What’s the difference between a voter and a nonvoter? A voter’s voice counts more.
The midterm elections are less than a month away, and, like every election, the stakes are high. The vast majority of Americans continue to disapprove of Congress, but, statistically speaking, most people wont vote this November. And Virginia is no exception.
There is good news though. Voter Registration in the Commonwealth has never been higher! As of September 30th, 2018, the number of registered Virginians reached 5,624,332. The bad news is that turnout trends cast a shadow on this record achievement. On average, roughly 3 million registered Virginians don’t vote in off-year elections.
Of all the reasons someone doesn’t take part in elections, “My vote doesn’t matter” makes the least sense. Casting a ballot accomplishes a lot more than getting you a free sticker. Voting is an extension of your voice. It provides an opportunity to bring attention to issues and influence the larger political dialogue. Most of all, participating in elections is the best way to hold our leaders accountable.
I know this sounds like a cliche voting public service announcement, but the numbers prove my point. Every vote matters because elections in Virginia are almost always close.
Go back to 2013. Both the Governor and Attorney General candidates won by a razor-thin margin. Meanwhile, more than half of the registered population didn’t show up.
Nonvoters in 2013:
Now go to the last midterms in 2014. Like our upcoming election, this race included U.S. Senate seat in play.
Difference in votes: 17,532
Registered Virginians: 5,281,011
Nonvoters in 2014:
Close elections are not exclusive to statewide races. 2017 proved that local elections are no exception. Nearly a quarter of our current House of Delegate members won their seat by less than 3,000 votes. 8 reached victory by winning roughly 1% of the vote or less, and 2 elections were decided by less than 200 votes. And don’t forget about that election in the 94th district…
Difference in Votes: 0
Registered Virginians: 5,489,530
Nonvoters in 2017:
Yes, you read that correctly. The 94th district election resulted in a TIE. The winner was ultimately chosen by drawing a name out of a bowl... A bowl!!! An inanimate object had more power determining the winner than a nonvoter.
The biggest issue with skipping an election boils down to accountability. Politicians are partly driven by self-preservation. They will make decisions that benefit their re-election efforts once in office. So there is no incentive for leaders to prioritize all issue equally if some issues affect nonvoters. In other words, choosing to not vote enables our leaders to ignore our calls for change. But a high turnout forces our representatives to address the concerns of EVERY group.
So here’s the deal. The “my vote doesn’t matter” argument is not one grounded in reality— especially in Virginia. Democracy works best when people believe in the power of their ballot. Voting is important because if we don’t believe in the power of our voices than neither will our elected leaders. So on November 6th, remember this: your voice always matters, but voting makes it matter more.
Want to make an informed decision on election day? Visit our election center to access resources on absentee voting, candidate information, polling place lookup, and more!
About the Author:
Tim Cywinski is the Director of Engagement at Virginia21. He is responsible for coordinating action among all Virginia21 leaders, managing the organization's program, building relationships with other like-minded organizations and the press, and creating educational content. In addition to serving on the civic engagement committee for the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals, Tim presents trainings on advocacy, strategic communications, and lobbying to various audiences around the Commonwealth. Tim earned a bachelor’s in Political Science from Roanoke College, and he now resides in Richmond, VA. In his free time, Tim enjoys playing kickball, writing, and forcing friends to attend his karaoke “concerts”.
Please email Tim@virginia21.org for speaking requests.