Your vote doesn't matter: Why there are better things to do on election day
Editor's note: Election day is almost here, and if you haven't voted early, you have decisions ahead of you -- including whether to vote at all, according to Westword contributor Josiah Hesse. Disagree? Chris Utterback takes the opposite position in "Your vote matters: Why you should head to the polls on election day." Now, here are Hesse's thoughts.
Why does anyone vote? On the face of it, that question seems to have a pretty obvious answer. But ask it of any two strangers walking down the street -- particularly during an election season -- and you're likely to get a galaxy of different answers.
A cynical person might argue that we vote because we've been propagandized in favor of it since birth, incessantly reminded that our Founding Fathers martyred themselves on the battlefields of Lexington and Concord for our right to vote, turning the whole experience into a kind of passion play of democratic guilt.
Any earnest voter who would employ the Founding Fathers argument would most likely compound it with a series of others, hyperventilating as they explain just what is at stake, how voting sends a message, that every vote counts, and that we need to defend our country from the sinister agenda of ___.
This is probably the one thing Democrats and Republicans are most aligned on: whenever the issue is posed to a candidate, regardless of party affiliation, the politician gives the ah-shucks response of "I don't care who you vote for, just so long as you vote."
It's like the Special Olympics or tipping: If you speak against it, you're a monster.
Hence, the issue requires the cold, lifeless hands of an economist to soberly address what might be the most divisive social institution in the U.S. (replacing -- or perhaps disguised as -- the other two historical arms of our dichotomy: race and religion.)
Just before the 2004 election, Slate's Steven E. Landsburg proposed that any single person's vote "will never matter unless the election in your state is within one vote of a dead-even tie." (And even then, it will matter only if your state tips the balance in the electoral college.)
What are the odds of that? "Well," he continued, "let's suppose you live in Florida and that Florida's six million voters are statistically evenly divided -- meaning that each of them has a 50/50 chance of voting for either [the Democrat or the Republican] -- the statistical equivalent of a coin toss. Then the probability you'll break a tie is equal to the probability that exactly three million out of six million tosses will turn up heads. That's about 1 in 3,100 -- roughly the same as the probability you'll be murdered by your mother."
Landsburg goes on to point out that in his home-state of New York during the 2000 presidential election, the value of a single vote in swaying the election was "10 to the 200,708th power," roughly the same chance as "winning the Powerball jackpot 7,400 times in a row."
While these numbers may raise a few eyebrows, it probably comes as no surprise to any voter that they alone do not determine an election. No voter ever walks into that tiny shower-stall and thinks, "Here I go, about to decide the fate of the nation!" So what, then, is on a person's mind when he or she votes? It's a question that economists -- having the myopically statistical minds that they do -- have posed for years. On the contrary, voters and politicians have equally pondered the opposite: They remain baffled that little more than half of the eligible U.S. population actually participates in major elections.
Continue reading for more reasons not to vote.