A successful American government flows from an informed electorate. We are nearing the end of another historic campaign season. Historic not for any one single event, but historic because every vote we cast connects us to our past.
Each time I step into the poll, I am reminded of the fact that in our past every American did not have the right to vote. It is for that reason that I am disappointed when only 22 percent of Indiana’s 4.4 million registered voters cast a ballot during the primary election.
Every election cycle we hear Americans give their excuse for not going to the polls: inconvenience, lack of competition, apathy brought on by negative campaigning, and so on. But when I saw Iraqi citizens lined up for hours to cast ballots and dip their finger in the purple ink, I was troubled by the overall decrease in civic participation here.
So, over the past six months, as I've traveled more than 12,000 miles to all of Indiana’s 92 counties, I decided I would conduct my own unscientific review of these excuses. The No. 1 reason I hear: “Because my vote doesn’t count.” As a former county clerk, I know firsthand the importance of counting each individual vote. As a former state senator, I have seen firsthand as my colleagues' races were decided by votes you could count on one hand.
I began searching through Indiana’s history to find an example of a single vote affecting an election. We found several stories that were good, but one stuck out because it was uniquely Hoosier: The story of a young farmhand from DeKalb County named Henry Shoemaker.
While in the fields on Election Day in 1836, Henry Shoemaker remembered he had to go vote to fulfill a promise he made to Madison Marsh, a candidate for state representative. Just as the polls were closing, Henry cast his ballot for Marsh.
Marsh won by one vote, and after a lengthy recount it was determined that Shoemaker’s ballot was that tiebreaking vote. At that time, the Indiana General Assembly selected our U.S. senators. When the votes were tallied for Indiana’s next U.S. senator, Edward Hannegan won by just one vote – and that vote had been cast by state Rep. Madison Marsh.
Just a few years later, now in Washington, D.C., the Congress debated about military conflict with Mexico. Sen. Hannegan of Indiana cast the deciding vote to engage in that military conflict. In the years that followed, the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California and parts of Colorado were added as U.S. territories. The most dramatic expansion of our borders since the Louisiana Purchase started when one Hoosier farmhand cast his ballot at his local polling place.
This story serves as a reminder to not only Hoosiers, but all Americans that decisions are made by those who participate. The United States has a rich history of citizens standing up to be counted and making their voices heard, and we need to preserve this proud tradition. Our republic depends on Hoosiers like you to take the initiative and play an active role in preserving the freedoms of democracy.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Before Election Day, I encourage everyone to visit IndianaVoters.com to use our Who’s On Your Ballot app, find out where your polling place is located, and to refresh your memory about your photo ID requirements.
If you have questions or concerns leading up to Election Day, you may also call the Hoosier Voter Help Line, (866) IN-1-VOTE, or (866) 461-8683. My office will staff the telephone line between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. CDT on Election Day.
The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Plan your day accordingly and fulfill your civic duty.
Connie Lawson is Indiana's secretary of state. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.