When I was working as a practicing anthropologist years ago, I ran into an older gentleman who’d been a ward heeler in Boston’s old West End- before urban renewal cleared it for parking lots and other municipal fripperies. Nick’s main job had been to get out the vote in his ward. When the West End community was dispersed, members of that community drifted into Boston’s Beacon Hill, East Cambridge, and other nearby neighborhoods. So when I met him, he was a community activist dedicated to ensuring no new urban disasters like the one that had cleared his area happened.
One afternoon over coffee, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure I’d bother voting because it wouldn’t make a difference. He was incensed. He explained that small activist blocks could have dramatic results in elections where only a tiny percentage of the voters cast ballots. At his urging, I voted, albeit not too eagerly.
Years later, I saw tangible proof that his point of view was correct. I was working in a small community with about four thousand registered voters. About forty percent of those cast ballots. Looking at poll results, I noticed that margins as low as 25 votes decided essential issues in the community year after year. This finally convinced me that voting was a crucial civic duty.
Small margins make significant differences.