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VOL. 36 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 21, 2012
A simple lesson learned: Every single vote counts
The elections of 2012 are over. Under local law, a certain person was re-elected, unopposed, to a fifth 4-year term.
The 16-year incumbent had occasion recently to reflect on the election of 1996, his first. He’s fond of saying, “I’ll never forget the year Bill Clinton rode my coattails to another term in the White House.”
As a candidate, he’d worked long hours each day for months, politicking. There were four candidates. Each of the other three had gotten at least one significant early endorsement by a recognized entity. He’d gotten the nod from one newspaper columnist on Sunday before Election Day.
As unoriginal as it was, his philosophy was simple:
1. Your friends don’t elect you; your enemies defeat you. Make friends.
2. Determine how many votes you need. Then personally ask for at least that many.
3. Do everything your opponents do each day. Then go home and make 100 phone calls, making friends and asking for votes.
Election Day: The plan was to start on one side of town and work his way to the other. At 25 of 75 voting places, he’d make friends and ask for votes, reminding people that he was working up to the last possible moment.
5:15 p.m.: Rush-hour traffic. He’d been to the first 20 spots on his list. But now he was stuck in traffic. The street ahead was somewhat familiar. He thought it was a shortcut to where he was headed.
With traffic at a crawl, he made out the church’s name on the sign. It was a polling place, though not on his list to visit. At the rate he was driving, it was going to take half an hour to get where he was going. What the heck, he thought, and pulled into the near-empty lot.
It was misting rain. The temperature was falling. He went inside and asked the volunteers how many people had voted. He was told 510 ballots had been cast.
“And how many do you expect?”
“Four years ago, 519 voted.”
“So, if I stand in the lot for two hours, I might chat with nine people?”
“That’s probably about right.”
“Thanks for your service.”
He got into his car, and then saw another car pulling in. Killing the engine, he got out, gave a man and woman his brochure and asked for their votes.
“You’re all alone in this cold, dark parking lot on election day? We’re going to vote for you.”
The candidate got back into his car and decided he would wait at least five minutes before leaving. At the four-minute mark, another car arrived.
He stayed in the lot until the polls closed. He went inside and learned that 609 ballots had been cast. He’d asked for 99 votes, one-on-one with voters, in that lonely church lot.
At midnight the election commission called. All but the absentee ballots had been counted. Over 50,000 votes had been cast. And he was winning by 81 votes.
Twelve hours later, the absentee vote would increase his margin to more than 200. But that 81-vote cushion made slumber a possibility that evening for one very tired candidate.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.