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As Election Day comes around again, lessons learned by a first-time voter

Matt Tibbitts appeared on "Generation Vote," a special series from NEPM's Connecting Point.
Matt Tibbitts appeared on "Generation Vote," a special series from NEPM's Connecting Point.

The election that scared me was the one that would fill a vacant seat in a district that was a redder shade of purple than one would expect for Massachusetts.

I was on the blue side, working as a volunteer for Jake Oliveira, who was running for State Representative in the 7th Hampden district. I’d worked on campaigns before and wanted to see someone who shared my views on climate justice and economic reforms sent to Beacon Hill.

I spent months trying to find people to vote for him — people like my own family. They'd supported Trump and other GOP candidates, but after the poor handling of the pandemic, knew it was time for a change.

On election night, I was one of the staffers assigned to get vote totals. Yet, before a single vote had been counted there, I got the notification on my phone: "Biden wins Massachusetts." No surprise there.

But as I stood in Belchertown's polling place, the high school gym entering data from other towns that volunteers were texting me, my legs shook. We knew it was going to be close, and after 30 nerve-wracking minutes, the town clerk read the final numbers of the Oliveira-Harrington race. Quickly doing the math myself, I saw it: We'd won, by 134 votes. 

Or so we thought.

Because when we turned the TV on that night, that number wasn’t there. All the other towns matched our tally until Belchertown flashed on with a 400-vote increase for our opponent. Harrington declared victory as our phones began ringing off the hook. We frantically tried to track down what had gone wrong, but there was no movement.

Then at 6 a.m., we got an email saying there'd been a misprint. We had in fact won — by that slim margin of 134 votes.

And here's what I saw in that margin: the votes of friends I'd convinced to come out, the votes of people whose doors I'd knocked on, and the people I chatted with at Dunkin on Election Day morning. And I saw my own vote, too.

Now that I’ve experienced the power our single vote has, I’ll never miss another election, no matter how small. And I'm going to do my best to convince others who may not feel their vote counts, to do the same.

And I hope you will, too. Because together our votes could be the ones that change history.

Commentator Matt Tibbitts is from Ludlow, Massachusetts. Tibbitts attends Harvard College, and now works for state Representative Jake Oliveira.  He was interviewed on NEPM's Connecting Point as part of the "Generation Vote" series in 2020.

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