Commentary: In My Mind, Not Voting Is Never An Option

Oct 5, 2020

Dr. Robert Smith

The following is a commentary from Dr. Robert Smith, Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois Springfield.  

Well, it is clear that in my role as Dean of a College of Public Affairs, I am bound to the promotion of civic engagement, participation in democratic institutions, and encouraging citizens to vote and participate in our system of government. So, please bear with me for a moment while I do that.

But, before I offer a thought or two on the imperative of voting, I’d like to offer a personal anecdote about why getting out to vote by mail, absentee, or in person on November 3 really makes a difference. Back in the 1990’s as an idealist who wanted to make a difference in the world, I thought my path to change things and make society better was for me to run for local public elected office. I did that actually five times. I lost every time, so don’t turn to me for any political advice! But, I did win a primary contest…so maybe that counts for something!!

In my last election I ran for a seat on a County Legislature, and it was a long and hard race that took a toll on me and my family. But, my family and my supporters believed that I had something to offer and might improve government in our community. The race was close, and it went down to the wire. In fact, the race was soo close I was sitting in the County Board of Elections Office on Election Night while absentee ballots were being counted in my race. On the nightly local news, the newscaster announced their projection…”Smith the projected winner in County Legislature race!” But, as the ballots were being counted under close observation, I came up short. I lost that race by 22 votes!! That was out of more than 10,000 votes cast.

With that news, I returned home where my family and supporters were still thinking I had won. What a difficult moment to share the news that despite our hard efforts we had actually lost. But, that lesson that night in a November long ago was an important lesson that has stayed with me over all these years. In fact, it is a lesson I have shared with countless students in the many classes I have taught over the years. I think it is still an important lesson today in 2020.

I saw firsthand the importance of every single vote in an election. Thinking that your vote doesn’t matter is wrong. Thinking that voting won’t change the outcome is wrong. And thinking that no one in politics or government doesn’t listen is wrong. Think about it, if I convinced a few more voters to get out to vote, that may have been the margin I needed to win that County Legislative seat. And who knows where my career might have gone!?

But, let’s return to November 3, 2020 with that story in the back of your minds. The 2020 Presidential Race is not just another election. It is a pivotal point in deciding where we want our government to head in the future and for the type of politics we expect from our candidates. Whether Biden or Trump or the array of candidates on the ballot -- your vote matters. Never think that speaking up, raising your hand, asking questions, supporting causes, or voting for candidates doesn’t matter. It is all part of a process called democracy. The only way democracy works is to participate.

If you don’t believe that…just ask that guy who lost his race by 22 votes!

Stay healthy, safe and please go vote,

Robert W. Smith, Ph.D.

Dean