Don’t let anyone tell you your vote doesn’t count. My wife and I decided an election just this past Saturday.
Like the character Bud Johnson from the 2008 comedy-drama “Swing Vote,” whose single ballot determined a presidential election, our two votes for a local judicial candidate in Baton Rouge made all the difference. We voted for him, and he won — by two votes.
I know any couple who voted for this candidate could say the same, but the facts are clear: If we had not voted — and we almost didn’t — the election would have been tied.
As a former journalist who worked in politics and government for more than 20 years, and now teaches courses in political communication at Louisiana State University, I encourage my adult children and my students to vote. My advice is always a variation on: Voting is a civic duty in a free society, and it’s the bedrock of democracy — you must always vote.
Something I never tell them, however, is that their ballot is important because a vote could literally decide an election. And to be completely honest, I occasionally entertain the pessimistic notion that voting is a futile exercise.
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And that’s why my wife and I almost skipped the election on Saturday. It was the only race on the ballot. Our preferred candidate had lost in the first round of voting. The runoff was between two candidates who were far less appealing to us. After talking it over, we decided that one candidate had more experience and would make the better judge. But neither of us was enthusiastic about him.
So, we almost skipped the election. I was busy with yard work and other chores all day. My wife spent most of Saturday in New Orleans with friends. Late that afternoon, as we scurried around preparing to leave for a Garth Brooks concert on the Louisiana State University campus, I remembered it was Election Day. And I almost said, “Let’s forget about it. Our guy will probably lose anyway.”
Most people in East Baton Rouge Parish must have thought the same because 90% of eligible voters did not show up on Saturday.
But fortunately for “our guy,” the middle school that hosts our precinct was on the way to campus and the concert. We pulled up, jumped out and voted. It took less than five minutes.
And our last-minute decision decided an election (pending a recount the losing candidate has requested).
I know not everyone has such an effortless voting experience. Our polling place is two blocks from our home. We usually walk there. Unlike some members of targeted minority groups in this country, I’ve never waited in line for hours at our polling place. No one has ever challenged my right to vote.
My name has also never been purged from the voter rolls, and I have never needed to obtain a government identification card to comply with my state’s voter-ID law. I also have no disability that makes it challenging for me to vote in person.
In other words, it was easy to make a last-minute decision to vote.
That is not the case for many Americans. Making it harder for minorities to vote will be the practical result of many so-called election security laws in states where Republican officials echo former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election.
As GOP officials in Georgia can attest, however, Trump’s rants about a “rigged election” might have hurt them. Trump’s message likely suppressed GOP turnout in the 2020 U.S. Senate races and led to victories by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael G. Warnock in a 2021 runoff. What many Republicans heard Trump say was, in effect, “Don’t bother voting. They won’t count your ballot.”
All the vote-fraud messaging by Trump and the GOP over the past 18 months might have persuaded many Republicans, in Georgia and elsewhere, that voting is a futile exercise.
I can’t prove Trump was responsible for the low turnout on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but I suspect the growing cynicism among Republicans about voting has unconsciously affected some Democrats, including me. After all, in this deep-red state, I rarely have the pleasure of voting for the winner. It often feels as though my vote doesn’t count.
Which makes Saturday’s election results even more satisfying. My wife and I not only voted for the winner, but our votes also decided the election. And, for as long as I’m able, I’ll never think again about passing up the chance to decide another election.
Robert Mann, a mass communication professor at Louisiana State University and former press secretary for Democratic senators Russell Long and John Breaux of Louisiana, is the author of “Backrooms and Bayous: My Life in Louisiana Politics.”
Thank you so much for supporting Jon Ossoff’s Senate campaign.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.