fb - voice of agriculture
December 2002

Rural Voices Help Drive Election Results

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

It felt good to vote on November 5.

I don't know about you, but I believe exercising my right to vote is truly what being an American is all about. No matter what the results, the privilege of voting is something I never take for granted. It's how we, as citizens, make sure our voices are heard. And if you ever doubted that we in rural America can make a difference, this election certainly proved otherwise.

Despite it being an "off-year" election, several key Senate races around the nation had us sitting on the edge of our seats. In many of those races, it was rural America that held the power. Farmers and ranchers along with our rural neighbors literally decided the outcome and shaped the national political landscape in the unprecedented fashion we find for the 108th Congress.

Rural Votes Counted

In Missouri, the Talent/Carnahan race was top on the list of races to watch. Talent had said during the campaign that rural Missouri would make the difference in his election, and that's exactly what happened. When the final votes were counted, Talent won by the tight margin of 49.8 percent over Carnahan's 48.6 percent. In rural counties, however, Talent held a lead of 57 percent to Carnahan's 42 percent. With an estimated 51 percent of rural voters turning out versus the 47 percent turnout average for urban counties, it was clearly the rural vote that tipped the scales in Talent's favor.

The same was true in Colorado where an estimated 70 percent of rural voters turned out compared with only a 62 percent urban average. In the Allard/Strickland race, Allard was the candidate of choice in rural counties. The higher turnout increased the power of rural Allard supporters in the election.

Meanwhile, the predominantly rural state of South Dakota had one of the tightest Senate races in the nation. With a mere 528-vote spread between the two candidates (Thune and Johnson), and the total number of precincts in the state being only 844, that's less than one vote per precinct to effect a statewide election result. For all those who say their vote doesn't matter, all they need to do is talk to a South Dakotan.

In addition to key Senate races, ballots across the country featured other decisions that have a direct effect on agriculture. For example, more than 70 percent of Oregon voters made it known they were against an initiative that would have required product labeling on all biotech foods produced or moved through their state. Rural voters are believed to have provided the edge in that defeat. In addition, agriculture-related groups used the measure as an opportunity to educate urban voters on the benefits of biotechnology. Obviously, their effort paid off.

Work Continues

Disaster assistance, national energy policy, forest management policy and grazing rights, taxes and trade are all issues of significant importance to agriculture at this time. Farm Bureau members do an outstanding job of discussing and debating these issues through our policy development process in order to determine our organization's stand. Our work doesn't end there, however.

It is up to us to cast our votes in a way that will help advance our policy positions. It also is up to us to talk with our rural, and urban, neighbors so they understand how their vote affects us, and our nation's agricultural industry.

The results of this past election prove how important it is for farm and ranch families to mobilize and stay involved. It also proves we can make a difference when we do just that.