So many Americans worry about who wins elections and perhaps overlook what’s most important: that we can vote, and that we should vote.
According to History Channel’s website, history.com, the record for the highest turnout came in 1876, when Rutherford Hayes, the Republican candidate, beat Samuel Tilden. That year, 82.6% of eligible voters – at the time, women weren’t yet allowed to vote – participated in the election.
Also according to history.com, presidential elections throughout that era had rather incredible turnout rates of 80% or higher. It started with the 1840 election, with William Harrison’s win, and also included elections won by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison.
Contemporary interest isn’t as high. Prior to Tuesday’s election, the previous three presidential election years – 2016, 2012 and 2008 – saw turnout of approximately 55%.
Unfortunately, voter turnout is much worse for local elections, in which the winner actually could have a great impact on your community, your school system or even your neighborhood. In the June election, only 25% of Grand Forks voters participated, with 14,134 ballots cast out of 55,843 eligible voters. On the ballot in June was a three-way challenge for mayor, among other local races.
Since this piece was written prior to final votes coming in from Tuesday’s election, it’s not known what percent of voters actually participated as incumbent President Donald Trump faced former Vice President Joe Biden. Also on the ballot Tuesday were important statewide and local elections, from the race for the North Dakota governor’s office down to local legislative districts.
Judging from the political passion seen in the days leading up to Tuesday, voter turnout is likely to have moved higher than in recent elections. We hope so, because we believe the ability to vote is more important than who actually wins the election. The process – no matter if voting is done in person on Election Day, in advance or via mail-in ballot – is democracy itself.
Hayes, the winner of the 1876 election, understood the impact and importance of voting.
“To vote is like the payment of a debt, a duty never to be neglected, if its performance is possible,” he said.
Three more quotes about voting:
President Franklin Roosevelt: “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves – and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
President Thomas Jefferson: “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
President Dwight Eisenhower: “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.”
Those who voted Tuesday, or in the days or weeks prior to the election, should congratulate themselves for taking the time to learn about the candidates, understand the issues and continue democracy as we know it. For those who didn’t vote, please consider voting next time.
It truly feels good to know this opportunity exists and to take part in the process.