October 18, 1986

My fellow Americans:

It seems hard to believe that only a week ago at this time, I was in Iceland, engaged in historic talks with Mr. Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union. As I reported to you on Monday, we made great progress at that meeting. Some are now saying that we made more progress in these few days than negotiators between our countries have made in the last few years. And a great deal of the credit for that belongs to you, the American people, because, you see, I took with me to Reykjavik the strength that can only come from a free and democratic people.

Well, in just a few weeks, we Americans are once again going to show the world the one thing that, more than any other, is the source of our strength. We'll go to the polls, and as a free people, we'll vote. This year we'll be casting ballots in many States for Senators, Governors, and other officials; and everywhere we'll be voting for a new House of Representatives. But just as important as how we vote is that we vote. Every vote cast on election day means that we the people have taken a hand in shaping our nation's future. Every time we vote we're grabbing a hold of a lifeline that's 3,000 miles long and more than two centuries old and, with millions of others, helping to pull America forward into the future. Yes, every time we vote we're standing up, side by side, with the Founding Fathers, with the men of Valley Forge, with patriots and pioneers throughout our history, with all those who dedicated their lives to making this a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people. Every time we vote we help to make America stronger.

I'm sure you've heard friends say, "Oh, my vote won't matter.'' Well, the next time someone says that to you, I hope you'll remember that time and again, over the years, elections have turned on a handful of ballots. In 1960 President Kennedy was elected by a margin of just one vote in each precinct around the nation. In 1976 the Presidential election turned on two States: one was won by six votes a precinct; the other by only a single vote a precinct. And in the last 26 years more than 50 U.S. Senate and House races have been won by fewer than a thousand votes. But even when elections aren't that close, your ballot counts, because in voting, you're accepting your part in the greatest decisionmaking body the world has ever known, the American electorate. And as someone who's stayed up late on many election nights waiting to hear how the American people had decided, I can tell you that from where I sit -- whether elections are close or not -- every vote is important.

A little more than 2 years ago, I walked along a beach in France where American and other forces first landed in 1944 to begin their crusade in Europe. Those Americans fought, and many of them died, for the freedom that we cherish today. Every one of them knew, and we must never forget, that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. They knew that freedom is something that we all must join together to preserve, protect, and defend. And our first line of defense is not our weapons or our military, but our right to decide who governs us. That's a right the soldiers who fought against our men at Normandy didn't have. That's a right that those on the other side of the Iron Curtain today don't have.

I've visited our men and women in uniform all over the world. It's the part of this job I like best. They're some of the best we've ever had. And if you're one of them, let me say to you that helping to protect America includes helping to decide America's future, and that begins with voting. I've also visited with many young people around our country. Nothing could be more inspiring than to hear them talk about the future. And yet I've found that too many of them don't vote. If you're one of our nation's young people, I hope you'll remember that America needs your optimism, your patriotism and idealism, your thirst for opportunity in shaping the decisions of the years to come. Those decisions are going to shape your life, too. And they're too important for you to give up any part of your role in making them. So, please vote.

Nancy and I voted last night. We won't be home on election day, so we got absentee ballots. We filled them out, signed them, and sent them on their way. If, like us, you're going to be away on November 4th, why not arrange for your own absentee ballot? Call your local election officials, or if you're in the military, talk to your commanding officer or voting assistance officer.

Voting is a precious right that for two centuries Americans have fought and died to protect. Let's all honor that sacrifice this election day. Whether you're Republican, Democrat, or Independent, circle November 4th on your calendar and then show that you care about America's future and get out and vote.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.