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One Vote Really Can Make a Difference

January 31, 2001

With the constant media coverage of every aspect of this past election, there is an aspect being overlooked. That is, the outcome of this election was decided by a very small number of voters, both on the national and state levels. The Presidential Election of 2000 showcased the importance of individual voters and how only a few individuals could change the outcome of an election, and therefore affect the direction of the country.

According to election results posted on the ABC News website, unofficially, out of 101,739,818 votes cast, the margin between Vice President Gore and Governor Bush was only 201,178 votes (ABC News, 2000). This is approximately .01977% of the total number of votes cast. The popular vote was decided by a margin less than two hundreths of a percent. If either candidate managed to sway .02% of voters, or turn out more of his/her supporters, a reasonable task, the outcome may have been different.

However, in this country our president is not chosen simply by a popular vote. The president is determined by a system of electors. Whomever wins a majority of the vote in each state receives the electoral votes from that individual state. The next president is the candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes, a total greater than 270. Because of this unique situation within the United States, the importance of one vote can be further seen. If a candidate wins a state by a single vote, he/she then receives all of the electoral votes for that state. We have a "winner take all" system. There is nothing gained for second place, so every individual vote carries added significance.

The importance of individual votes can be best demonstrated during the past Presidential Election in Florida. Florida was the key to the entire election; neither candidate could claim victory without its 25 electoral votes. The margin of victory in Florida was even smaller than it was nationally. According to election results posted on the ABC News website, out of 5,958,147 votes cast, 2,910,457 went for George W. Bush and 2,910,029 went for Al Gore (ABC News, 2000). The difference here is only 428, or about .00718% of all votes cast in the state. Ultimately because both candidates needed Florida's electoral votes, the Presidency of the United States was decided by about 500 individuals in Florida. 500 people is such a small margin considering over 100 million people cast ballots. For the moment disregarding the legal wrangling over recounts, undervotes, and voter discrimination claims, never before has a presidential election been decided by such a small margin. If only 500 people, in a state of well over 15 million, changed their vote or did not vote at all, the outcome of the election would have been different.

Many Americans hold cynical views about voting and participating in the democratic processes of our country. They make statements like "My vote really doesn't count," or "What difference can I make?" It is difficult for people to see the larger picture and imagine how their vote matters. Here are some examples to show how important individual votes can be:

Now, after this most recent election, the "my vote won't make a difference" excuse is no longer valid. If roughly 500 people in Florida had thought their vote did not matter and they could not change the way things are, the outcome of the election could have changed. Convincing 500 people to change their minds is possible; if a candidate convinced an audience at an average high school band concert to change their votes, there may have been a different president. If Al Gore could have convinced 500 more citizens in Florida to vote for him or just not to vote for George W. Bush, he could have become the President of the United States.

In effect, this Presidential race came down to individual votes. After the election was over and recounting of ballots began to take place, each side maneuvered to get as many individual votes included or excluded as possible. Al Gore fought to have a standard used to judge recounted ballots that took into account the intent of the individual voter. George W. Bush fought to include individual overseas ballots, thousands of individual votes that he believed would maintain his margin necessary for victory. Both candidates fought for single votes because the margin between the two was extremely tight. Any potential vote that could be found and added to their own totals was significant. In addition, each candidate tried to limit votes for their opponent by disqualifying individual votes on legal grounds. George W. Bush wanted to impose a strict standard for including recounted ballots to prevent Al Gore from picking up enough votes to change the results. Al Gore fought to have overseas ballots thrown out because they lacked pre-printed voter identification numbers. Traditionally, these overseas ballots had overwhelmingly supported the Republican candidate. Both sides fought hard to gather as many individual votes as possible, knowing that it took only a relatively small number of votes to change the outcome.

Many people have cynical views toward voting and general participation with our government. They feel they really cannot make a difference and do not pay attention to politics. This past election demonstrates that individuals are able to change the course of an election, and play a crucial role in determining the outcome. It also shows the importance that an organization of voters can play. If a group can organize itself and turn out its voters, it can play a pivotal role in an election. If the disabled community turned out and voiced its opinion, via the voting booth, neither candidate could continue to ignore their concerns. Issues affecting the disabled would become higher priority to any new administration. Without those important swing votes, the new President would not be in office. The importance of individual votes cannot be overlooked. This election is an example of the effect that individuals could have if they simply exercised their right to vote.


ABC News. (2000) Presidential Race Real-Time Vote Results. Retrieved December 28, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/2000vote/general/president.html.

For more on the topic of Legislation:

Legislation and the Law

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[Updated January 31, 2001]
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