By Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
The expression we hear often, “Your vote counts” is definitely true when examining historic close elections. Sometimes the results have come down to just a few votes. Consider the following:
In the 1910 New York US House of Representatives race Charles Smith, a Democrat, defeated the incumbent, Representative De Alva Alexander, a Republican, by one vote. The final tally was 20,685 to 20,684. During the 1980 New Hampshire Senate Republican Primary incumbent Frank Wageman was hospitalized. This costed him because he tied with his opponent when he was unable to vote in the election. Two numbered balls were placed in a black bottle, and the first one to roll out was the winner. Wageman’s ball came out first. The challenger Eleanor Podles demanded a recount that did not change the outcome. Podles won a rematch in 1982. In the 1988 Massachusetts Senate Democratic Primary George Buckley and Michael Creedon tied, but Creedon secured the nomination and later the seat.
In the 2010 Massachusetts House of Representatives race after Peter Durant was initially declared the winner by one vote, judge Richard Tucker ruled that one absentee ballot that was initially discarded was to be counted for Geraldo Alicea, creating a tie. Six months later, a special election was held where Durant beat Alicea by 56 votes. These historic elections help us understand the importance of citizen participation in the democratic process.
They help us understand the importance of national, statewide and even local elections. In many cases, as we have noted above, the voting outcome of local elections are close races and determined by a small margin. As such, it behooves the US citizenry to vote! With election season upon us it is of the utmost importance that US citizens in a democracy prepare themselves to effectively engage in the voting process. The best way to do this is by becoming an informed citizen. Part of the process of becoming an informed citizen is to learn the position of the various candidates. People should get familiar with the candidates in their own communities and what they stand for. Even if a candidate is not a part of the political party in which an individual is affiliated, they should still do research and know the stance of each candidate.
Local races are extremely important and arguably just as important as national or statewide races. At one point in US history local elections were much more contested and colorful than national elections. Local contests often include races for school board positions, the office of the mayor, the local sheriff position and for various county offices. It is not just the US President, congress and supreme court that impacts our lives. Yes, the three branches of government are responsible for creating and enforcing laws, amongst many other things. But local elections have a tremendous impact on our day to day lives. It has been said that all elections are local. They determine many things including juvenile justice, school funding, waste management, food programs and services for the less fortunate, park management, job creation, and so much more.
It is important that teachers provide lessons for students to understand their role in a democracy and the importance of being informed citizens. A popular mantra contends “What is the use? Why vote? My one vote will not make a difference.” However, when we engage with students, showing them the importance of local elections, they can see that their vote does matter. Below we have provided some resources for teachers to use in their classroom to help students be more informed about civic engagement, the voting process and in local elections.
Other Voting Resources and Information for Students and Teachers
Voting Matters Activity
2023 Election Teaching Resources for State and Local Elections
Classroom Resources about Voting Rights
What works: Classroom polling ideas to engage students
Voting and Voices Classroom Resources
Voting and Elections | Resources for a Civil Classroom
The Election Collection
Teaching the Election Process: Lesson Plans and Resources
Teaching Resources for the US Elections