There is an ancient proverb that has been quoted in many forms (including by Benjamin Franklin) over the years to illustrate the importance of a single, apparently small, act in determining the outcome of important events. My favorite version of the proverb is: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the leader was lost; for want of a leader, the army was lost; and for want of an army, the kingdom was lost.”
As this column is being written, the nation is heading into the final stages of one of the most interesting, historic elections of our lifetime, and it may well be that for want of a single vote – yours – a presidential, gubernatorial, mayoral or city council election may be lost.
If you don’t believe your vote is that important, then consider these historical tidbits:
- In 1850, California was admitted to the union by a margin of one vote.
- In 1916, if presidential hopeful Charles E. Hughes had received one additional vote in each of California’s precincts, he would have defeated President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election bid.
- On Nov. 8, 1923, members of the recently-formed Germany Beer Hall, by a majority of one vote, chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the NAZI Party leader.
- In the 1960 presidential election, an additional one vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Texas may have altered the course of America’s modern history by denying John F. Kennedy the presidency and placing Richard Nixon in the White House eight years earlier.
- In 1962, the governors of Maine, Rhode Island and North Dakota all were elected by a margin of one vote per precinct.
One of the great frustrations of my years as a political professional, both in Nevada and later on the national stage, was witnessing first-hand how often people take their vote for granted. It is difficult to imagine how the United States could rank 139th out of 172 countries in the percentage of eligible men and women who vote. In fact, most of the 33 countries with lower percentages of voter turnout are in third-world countries.
It is one thing to see the difference in attitude toward voting through turnout numbers such as those above, but it really comes into focus when you witness firsthand how excited and energized over voting men and women can become in places such as Russia and the Czech Republic. I had that opportunity when I visited with voters in those countries not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the opportunity to vote in an open election was one of their most cherished new freedoms. And who can forget the pictures of the Iraqi men and women in 2005 holding up ink-stained fingers to show their pride in braving terrorist threats and attacks to vote in open elections for the first time in their lives?
The people of the former Soviet Union and Iraq were moved to vote because they considered voting a wonderful privilege after living in tyranny for so long, but the people also clearly recognized what was at stake and accepted that they had not just the right but a responsibility to vote.
Clearly, we in the United States view most things, including voting, differently than people who had been without freedom for so long, but we should share their sense of responsibility – not simply because voting is the responsibility of every citizen in some patriotic way, but because elections have a very real impact on each of our lives and the lives of our families, loved ones and communities.
The people who win elections make decisions that touch every part of our lives. If you don’t think so, consider the impact on you personally of the different ways the two presidential candidates and their parties will handle critical issues should they control the Washington agenda. There is no doubt their actions on healthcare, taxes, Social Security, immigration, energy prices, food prices and the financial markets will directly affect you or your family.
These “pocketbook” issues (a clever moniker used by political pundits) will determine to one degree or another how much cash each of us has in our pocket at the end of the work week. And, beyond the pocketbook issues, there are issues that impact the quality of life we live, the way we treat our fellow citizens (both in this country and abroad) and the type of future we will provide for our children. Voting may be even more important at the state and local levels where issues are closer to home. I hope I have made my point: Elections are important to you, and every vote counts.
My purpose in raising this subject is not to advocate for any candidate. The issues we face today are serious, and I appeal to you to treat your vote just as seriously. Accept the responsibility to take a hard look at the issues that concern you personally. And, also think seriously about the impact the people we elect locally, statewide and nationally will have on the gaming industry and, as a consequence, on your job. Watch the presidential debates and the debates and forums involving races for offices in your state and community. Research where the candidates stand on the issues important to you, then encourage others to do the same.
Voting is the biggest small act any of us can perform. As the list of single-vote victories above demonstrates, for want of a single vote, history has been changed time and time again. Your vote could make a major difference to you, your family and your country. Please vote Nov. 4, and make your voice heard.
Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. served six years during the administration of Ronald Reagan as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), making him that Committee’s longest serving chairman in the 20th century. He remains involved in presidential politics as co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is responsible for sponsoring and producing presidential and vice presidential debates. Fahrenkopf and former-Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk have served as the Commission’s co-chairs since they helped create it in 1987.