Tied Virginia election proves every vote actually does count

Tied Virginia election proves every vote actually does count
© Greg Nash

Don’t ever say to me on Election Day, “Oh, I’m not voting.” 

Those who express such an indefensible sentiment often then try to justify it by saying, “My vote doesn’t count.”

Every vote counts.

Just ask two people today, Shelly Simonds and David Yancey. Both were candidates for delegate to the Virginia state legislature from the 94th House District. Neither has been declared the winner. 

The election took place in November. The reason that there is no declared winner or loser is that they both got the exact same number of votes.

The Democrat, Shelly Simonds, received 11,608 votes. And the Republican incumbent, David Yancey, got 11,608 votes. So the result is a tie.

Think about that for a moment: 33,216 votes were cast, and not one vote separates the two candidates. Now the winner will be chosen by lot. State officials will flip a coin or pick one of the two candidates’ names out of a hat. 

One person who did not vote, who lives in that state House district, could have made the difference.

This election is not an aberration or once-in-a-century occurrence. 

In 1991, in the same state of Virginia, Democrat Jim Scott won his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates by one vote. He beat his Republican opponent, David Sanders, by 6,493 votes to 6,492 votes. That’s 12,985 total votes cast.

Jim Scott was then, forevermore, known as “Landslide Jim.”

You want some other examples? In 1997, in the race for the mayor of Ann Arbor, Mich., Albert Wheeler received 10,660 votes while Louis Belcher received 10,659. One vote separated the winner from the loser.

If you think these elections are small potatoes, how about an election for the U.S. House of Representatives? In 1882, once again in Virginia, this time in the 1st District, the Democrat, George Garrison, lost to the Republican, Robert Mayo. Garrison received 10,504 votes, but that was not enough — Mayo received 10,505. Again, a one-vote difference.

If you think this type of activity does not apply to primaries, I’ve got news for you: In the Republican primary in District 26 in the state of Washington, Ed Mitchell received 5,870 votes; Melvin Entze got 5,869. One vote again.

Allow me to observe that all of us have political “coattails.” By that I mean, everyone has influence and there are people close to us who seek our advice when it comes to picking a candidate.

An endorsement by a family member or a close friend can easily translate into not one but two votes. Everybody can deliver at least one more vote to the polls.

There have been numerous times when elections have been determined not just by one vote but by two. For instance, in 1996, there was an election for the Vermont state Senate. Hull Maynard got 10,978 votes; he won. The loser, Thomas Macaulay, got 10,976 — a  two-vote margin.

The beautiful thing about elections is that there is a winner and there is a loser. Everybody who is a registered voter has the power to determine who is the winner and who is the loser. 

You, as an American citizen, do not have the privilege to gripe about your elected officials if you don’t participate in their election. If you truly don’t like or prefer any of the candidates whose names appear on the ballot, then write in a name. 

Sitting at home or sitting out an election is inexcusable and indefensible. 

If you need a higher calling, please remember this: In the state of Mississippi, in 1964, if you were black you were legally prohibited from even registering to vote. Three very brave and courageous young people — Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman — tried to register black people so they could vote. For this, they paid with their lives. They were murdered, most brutally, by members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The next time you say to yourself, “I’m too busy on Election Day” or “My vote doesn’t count,” I beg you to say those three names — Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman — and then go vote.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.