shaping the decision-making of the nation's highest court for years to come.

And state and local races for school boards, governors, county commissioners, and state representatives will be held across the country, and many of these races will be squeakers as well.

Minnesota is traditionally a state with one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation, and this election could have the highest turnout ever. More than 81 percent of Minnesotans who are eligible to vote are registered. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, 130,000 more people are registered to vote now than on Election Day in 2002. And, people can register on Election Day. For more information on where and how to vote in Minnesota, go to the Secretary of State Web site.

It's possible that this November 2 will go down in history as having the highest nationwide voter turnout and some of the closest election results ever. So close that we could have a tie in the Electoral College, throwing the election to the House of Representatives to decide. So close that the presidential race may not even be able to be called for days after the polls have closed. So close that if you care about who is the next leader of our country, your vote really could make a difference.

For more information: Three of the nation's largest papers have Web sites with comprehensive election coverage and interactive election maps: New York Times , Washington Post , and Los Angeles Times . For further information on how you can support the University of Minnesota by voting, visit the U's Vote for the U Web site.

Statistical sources: Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections and Polling

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