You may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or possess X-ray vision, but as a citizen you have the power to significantly change your world. And to flex that power all you have to do is vote this November 3.
It’s easy to think that your one vote, among the millions that will be cast in this election, doesn’t matter. But history proves that a handful of votes, or even a single vote, can have a significant impact.
Your vote could determine who leads the government in your community, your state, and at the national level. Your vote allows you to express your priorities, including which measures you support or oppose, and gives you a say about the taxes you pay and how you’d like that tax money to be spent.
That’s a lot of power!
And if you still don’t believe a single vote can do much, consider this:
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson won the presidency due to a single vote in the House of Representatives, following a tie in the Electoral College.
Similarly, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote for president in 1824, but lost due to one vote in the House of Representatives after another tie in the Electoral College.
In 1962 a single vote per precinct, on average, was enough to determine who became governor in Maine, Rhode Island, and North Dakota.
In 1989 in Lansing, Michigan, a school district budget proposal failed because the votes for and against it were tied. As a result, the district had to cut its budget by $2.5 million.
In 1991, just one vote, cast by a citizen, determined the winner of a seat in the Virginia House of Representatives.
In 2010 and in 2016, a state House race in Vermont was won by just one vote. The same thing happened in 2002 in Connecticut, when a House seat was won by a single vote – out of 6,400 votes cast.
In 2000, George W. Bush was elected President of the United States when he won the state of Florida by the slender margin of 537 votes, out of the nearly 6 million that were cast. The difference between winning and losing in that election was more than a single vote, but certainly every vote cast that year counted.
The struggle for voting rights
Though we often do, voting is not something we should take for granted. Throughout our country’s history, people have petitioned, protested, and fought tirelessly for the fundamental right to vote.
The question of who is eligible to vote has had a long and rocky evolution. When the United States was first founded, only white men who owned land and were at least 21 years old were allowed to vote. It wasn’t until 1865 that the last state in the union (North Carolina) removed the property-owning requirement for voting.
Following the Civil War, The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship to all native-born Americans, regardless of race and color, and whether they’d been slaves. But there was a catch: citizenship didn’t necessarily mean voting privileges. That was left up to the individual states.
The 14th Amendment, passed by Congress in 1866 but not ratified until 1868, affirmed citizenship for former slaves along with equal protection of the laws. But it wasn’t until the 15th Amendment passed in 1870 that it became illegal to deny anyone the right to vote based on race, though states in the South continued to disenfranchise African-American men and enforce segregation by enacting the infamous Black Codes and Jim Crow laws.
It took almost another hundred years, as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, for the voting rights of African-Americans to be protected and segregation to come to an end.
Poll taxes – it was once legal to make people pay a fee to vote in a national election! – were abolished in 1964 by the 24th Amendment. And the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally made it unconstitutional for states to impose discriminatory restrictions on voting.
However, well before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s many Americans who weren’t white and male were barred from the voting booths.
Good and bad milestones in voting history
The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed by Congress in 1882, prevented anyone who had Chinese ancestry the opportunity to become a citizen. This act wasn’t repealed until 1943.
A similar act denying people of Asian and Asian Indian ancestry the right to become citizens was passed in 1923, and wasn’t repealed until 1952.
Women fought for decades for the right to vote, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteed they could vote in all state and federal elections.
In 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act granted citizenship to all Native Americans (though Native Americans who fought in World War I were granted citizenship earlier, in 1919.) But citizenship didn’t automatically confer voting rights in some states, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota. It wasn’t until 1962 that Native Americans had the right to vote throughout the country.
And in 1971, while the Vietnam War was still raging, the voting age was lowered to 18. The reasoning behind the change was simple: if 18-year-olds were old enough to be drafted to fight and die in wars like Vietnam, they had to be old enough to cast a vote.
Who could argue with that? Especially since our military men and women have always protected our right to vote. Free and fair elections are the bedrock of a democracy, so in effect every soldier who has fought and died to defend the United States has fought for our right to vote.
When you consider the sacrifices of those who’ve served our country now and in the past have made so we can vote in free and fair elections, voting seems like the least we can do. So, vote on or before November 3 and use your superpower!
Sources for this post include:
Give Us the Vote! by Susan Goldman Rubin, Holiday House, New York, 2020
“Why Every Vote Matters – The Elections Decided by a Single Vote (Or A Little More),” NPR, November 3, 2018
“1924: American Indians Granted U.S. Citizenship,” Native Voices, National Library of Medicine
“The Power of One Vote,” a fact sheet prepared by the government offices of the City of Middleton, Massachusetts
“The Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws,” National Geographic Resource Library, Encyclopedia entry