Rocking The Vote In 2008
The story arc of Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace covers five years and three elections. Set in Minnesota, home to the nation’s highest voter turn-out, the Pierson family understands that voting is not a right but a privilege, and one they exercise regularly. With 2008 a presidential election year, readers of the novel might view Minnesota as an example for the rest of the country to follow.
Nationally between 1960 and 2004, voter participation in presidential election years declined from 63.1% in 1960 to 55.3% in 2004. There were encouraging blips, as percentages rose between 2000 and 2004, from 51.3% to 55.3%. Still, that pales in comparison to Minnesota where a whooping 76.8% of the population voted in 2004, leading the country in voter participation.
The decline in U.S. voter participation didn’t occur overnight and tangible factors contribute. In the age of YouTube where every politician’s foibles can be looped endlessly on the Internet, voter cynicism is high. Other factors in the nation’s political system also come into play, most notably the weakening of traditional party allegiances. Both the Democratic and Republic parties have been losing clout for years.
In the novel, it’s also clear that the Pierson family is active in DFL politics, hosting fundraisers, handing out candidate literature, and answering phones. Because Minnesota has such stellar turnout, it seemed important to include this subplot. Rather than focusing on the family’s political affiliation, I wanted readers to remember why it’s so essential to exercise a right too many of us take for granted, inspire them to get involved, and remind people that every vote does indeed count.
Don’t believe your vote matters? Jesse “The Body” Ventura didn’t become Governor of Minnesota in 1998 because no one went to the polls. Just the opposite, and for some, the realization of how important each vote is came when they voted for the former WWF wrestler not expecting him to ever win.
Some other great examples of a few votes making a big difference:
In 2002, Dan Sparks was elected to the Minnesota State Senate by five votes, and Mike McGinn won election by 35 votes.
In 1999, Leslie Byrne was elected to the Virginia Senate by 37 votes.
John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 over Richard Nixon by a margin of less than one vote per precinct.
One vote per precinct passed women’s right to vote in California in 1911.
The presidential election of 2000 was a true cliffhanger, too close to call the morning after. At the time, I was working as a course developer for an international consulting firm. A few days before the election, I asked a co-worker if he was planning to vote. He said no, that his vote didn’t matter. I mentioned in passing that was too bad, because in other parts of the world people are willing to die for the privilege to cast their vote in a democratic election. The day after as the world waited in anticipation to see who the next President of the United States would be, Chris informed he had decided to vote after all and was glad he did.
The voting sub-plot in Shades of Darkness helps describe the Pierson family’s political activism in a progressive state. But it also serves as an impetus to get readers involved in their community and the world at large by implementing one of the most important privileges we as Americans have.