The vote that counts

POLITICIANS and political scientists keep saying it's important for every citizen to vote in order to participate in democracy. But did you ever wonder what difference your lone vote really makes? It's the difference between election success and failure, more times than you might suspect.

The 17,000 registered voters in the quiet Massachusetts town of Andover were the latest to learn that lesson, during this week's annual town meeting. One disputed issue was whether to allow a firm to build a parking lot on public land. Proponents pointed out the plan would provide needed parking; opponents insisted that permitting private use of public land would set a bad precedent.

When the vote was announced residents literally stood up to be counted: 257 in favor of the parking lot, 256 against, and a handful not voting.

A brief pause preceded the recount. Two women in the rear, who had abstained the first time, asked a man why he had voted against, and he explained. Similar whispered conversations were going on elsewhere.

Then the recount: Everyone rose to be counted. The outcome was reversed: by 271 to 261, voters had rejected the parking lot. The two women had helped change the result by voting no.

Sometimes elections are lopsided. But the narrow edge in the Andover case is repeated more often than one might think, across the country. Citizens can never tell in advance whether their individual votes might determine the outcome. Today the US House of Representatives is still trying to decide who won last November's cliffhanger election in Indiana's Eighth Congressional District.

Still wonder if your vote matters? ----30{et

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