The Time I Threw my Vote Away and Other Tales from a Faithful Voter
Published in ChicagoNow, October 7, 2016
Apparently, many Millennials plan to sit out this election. Others are thinking they should vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as a protest vote against what they see as two flawed candidates. I feel your pain, but you must vote. I will take it a step further and risk incurring the wrath of many – a vote for anyone other than Clinton or not voting ends up being a vote for Trump.
This year is the 50th anniversary of my being eligible to vote. When I cast my first vote in a Presidential election, voters had to be 21, so my initial experience with voting for President was truly heartbreaking. 1968. Humphrey versus Nixon.
The war in Vietnam raged and I supported the independent and anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy. Then Bobby Kennedy entered the race, and President Johnson declared, with many cheers from me, that he would not run. Now, I had what I saw as a viable and realistic alternative and switched my allegiance to Kennedy. Until he was assassinated on June 6, 1968.
After the tragic death of Bobby Kennedy, I still hoped McCarthy would be the nominee, but the Democratic establishment chose Hubert Humphrey. There already was also an unacceptable third-party candidate, the racist George Wallace. McCarthy decided not to run as an independent. Thus, with a heavy heart, I cast my first vote for Hubert Humphrey, partly because I loathed Richard Nixon. And I lost.
I voted that first time in sorrow for what I thought was a flawed candidate, but the main point is that I voted. Many folks I knew sat out their first chance to vote, and the result was a huge victory for Nixon. Despite this disappointing first experience voting for President, every four years, I faithfully cast my ballot.
In 1980, I was feeling like many voters today. The economy was in terrible shape and Iran still held our hostages. We were waiting in long lines at the gas station and wearing sweaters at home to conserve energy. My choice was a second term for Jimmy Carter or a vote for Ronald Reagan. But wait. Representative John B. Anderson of Illinois decided to run as an independent. He received 5,720,060 votes. One of them was mine. Of course, he didn’t come close and Reagan won in a landslide, so I guess you could say I threw my vote away that year.
The election of 2000 is probably the best example I can think of to illustrate the power of each vote. I resisted the allure of Ralph Nader, running as the Green Party candidate, but many folks I knew supported him as a protest vote. The results of that election might influence some Millennials to get off the couch and vote. The 2000 election was the fourth election in U.S. history in which the winner of the electoral votes, George Bush, became President and the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, lost. Millennials may not remember the Florida recount in which hanging chads left this country hanging about who our next President would be. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled the recount unconstitutional and Gore conceded.
The statistics for that incredibly close election support the concept that every vote counts. They also confirm my belief that protest votes or staying home are not the best option in what is essentially a binary choice:
Popular Vote: 50,996,582 (Gore) to 50,465,062 (Bush)
Electoral College: 271 (Bush) to 266 (Gore)
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader: 2.7 percent of the vote
I was raised to regard my vote as a responsibility and privilege of citizenship in our country. As a child, I remember begging my parents to give me an “I Like Ike” pin to wear to school so I could be the same as most of my classmates. They explained that they were voting for Stevenson and why, but of course their candidate lost to Eisenhower. Still, I learned that voting did not always result in victory for your candidate, and that the most popular choice may not always be the right one for you.
For 50 years, I have showed up, sometimes reluctantly, to make the best choice I could based on my personal convictions. Sometimes, I felt like I was choosing between two candidates that didn’t thrill me. Other times, I was totally committed to the person who earned my vote. I wept when I cast my ballot for President Obama in 2008. That vote felt very special.
My point is, I have learned over all these years and all these elections that voting is a sacred honor and that every vote matters. So, I plan to participate in early voting when it starts on October 24 in Illinois. And in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I will cast my ballot for the first woman nominated for President, Hillary Clinton.