Vote, No Matter What

Editorial

New York Times

November 2, 2004

Urging Americans to vote on Election Day should be a motherhood-and-apple-pie editorial topic. But nothing is simple in the post-2000 political world. We all know the difference between a swing state and one that's long been consigned to the column of sure things. If you happen to be living in Ohio or Florida, nobody has to explain why it is important for you to go to the polls today. But citizenship is more complicated in places like New York and California, or Utah and Georgia, where electoral votes were all but conceded by last spring.

Still, every vote counts. Including the ones that already feel counted.

On the presidential level, the popular vote really does matter, despite the Electoral College. Those of us in the deep-dyed blue or red states vote to register our bit of the national will, to help confer a mandate on our chosen candidate or withhold one should the other side triumph. We vote because the very act of turning out shows that we believe that this election is critically important, and we don't want to give even the slightest impression that it doesn't matter to us who wins.

We vote because the rest of the world has become disillusioned enough about the American political process. If people can ride donkeys over mountains in Afghanistan to choose among the decidedly imperfect candidates they were offered last month in their first democratic election, we can stand in line and force election officials to make sure our vote is recorded. And if people can find the location of their voting place in Kandahar, we can call up the board of elections or go on the Web to make sure we're heading for the right site here.

And once we find the right polling place, we're going to vote to make sure that our election officials are doing their job properly and to reassure the shocking numbers of our fellow Americans, especially first-time voters or minorities, who believe they will be prevented from casting a ballot or that it will not be counted. Here in New York, for instance, we have seen plenty of evidence that it is only the wide margins in most races that have been saving the state's creaky voting system from a meltdown that would make Florida look like Athens in the age of Pericles. If we start complaining now, perhaps we can fix things before it's too late.

We're going to vote because in many places there are other matters - ballot propositions, state legislative races, Congressional contests - that deserve our attention.

And even if all of those contests seem like foregone conclusions as well, we can vote to send a message. An incumbent state legislator who is used to getting 70 percent of the vote every year will feel a thrill of terror if this season's opponent comes within 10 percent, and may well be inspired to try to improve the political status quo that's causing dissatisfaction.

Most of all, we're going to vote because this is our country, our election, our national future. It's not possible to make up enough rules or roadblocks to discourage us.