Commentary: Only one vote

Published on: October 28, 2010


What does my little ole single vote really matter.

Is this you? After all, the kids…school…work…the house…supper…your plate is pretty full, every day.

If you’ve put off early voting and are trying not to think about election day next week on November 2, you might want to consider Henry Shoemaker.

In August of 1842, Henry was working on a farm in rural Indiana. It was hot, the fall harvest was right around the corner, Henry had plenty to do. But, he also recalled it was election day. And Henry, personally, had promised to vote for one particular fellow seeking a seat in the state legislature. Henry saddled a horse and rode into town to mark his ballot.

voteHe did as he had promised Madison Marsh he would do. And, wouldn’t you know it, Marsh was named to the legislature – by just one vote. But that’s not the end of the story.

A few months later, in January, 1843, at the state capital, Marsh was engaged with his fellow legislators in vigorous debate over who should be Indiana’s next U.S. Senator. At that point in America’s political history, the states’ federal representatives were chosen by their legislatures, not by popular vote. And, Indiana’s could not agree. Roll call after roll call after roll call and the assembly remained deadlocked. Finally, on the sixth roll call, Marsh addressed his brother legislators. “Gentlemen,” he said. “I’m changing my vote. My support goes to Edward Hannegan.” With that single statement, Marsh broke the deadlock. And, Edward Hannegan became Indiana’s U.S. Senator. That, though, still is not the end of the story.

By all accounts, Hannegan served his fellow Indianians during his years as their U.S. Senator with high competence. In fact, his would become a historic role. In 1846, a few years after his selection, congress was mired in deeply serious, painfully passionate argument over whether to declare war on Mexico. The disagreement raged, with doves calling for more time, patience, diplomacy, congressional hawks asserting that time was at hand for America to defend her interests, demonstrate her might, put a stop to what was thought of as Mexico’s marauding. Indiana’s Senator Hannegan was not on the floor as the debate was being waged, but ultimately he was sent for as the lack of consensus became ever more deeply entrenched.

When Hannegan reached the chamber, his brother senators demanded his statement as to how he and Indiana stood on the question of a war that could deplete both a nation’s treasury and her chief treasure, her people. It had been Hannegan, after all, who had cast the decisive vote the year before that brought Texas into the union. Now, Hannegan told his colleagues “Gentlemen, Indiana and I stand, with regret, for a declaration of war. We have no choice but to defend our interests.” Hannegan again tipped the scales. Congress shortly resolved to go to war with Mexico. Not yet the end of the story, however.

The ensuing two-year conflict produced several factors, including ceding by Mexico as well as purchase by the United States from Mexico of vast tracts of land to the north. And, out of those millions of acres destined to become eventually the western U.S. soon would be carved, for example, the State of California.

So, what’s the significance of a single vote? In this case, two strong lawmakers and two of the nation’s largest, most influential states. Henry, of course, didn’t know that his determination to keep a simple promise would have such consequences.

In fact, there may be others who think about it much more intensely than we do. Around the world today, our young men and women in uniform are posted to some very dangerous places. They risk every day coming home in body bags, losing arms or legs or eyesight, sustaining traumatic brain injuries that will require around-the-clock care for the remainder of their lives.

Yet, they accept such risks with the conviction they are protecting our precious privileges, among them the opportunity to vote freely, without any fear of reprisal.

When we go to our polling places, we know the most brutal scene we will encounter is some candidate’s enthusiastic supporter grinning at us and waving a sign; a sign, not a high powered rifle, but a piece of cardboard on a stick. We will mark our ballots alone, in secret, without anyone leaning over our shoulders; no one will know of our choices unless we choose to disclose them. We will drop our marked ballots into locked boxes, confident our votes will be fairly tallied, knowing our elections are free of fraud. This is not the description of election day in many parts of the world.

So, if our votes can have such ultimate consequence and so many are so willing to sacrifice so much that we might have the privilege, is it not simple logic that we do our part. Our part is to prepare ourselves to cast an informed, thoughtful vote – and then do it.

Yes, it is important, it does count, it matters.

­— Melody Jameson

The foregoing is adapted from a Timelab 2000 feature on The History Channel and was delivered verbally on October 23 at Hillsborough Community College/Southshore campus when M&M Printing and The Observer News jointly sponsored with the Ruskin Community Development Foundation a non-partisan candidates’ forum for South County voters.