Tom Purcell: However this election turns out, you’ll still have your vote and voice

Published 2:35 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2020

It’s calm as I write this the day before the 2020 general election.

I hope and pray that the outcome, whatever it may be, is accepted calmly – though I worry it may not be.

Americans’ growing divisiveness is concerning, but there’s one element of this election that’s worth celebrating: our right to vote.

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According to USA Today, more than 62% of eligible voters 18 or older, about 150 million Americans, are expected to vote in this election – which would be the highest turnout in any presidential election.

More Americans than ever are engaging in the political process and carrying out their civic duty – exercising a precious, hard-fought right that gives us each the opportunity to express our will about government policies and leaders.

A record 62% of voters casting ballots would be great, but why would 38% still not do so? Why wouldn’t they exercise their right to vote when so many struggled so hard to give them this right?

National Geographic says of those struggles:

“Because the Constitution did not specifically say who could vote, this question was largely left to the states into the 1800s. In most cases, landowning white men were eligible to vote, while white women, black people, and other disadvantaged groups of the time were excluded from voting (known as disenfranchisement).”

It took many years of struggle to extend the right to vote to men who didn’t own property; to women; to African-Americans; and, in 1971, to U.S. citizens at age 18, who’d been old enough to fight in wars but unable to vote on war policies until they turned 21.

Do the 38% of eligible voters who won’t vote this November think their vote doesn’t matter?

It may matter a lot, according to The Borgen Project:

“A New Hampshire Senate race was decided by two votes out of 223,363 in 1974. A Massachusetts gubernatorial election was decided by two votes out of 102,066 in 1839. And the Alaskan congressional race was decided by a single vote out of 10,035 cast in 2008.”

Mental Floss cites 11 elections that have been decided by one vote.

Eligible voters who throw away their vote miss out on a wonderful opportunity to participate in their government and make their voice heard.

The voting process is enriching. Studying the issues and evaluating candidates’ records and plans is rewarding in itself. Debating the issues civilly with others helps all of us learn and better understand the stakes. Participating in peaceful political gatherings and volunteering to assist candidates are opportunities that millions of people around the world will never get to enjoy.

We all have a stake in our country’s future direction, and our ability to freely choose that direction is a precious and glorious gift. By not exercising your right to vote, you are shortchanging yourself.

Yes, I worry about the potentially contentious response to this week’s election outcome.

But if your candidates don’t prevail – if you feel your voice wasn’t clearly heard, or your fellow citizens disagreed with it – there’s still good news.

You still can write letters to the editor and post on social media. You still can participate in political gatherings. You still can volunteer to support candidates.

And you can still exercise your right to vote in the next election cycle.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.