Every Vote Matters: Make Your Vote Count

Every vote matters. Each single ballot. Your vote counts — or doesn’t count — in building a more just America. This is a time and election when every American needs to stand up and be counted. The future of our children and nation and world depends on it.

Sixteen years ago, nearly 6 million voters cast a ballot for president in Florida. And after more than a month of recounts and legal battles that were decided by a divided United States Supreme Court, just 537 votes ultimately determined the winner — a difference of .009% — between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Although Gore won the popular vote, Bush won electoral votes by a margin of 271-266. The 2000 election was the fourth time in history that the popular vote winner did not become president.

Then, like now, many young people thought both parties and the two major candidates were corrupted by the system and that it didn't matter which of them won. So they decided to protest and register their disgust with politics by voting for a third party candidate. Although they may have meant well, I believe they were very foolish. They wasted their votes and the realistic opportunity to steer our nation’s future in a more positive direction.

In 2000, 97,488 of these Florida voters wasted their power by voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader; 16,415 voted for the Libertarian candidate; 622 threw away a vote on the socialist candidate; and 562 thought it wise to split hairs and support the socialist workers candidate. All together 138,063 ballots were used in Florida on a candidate other than the Democrat or Republican who would, of course, lead America - that's 257 times the tiny margin that ultimately decided our future.

Just 537 votes in Florida decided the presidency. These 537 people — voters just like you and me, the equivalent of a small neighborhood around the corner — these 537 votes changed America. As a result:

  • We got huge tax cuts for the rich that exploded income and wealth inequality. Failed economic polices caused the Great Recession — our unemployment rate more than doubled as we lost 8.4 million jobs; $15 trillion in wealth vanished, and a $200 billion surplus under President Bill Clinton’s administration became a $1 trillion deficit under President George W. Bush. Our national debt skyrocketed, student loan debt mushroomed, and, of course, our poor brothers and sisters were hurt the worst.
  • Gun violence claimed more young people as the NRA became more powerful and stopped any reform of our gun laws.

Those 537 votes in Florida also changed the entire world:

  • Climate change was ignored and worsened.
  • We suffered the attacks of 9/11 — but instead of getting Bin Laden, who had planned the attacks, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and unleashed chaos across the Middle East, which costs tens of thousands of lives and continues to threaten our safety and national security today.

Remember that just 537 votes in Florida set this result in motion. This year I hope we do not abandon or throw away our citizen responsibility to vote and to vote thoughtfully.

I believe staying home is un-American and reflects an abandonment of our citizen responsibility to do our homework and make our voices heard for a more just playing field for every child. Each of us needs to make a difference in ensuring every child the healthy, fair and safe starts and successful transition to adulthood they need to be the leaders and educators and scientists and health and early childhood professionals and wage earners to move our nation forward. I believe voting for a third party candidate in this election year is irresponsible as the choices of the two leading candidates could not be starker. Do your homework and choose the best realistic choice you have for President and Congress — someone who will bring us together rather than drive us apart as Americans. And make sure you make your concerns loud and clear after the election. The Children’s Defense Fund is working urgently to prepare a child investment agenda for the next President of the United States, Congress and those in state government. There are no permanent friends in politics. Whining about past differences must be replaced with demands for today to overcome past mistakes and move our nation ahead. Please stay tuned for and support our child investment agenda and work to make it a reality for every child. And please get out to vote.

Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund Action Council