If you ever wondered if your vote counted, wonder no more. Just look at what has happened in our state and our nation the past two years. Beginning with the Florida presidential vote, and moving right on through to the current recounts we are seeing in Allen County and elsewhere in the State, it is clear that we are in an era of close elections where every vote counts.
The Indiana House of Representatives has been under the control of the Democratic party for several years now, but in each election since 1996, that control has been decided by excruciatingly close decisions in several key races. After the 2000 elections, the Democrats held a 53-47 majority over the Republicans. However, the numbers could have been reversed if only 60 or so voters had voted differently. Three separate races were decided by a total of 120 votes!
This year has been no different. At the moment, the House appears to be in the control of the Democrats once again, by a 51-49 vote margin. However, several recounts around the state could change things. The Moses-Kelty race has received a great deal of publicity in Allen County, with its 66 vote differential. A recount is currently underway, and should the recount reveal that Kelty had actually won, it would create a 50-50 tie. Under these circumstances, the law says that the party who controls the Secretary of State's office gets to run the House. That would be the Republicans, based upon the win by new Secretary of State Todd Rokita.
There is another House race in the Indianapolis area that is even closer, by a margin of only 36 votes. The original count gave the race to the Republican by a margin of 22 votes, but an unofficial recount conducted the next day showed the Democrat had actually won by 36 votes. That race is now having a more official recount conducted as we speak.
And control of the United States Senate came down to mere thousands of votes! Amazing, considering the millions of votes cast.
Throughout the country, races like these have cropped up everywhere. Yet invariably, the turnout has been less than 50%, and sometimes much worse. That means that 50% of the people actually registered to vote just didn't bother, throwing the outcome to a far smaller number of voters. Sure, I know all the excuses, such as "my vote doesn't count" "they're all the same"; "I'm exercising my rights as a free American by choosing not to vote"; blah blah blah. The fact is that most of us have an opinion about the way things ought to be in our government, but very few of us feel the need to make sure the type of people who run things share our viewpoints.
That's too bad, because the decisions your local, state and national leaders make will impact your life far more than you can imagine. Taxes; crimes; zoning laws that control your private property rights; laws and decisions that affect future job opportunities for our children; etc. All of these types of laws, and many others, are decided every day by your representative in the City Council, State Legislature, or in Congress. Given the closeness of political races in recent years, you can expect to have an impact upon the type of person who makes those decisions.
Yes, we in government can do a better job of helping people to vote. For one, we should keep the polls open longer, from 6AM to 8PM, rather than closing right at 6PM. Its tough for working families to work a full day at the office, take care of the kid's needs, and still get to the polls by 6PM. It just seems reasonable in this modern world to do whatever we can to accommodate our increasingly busy, hectic schedules.
I'm also intrigued by the states that have experimented with voting over the Internet. Oregon has had at least two elections using this method, and the participation levels seem to have increased sharply. Not only can you vote from your home, but you can also get a great deal of information about each candidate through various official voter internet sites. You get the best of both worlds: greater voter education about the candidates, and higher participation. This process still needs to work out a few bugs, but it seems promising.
Government needs to do its part to provide our citizens with the simplest, most informative method of voting. But our citizens also need to do their part by taking part in the process. Voter apathy is a serious illness that needs to be cured, and soon.