Why This New Yorker's Vote Counts More Than Ever

For the first time since I stepped into a ballot box, I'm going to feel like my vote will make a difference. I haven't always felt this way.
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For the first time since I stepped into a ballot box, I'm going to feel like my vote will make a difference.

I haven't always felt this way. I've voted in two presidential elections, and both times, it seemed that my vote was purely symbolic. In 2004, I cast an absentee ballot as a resident of New York, which John Kerry handily won 58 % to 40 %. In 2008, I voted in Chicago, Obama's hometown and one of the bluest cities in the nation. I was preparing to feel similarly irrelevant this year when I voted in Harlem — a neighborhood whose love palpably swells for Obama in the form of faded 2008 Shepard Fairey posters in store windows and "GOBAMA" bumper stickers.

I was wrong. Regardless of who wins, the final popular vote count will dictate the legitimacy of the man who will become president. For Obama, whose legitimacy has been constantly questioned by birthers and racists despite a near-landslide win in 2008, this is no small factor. George W. Bush won the presidency after a Supreme Court ruling, but the sting over Al Gore's popular vote victory colored Bush's legacy and the next eight years of progressive politics.

Indeed, this dead-heat election has prompted some pundits to point out that the election may culminate in a similar schism between the electoral college results and the popular vote. Even if Obama ekes out a win, as many polls suggest and as star statistician Nate Silver has infamously predicted, it's quite possible that Romney may narrowly claim the popular vote.

Meanwhile, East Coast states are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, so much that experts are predicting as much as a 15 percent reduction in voter turnout. That means that in the heavily Democratic states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Obama could lose 340,000 votes. Not enough to sway the election, but enough to put a dent in the popular vote.

This particular election has put an individualist flair on a system that deliberately tempers this impulse with its electoral college system. It's also somewhat shifted the focus from those elusive undecided voters to the ones who will actually show up, even if their neighborhood has been ravaged by a hurricane, even if they live in a state whose outcome feels predetermined. Tomorrow, every vote really will count — mine included.

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