Long waits at the polls, last November, may have prompted 200,000 people in Florida to give up, rather than casting a vote.
Some of them might have concluded that it didn't really matter. True, the margin separating Gov. Mitt Romney's votes and President Obama's was a scant 74,000 votes, but it would have taken a statistical anomaly of unfathomable proportions to change the overall results of the election. One researcher estimated that, if the disenfranchised voters had been able to cast ballots, it actually would have increased President Obama's lead in Florida.
So fine. Maybe it doesn't matter in the math. Maybe it's true that one vote, one hundred votes, even one hundred thousand votes don't really matter. After all, if statistician Nate Silver can build a mathematical model that accurately predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, then what does it matter if my single, paltry vote is cast?
That, of course, is not withstanding the fact that Floridians are privileged in the fact that their votes could — maybe, sort of, almost — matter, in one of a small number of so-called "swing states" where the outcome of the election isn't a foregone conclusion until soon before Election Day. Mr. Silver didn't officially "call" Florida for President Obama until a few days before the election. By contrast, he could have called our home state of Utah for the Republican nominee even before Mr. Romney was nominated by his party.
But I vote anyway. And I hope you will, too.
Because sometimes, you know, we don't do things because they make mathematical sense. We don't do things because they are statistically significant. We don't do things because the world will spin differently for us having done them.
We do things because we believe.
In goodness. In equality. In democracy.
If you grow up to be a Christian, you'll come to believe that God grants salvation to those who ask for it. Not those who go to church. Not those who partake in communion. Not those who sing hymns or wear their nicest clothes on Sunday.
But you might do those things anyway. Because those things might remind you of the promise of salvation. They might make you appreciate it a little more.
If you grow up to be an American patriot of a certain type, you might raise your hand to your heart whenever our flag is raised. You might recite the Pledge of Allegiance as fervently and sincerely as you did in your kindergarten class this morning. Not because you have to – indeed, you do not have to do these things to be a patriot.
But you might do those things anyway. Because those things might remind you how good it feels to be a citizen of a nation that seeks (even as it struggles and so often fails) to be a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world. And maybe those things help you remember how fortunate we are.
If you grow up to be a sports fan, you might sing your favorite team's anthem, over and over and over again. You might wear its colors on game day. You might sit with arms, legs and fingers crossed, when it is behind on the scoreboard and when the last seconds of the game are floating away with a championship trophy. Not because you believe that any of those things matter.
But because it is just plain fun to be a sports fan. And it is more fun when we convince ourselves that we have a stake in the game and a say in the results.
There is nothing wrong with belief. There is nothing wrong with ritual. What does not harm others does not harm our souls.
So I hope you'll grow up to vote. Not because it matters, in any sort of statistical way. Not because you think your vote is going to change the world.
But because, one day in the fall of 2012, a woman named Desiline Victor arrived at her polling station in Miami-Dade County to find a line of people hundreds deep and hours long.
And she waited. And waited. And waited.
At 102 years old, she could have been forgiven for giving up. She could have concluded that it didn't matter.
But she waited. And waited. And waited.
Not because she believed her vote would make a mathematical difference. But because the Hatian-born farm worker, who became a U.S. citizen just eight years ago, refused to be denied the opportunity to participate in a process that fundamentally reflects who we are and what we believe.
And then, you know what? Something a little funny happened. A statistical anomaly of unfathomable proportions. Out of 122 million people who cast votes in the election, Ms. Victor was asked to attend President Obama's Inaugural Address, last night — to stand in (even if she could not stand up) for every voter in the nation and serve as a symbol for the need for ballot reform in our nation.
Her vote mattered. Make yours matter, too.