Back in the 1900s (as my kids like to say), I was nominated but ultimately lost an election by just a couple of votes. I was thrilled that the race was so close — just two students decided the victor. However, I couldn’t help but to think: What if someone who would have voted for me was sick that day and missed the election? Or another vote for me was on a field trip? What if someone threw away their ballot because they didn’t think their vote would matter? The outcome of that election could have been completely different. Potentially I could have won had just three students cast ballots in my direction.

I had never seriously considered that each and every vote made a difference until the outcome directly affected me and rewrote my high school experience.

As another election looms, I can’t help but to think back to my first experience with the power of voting. Although I lost that now insignificant election, the early 1900s held a truly significant milestone allowing for roughly 50 percent more voices to be heard: Women were given the right to vote. Just 100 years ago, I would not have been able to cast a ballot for whom or what I believed.

And what have I done with my power to vote over the decades? I haven’t always used that privilege wisely. I’m ashamed to admit I have voted for the person who had the nicest-looking hair. I’ve also skipped over a candidate who shared the first name of a kid who used to spin me too fast on the tire swing at Eatonville Elementary School. I would imagine the ancestors in my family line who marched and fought for my right to vote would be disappointed to know I used my voice in such a careless way.

I had never seriously considered that each and every vote made a difference until the person with the best hair turned out to be the person with the worst attitude.

Here we are in 2020, and sometimes I catch myself rolling my eyes when another voter pamphlet arrives in the mail. Does my vote really matter anymore? Do elections really come down to just a handful of votes deciding the winner? In America’s past, some victors were decided by drawing names from a hat after voting came up with a repeated tie. In another election for county treasurer, the “race” was decided by a literal footrace, which ultimately ended when the lead man tripped and fell just yards from the finish line. Maybe more voters would turn out if it involved the thrill of pulling a name from a hat or watching two candidates give it their all around the track. I have to say, I would love to witness the latter.

I wonder if those voters seriously considered that each and every vote would make a difference until they watched their tying candidates sprinting down a 200 yard track towards the finish line.

More recently, we have witnessed our share of close elections, where the deciding voters could have fit onto one school bus. Even an election in 2002 came down to just one vote out of over 5,800 voters. Imagine if someone decided to instead use their ballot to start a campfire or shred it for their fourth- grader’s guinea pig cage. Just one person determined who would represent their entire area for years to come. Makes me think the envelope that arrives in the mail might be more important than some of us believe.

I’m starting to believe again that each and every vote can make a difference.

Some of us feel we are being pushed to choose sides, to believe that everything is just right or left and there can be no middle ground. We have felt that our votes don’t really matter, that the things we don’t like in government are unchangeable. We worry that elections are rigged, votes are being miscounted, ballots are lost on purpose.

We can’t let these fears take away our individual power. We do have a chance to make our voices heard by mailing in that ballot. Even if our candidates don’t walk away victorious, we can feel more involved and more invested in the processes that ultimately govern our communities. If you like the way our government is run, vote. If you don’t like the way our government is run, vote.

I lost by two votes.

Maybe your vote could be the deciding factor this year.

Emmy Lay,

President, Eatonville Area Council Board of Directors