When I’ve talked to high school students about registering to vote, I’ve often used the 2004 Dryden school budget vote to show why every vote counts. That year, the budget vote tied, 718-718. A tie vote on the budget defaults to “no,” so the budget failed and had to be revised and put up for a second vote.
We’ve had village elections that were determined by a handful of votes and town elections where 50 votes made a difference. But this year’s Lansing town board election was an impressive example of the importance of every single vote. It took several days at the Tompkins County Board of Elections, culling through more than 100 absentee ballots and arguing politely over affidavits and stray marks, but the result was that Joe Wetmore defeated incumbent Robert Cree by three votes, turning the Lansing board majority Democratic.
The number of Congressional representatives allotted to each state depends on that state’s population. New York state had 39 representatives until the census of 1980, 34 until 1990, 31 until 2000, and 29 until 2010. We are now down to 27, with all of Tompkins County currently encompassed by the 23rd Congressional District.
Our county has been sliced and diced so often that it is difficult to track and compare our representatives. Back in the mid-1980s, former Tompkins County District Attorney Matt McHugh represented New York’s 28th District, which was not at all the same 28th District later represented by Louise Slaughter. McHugh represented Ithaca, Caroline, Danby and Ulysses, but back then the other towns in Tompkins County were part of Sherwood Boehlert’s or Amo Houghton’s districts.
Then, in 1992, McHugh decided not to run again. Redistricting meant that voters in Ithaca, Caroline, Danby, Dryden and Enfield now chose among Right-to-Life candidate Mary Dixon, Republican/Conservative Bob Moppert, and Democratic/Liberal Maurice Hinchey. Hinchey won and would continue to represent Ithaca and Danby through the 2000 census – which led to a gerrymandered redistricting that moved Caroline, Dryden, Enfield, Groton, Lansing, Newfield and Ulysses into Sherwood Boehlert’s district – until his retirement in 2012.
Maurice Hinchey did not step into Congress from nowhere. He was a longtime state Assembly member. In 1972, he first ran for Assembly in heavily Republican Ulster County, losing to an incumbent. He learned from the experience, ran again in 1974, and won. Had he not spent time working in the Assembly on policies involving Love Canal and the Adirondacks, he would not have developed the expertise in environmental issues that made him so invaluable in Congress years later.
We remember Hinchey so fondly, and he represented Ithaca so long, that it’s surprising to remember that he very nearly missed being re-elected his second time out. He ran against Bob Moppert again in 1994, at a time when Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” secured 54 additional GOP seats in the House of Representatives. That year, Hinchey won by only 1,078 votes out of 180,918 cast, a razor-thin margin. If Joe Wetmore in Lansing had won his race by 18 votes rather than 3, his winning percentage would have been equivalent to the 1994 Hinchey victory.
Had Maurice Hinchey lost in 1994, we might have lost the environmental champion who fought against acid rain, toxic dumping and hydrofracking, the anti-war Navy vet who was one of the first in Congress to come out against the Iraq War. Instead, we were able to keep him working for us until his retirement five years ago. We miss him and send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.
Every vote counts. Put these key election dates on your 2018 calendar now!
School Board/Budget Election: Tuesday, May 15
Federal Primary Election: Tuesday, June 26
State/Local Primary Election: Tuesday, September 11
General Election: Tuesday, November 6
Kathy Zahler is director of communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee.
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