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How can we reconcile these two contradictory statements:

- It will almost certainly make no difference to the outcome whether I vote or not.

- If everyone thought the above, it would no longer be true.

Both these statements are accurate.  The first one often wins out because it suggests a direct course of action: as long as I don't influence a great number of people to do the same, I, personally, don't need to vote.

So is it really worth voting at all?

This diary is not targeted directly at Kossacks.  I'm sure most of us vote out of a sense of principle and because it doesn't make much sense to convince others to vote if we're not willing to ourselves.  But what about the 50% of the American public that doesn't vote?  Can they simply be dismissed as lazy or unconcerned?  Observe the following typical excuses given:

A. I don't vote because I don't follow politics

B. I don't vote because all politicians are crooks

C. I don't vote because I don't trust any of the candidates

D. I don't vote because I can't be bothered.

E. I don't vote because I can't spare the time on election day.

I'm convinced that answers A, C and D are totally acceptable, whereas B and E are not.  It might be possible to convince someone who answers A or D to vote, but don't get your hopes up.  Overcoming distraction or laziness isn't easy.  As for C, the person has presumably evaluated his options and decided that staying home is the best course.

Someone who answers B is using cynicism as an excuse to be lazy.  That person could use a little pep talk about the importance of democratic participation.  If someone answers E, it would be good to point out to them why voting is important and direct them to resources (absentee ballots, early voting) that make their life easier.

But we have not yet answered the underlying question: should everyone actually vote?  I'm convinced the answer is NO.  Platitudes like "if you don't vote, you have no right to complain" and "people died so you could have the right to vote" will not win many converts and to not address any of the non-voter's arguments.  Here's why it may not always be a good idea to vote:

Flying back from Columbus to Toronto on Nov. 3, 2004, I was seated next to a Sheriff's deputy from California.  He was in his mid 50's and had a bad back.  We naturally started talking politics because Kerry had just conceded (I was doing my best to conceal my rage and despair).  He told me he'd voted for Schwartzenegger during the recall, but that he regretted it now.   The new California state budget limited the number of chiropractic visits he could get without a doctor's referral, and he was being hit hard by out-of-pocket expenses.  It was soon clear that although the guy had been a lifelong Republican, he knew nothing about politics other than "Kerry lied about his war wounds".

This guy should never have voted.  He would have done less harm to himself had he simply stayed home and used excuse A or C.  A vote cast in ignorance is worse than no vote at all, because it dilutes the effect of every other vote.

So how should the common citizen approach the voter's paradox?  Well, for starters, it is much more productive to get civically involved on the local level, as we see below.  The following chart assumes a perfectly even two-candidate race where the winner takes all.  Every voter has a 50% chance of voting for either candidate.  The Y axis scale shows the probability that a given vote will be the deciding one (i.e. the other votes break exactly even).

As we  can see, one vote is obviously much more influential in small voting populations.  When the voting population gets above 10,000 (e.g. a house primary) the probability of one vote changing the outcome becomes negligible.

So, what to conclude from all this?  I'm convinced that the way to improve one's influence on the voting process is to combine votes with fellow citizens and form a voting bloc.  If you can get 9 fellow citizens to agree on a position and vote as a group, the graph slides leftward by one decade and your influence increases tenfold.  Ten people could conceivably swing a 10,000 vote race, where 1 person could not.

This is already done among our representatives.  Caucuses within the US congress vote together all the time when they want to exert more influence or when not every member is well-versed on the intricacies of a bill.

So get out there and convince!  Caucus!  Organize!  Assign specialists to specific issues!  Scattershot individual voting is ineffective.  Pooling our voices and voting as a whole makes more and more sense as the size of the population increases.

Originally posted to Cream Puff on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 07:42 AM PDT.


Should everyone vote?

54%75 votes
45%63 votes

| 138 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Kibble dish (12+ / 0-)

    Does anyone else keep moving in and out of TU status?

    Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

    by Cream Puff on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 07:39:24 AM PDT

  •  One reason to vote: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nightowl724, BB10, Tailspinterry

    The larger the number of voters, the harder it is to steal an election -- even if a lot of the votes are just static.

    <div style="color: gray; font-size: 80%">(-7.88, -8.97)</div>

    by Abou Ben Adhem on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 07:50:11 AM PDT

  •  Everyone Should Vote (3+ / 0-)

    and stay informed. Therein the latter part lays the problem.

    Gore Vidal:

    Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.

    DKos Dosage Guidelines: Apply liberally as often as required. Warning: May cause severe nausea for Koolaid abusers.

    by Ex Con on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 07:53:00 AM PDT

  •  Not knowing and not caring (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joseph Hale

    As you identify, a lot of people (perhaps half, maybe even more) pay so little attention that their vote is as likely as not to be against their own interests.  

    The real question, I think, is how you wake up those slumbering 50 percent.  It's easy to just say that it's fine for them not to vote because they don't know enough to do it right anyway.  But they live in this country too; they pay taxes, they use the roads, their kids use the schools.  How could we convince them that politics and policy matter?

    I have a friend like this.  She and her husband didn't vote for several years, and just recently got registered again.  Even now some critical changes are going on in our community that will affect us and I still can't get her to come to a meeting, even to listen to hear what's going on.  I'm not sure what to do.

    •  I don't know that there's much you can do (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, Cream Puff, BB10

      Until something hits close to home, most people are oblivious to the big picture.  It's easier that way.

      Staying informed is hard work, and lots of people just don't bother.  Pity that.

      -8.38, -7.54 " remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all." - Elie Wiesel

      by deha on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 09:16:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Indeed. (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nightowl724, naltikriti, deha, BB10, isla01

        In fact, if I had the Democratic ear, I would start making tons of commercials that bring home the true nature of our nation today:  high gas prices, decreased wages, and the fact that if they keep voting for the current jerks in charge, it's going to get worse.  And I get the feeling it's going to take a bunch of people that voted Bush going homeless before their synapses start to fire.  Sadly, I think if that happens, they'll still be loyal as they're dying of disease in a ditch somewhere, belching out their party line while telling their kids to 'get an education' but not knowing even how to help in that.

        The saddest thing about this voter paradox is that the people who should be voting are the ones who are going to be hit the hardest and the soonest.  And they're too fucking dumb to even understand that.

        The 'crooks' comment is nonsense as well.  If we got people who are cynical voting for a third party, maybe then we would get change.  But as it stands, it seems that most of America likes to bitch about their government but not take any blame for it.  How utterly cowardly and stupid.

        •  Crooks comment is not nonsense, Unfortunately (0+ / 0-)

          I live in Suburban Cook County Illinois. There is ample evidence of corruption in both Partys. The last four Governors (Dems and Reps) were convicted and the latest Governor is under investigation. Don't even begin to ask about Chicago corruption or the massive corruption in the former (Republican controlled) Tollway commission.

          So, do I not vote? No, I just try to figure out which crook is going to do something for me while lining his pockets. That's why I'm voting for Governor Blagojevich, whom most of this blog hates. He helped me with his All Kid's program; he gets his reward.

  •  Politics is difficult (0+ / 0-)

    The issues are complicated, and the truthful swim in a sea of lies. Good lord, I try to pay attention, and even then my vote counts for no more than that pitiful fuck in the other thread. You know, the guy who took the Onion article seriously?

    Now there's a reason to vote! Nullify the idiot who wrote that gawdawful post! Add an epsilon to the intelligence of the gene pool, and future generations will thank your fossilized remains.

  •  You should only vote if you agree with me (n/t) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Your solution (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cream Puff

    which is to form voting blocs, seems to me more like a symptom of the real underlying problem.

    Which is, in our representative form of government we have too many overlapping jurisdictions and the ratio of voters to representatives has gotten out of whack, to the extent that people no longer know or feel any connection with the people they can vote for.

    In a voting bloc or caucus you will presumably know or at least know of most of the members of the caucus, or have some meaningful connection with them.

    This meaningful connection is what is needed to bring people back to representative democracy.  

    Reduction in the many layers of goverment to remove unnecessary and inefficient overlap and revision of voters per office to a more humanly sustainable level would be the best way to achieve this, but that's not a very realistic goal.

    So remember to bring this up in your caucus!

  •  F: I Don't Vote Because I Don't Trust the System, (4+ / 0-)

    and I don't want my active participation in the system as expressed by my vote to be recorded by state and society.  

    While this has not yet been a reason I have ever used to refrain from voting, it is a perfectly defensible -- even laudible -- reason not to vote.  If you were in Stalin's USSR, Mubarek's Egypt, or some other situation where your vote was not counted -- and you knew it was not counted, then you are in a sense obligated to register your displeasure with the system by refraining from voting.  Such systems need to demonstrate popular support the only way they can -- by mobilizing the population, as expressed through (meaningless) votes.  If they do not, it is seen as a sign of a weakening state system.  While the election results in such countries are meaningless, the turnout results are most certainly not.

    For the US, if paperless machines ever lead to a situation of complete (not partial) distrust in the US system of electoral democracy, then the only way you'll be able to register your opposition is by refraining from voting.  If it ever comes to that, then NOT voting will be the only correct course of action.

    As an Iraqi-American academic born and raised in New Orleans, this voter is not pleased.

    by naltikriti on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 11:13:31 PM PDT

    •  if it comes to that (0+ / 0-)

      why would you trust the turnout numbers?

      •  Good point, although (0+ / 0-)

        it's harder to fake crowds of people in voting booth lines (like Ohio '04) than it is to fake the results of those standing in line for hours.  If noone trusted the results, and noone turned up to vote, it would be quite the statement.  

        Full disclosure: I've monitored elections in Bosnia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and Belarus, and I noticed the importance of turnout as well as the importance of results -- particularly in Belarus this past March.

        As an Iraqi-American academic born and raised in New Orleans, this voter is not pleased.

        by naltikriti on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 11:22:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Paperless are coming (0+ / 0-)

      Digital voting is coming, whether you like it or not. It isn't ready, mostly because the companies involved in that business are inept with security issues, but it will. I hope it will never become a Pirrot-style, couch-potatoe, using-remote voting system. That'd be terrible. Voting is a public act and should always be "public." But, digital will be here, and it really can be more secure and more quality-assured than traditional systems.

      •  Nope. (0+ / 0-)

        digital will be here, and it really can be more secure and more quality-assured than traditional systems

        That's one point I'll never agree with, and I've monitored or supervised 5-6 international elections.  

        As an Iraqi-American academic born and raised in New Orleans, this voter is not pleased.

        by naltikriti on Thu Jul 13, 2006 at 09:48:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  G: Don't Vote Becaue the Choices Are Unacceptable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    While I have not yet been forced into this choice either, there have been cases where I came awfully close to deciding not to vote for this reason.  

    A vote is a positive endorsement of the candidate, platform, or policy requirement for which you cast the vote.  If there is a situation where you cannot endorse either candidate or option, not voting is an acceptable outcome.

    As an Iraqi-American academic born and raised in New Orleans, this voter is not pleased.

    by naltikriti on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 11:17:07 PM PDT

    •  'none of the above' (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      This is why "None of the above" should be a choice for all offices at all levels of government in all elections.
      How "none of the above" votes should be allowed to affect the outcome of an election is debatable (counted like abstentions with no effect on who wins or force a runoff if nobody gets a sufficient percentage of total ballots cast), but it should be on the ballot.

      ...and then I voted.

      by DonutDon on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 02:17:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  'I don't vote because it doesn't matter who wins' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nightowl724, Joseph Hale

    That's the reason I hear most often. It usually boils down to the feeling that the whole political system has been coopted, or that voters' choices are limited and inconsequential.

    Blocs aren't the answer to that problem or that perception. Participation is--at all levels, not just voting. If you think about it, voting is only a small part of our system. Constituency and representation are perhaps more important, and, one might argue, are the activities that give votes meaning (as tool or coin) for both constituent and representative.

    So maybe the answer is to start with explaining and  encouraging that part of the system--participation and accountability--and maybe voting will take care of itself.

    I know, easier said...

    •  Cop Out (0+ / 0-)

      I don't vote because it doesn't matter who wins.

      After six years of the Bush junior administration can anyone really believe this?  Clearly our electoral system has flaws - huge ones - but that does not make it all bad.  

      "The worst system, except for all the others"

      Winston Churchill

      Of course this begs the question of whether we still have a democracy.  Republicans nit-pick to say that this is a republic, not a democracy (two words that today mean virtually the same thing).  

      For either a democracy (or a republic) to work, elections have to be fair and the electorate informed.  It seems to me that re-establishing these two prerequisites is our biggest challange today.

  •  Australia (4+ / 0-)

    One time when travelling back to California through SFO I led some Aussie's to the baggage claim.  Since it was a long walk I got to chat with them for a bit.  Naturally I apologized to them about Bush being elected.  On the topic of politics they told me in Australia it was mandatory for all citizens to vote.  After a few more questions they let it be known that this was a good thing.  When I asked why the reply made perfect sense: it made it harder for somebody with extreme views to get elected.

    So in your example about the guy voting for Ahnald it may be true he shouldn't have voted being misinformed as he was.  However, if all the people like him voted it is possible Ahnald wouldn't have won as he was one of the more extreme candidates.  In other words his misinformed vote would have been diluted.  It's hard to say for sure given all the deception that abounded in that election but it's worth considering.

  •  Vote for who? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anthony Segredo, nightowl724

    Let's put "none of the above" on the ballet and see what happens to voter turnout. I predict lines around the block.

    The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell

    by tombeard on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 05:08:55 AM PDT

    •  The lesser of the two (or more) evils. (0+ / 0-)

      I really like the Bertrand Russel quote.  I would add the observation that there is a nearly universal tendency to believe those who seem confident - hence the popularity of assertiveness training.

      Unfortunately, putting none of the above in office tends to lead to no government at all, and it seems that this is just what the radical conservatives want.  In fact, the Republican election strategy has for many years consisted in large part of discouraging voters (particularly non-Republicans) from going to the polls.  They have been wildly successful achieving their goal, but it does not help for progressives to cheer them along.

      If you want Republicans to retain power, just don't vote.

  •  The informed voter (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Can any of us seriously say that when we go to the ballot box we are fully informed vis a vis constitutional amendments and lower level candidates? At what level of being "informed" makes one a qualified voter. Historically, this argument has been used to disenfranchise minorities. I think the Aussies have it right: making participatory democracy real and mandatory gives people a real sense of citizenship and a "buy" into the relevancy of their vote. Thanks for the diary.

    •  You're welcome (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      never forget 2000

      I'm surprised and humbled by all the thoughtful comments.

      I take your point about low-level candidates, I sure as hell can't name any members of my local school board.  I believe this shows the importance of the media in educating voters; they understably go for the higher-level stuff in order to reach wider audiences.

      I'm convinced that voting should be kept optional.  If the fundies are motivated enough to turn out in droves and vote for moronic candidates, that's their right, and who are we to say they're not qualified.

      As Dean has realized, Democrats need to get a lot better at organizing and strategizing at the local level.  It will be a long, hard slog.

      Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

      by Cream Puff on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 12:20:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think it's because they have no confidence (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anthony Segredo

    their votes are even going to be counted properly. A lack of confidence in the sanctity of the electoral system is the most debilitating issue preventing voter engagement with the political process that I see today.

    No matter what you think of the candidates, if you think the election is going to be decided by fraud why vote?

    Look at Mexico. They have, (amazingly enough) much better (read, stricter) voting regulations than we do. People have to register in person, photo ID must be provided, groups officials watch and monitor every step of the way, there are no electronic machines without paper trails, I think there is a nationalized ballot and voting procedure, maybe even a voter database.

    All these are things we could and should implement. Confidence that our votes are being counted correctly will soar. I know some people say that we can't institute voting reform because it will intimidate people into not voting: I don't believe that for a minute. The only people who will be intimidated into not voting are the crooks! And hopefully we'll intimidate republicans into not tampering with election results.

    The voter parcticipation rate increased in mexico as a result of all the voting reforms. Remember, they instituted a photo ID (free, available from the state, and can be used for more things than just voting!), and a higher proportion of the people got out there and voted.

    "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." -- JFK

    by Tryptophan on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 06:57:35 AM PDT

    •  I disagree. (0+ / 0-)

      Most voters haven't even heard of Diebold.  While we know systematic vote-tampering is real, I can't see it as a real justification to stay home.  If a person is motivated enough to vote, suspicions of fraud would be more likely to cause them to demand accountability than abandon the voting process altogether.

      Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

      by Cream Puff on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 12:26:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Clarifications (and math!) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anthony Segredo, Cream Puff

    first of all - nice diary!

    second, the "voting paradox" is actually a different observation. it was concocted about 200 years ago by some french dude to explain a situation where people who voted their preferences got suboptimal results (check the wikipedia -

    you are actually referring to the "rational choice" theory of voting, which, as you point out - raises the question of why so many people vote, when it is "clearly" irrational to do so. The equation is:

    U = pB - c

    (actually, it is delta U, but i don't know how to add that symbol)

    Where p = probability of your vote being decisive, B = the benefit you receive of your candidate winning and c = the cost of voting (time, effort, etc).

    sorry to be so nitpicky, but i went to grad school for this crap. :)

    •  Thanks! (0+ / 0-)

      I only dabble in probability theory, and it's great to have better-versed people suggest improvements.  This is why I love blogs.

      Now that I know there's an audience for the more wonkish aspects of this problem, I may write a sequal.

      Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

      by Cream Puff on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 12:29:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Did Zeno Vote? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joseph Hale

    Somehow this paradox, that no individual's vote matters, reminds me of a paradox that every calculus student hears about.  The Zeno paradox observes that it is impossible to ever get from point A to point B because there are an infinite number of stages in between.  Specifically, at some time you would be half way there, later 3/4 of the way, then 7/8 of the way and so on.  

    As they say here in Maine, You can't get thea from hea.  Somehow this never kept me from going to work and the voter paradox will never stop me from going to vote.

    One way we all have of influencing elections is what we say to others.  Even if your own vote will not affect a particular election, can you be sure of the effects that telling others of your reasons for not voting might have?  

    •  Zeno couldn't make it to the polls. (0+ / 0-)

      I should have pointed out that Zeno would have concluded that there was no way he could ever make it to the polling station, so why even try to vote?

    •  Zeno paradox isn't really fair (0+ / 0-)

      Because it doesn't handle the whole equation. I believe you can look at it more like this:

      If you go a constant velocity, then every interval of time half that of the previous interval of time, you travel half the previous interval's distance to your destination. So that sets it up. Each interval you go half: 1/2 away, 1/4 away, 1/8 etc. So, at any arbitrarilly large interval, you never actually reach the destination. But.... take the limit as your intervals reach infinity and voila! you arrive.

      •  Yeah, a little calculus (0+ / 0-)

        goes a long way to debunking those primitive Greeks.

        Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

        by Cream Puff on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 12:30:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  What in the world is fair? (0+ / 0-)

        The Zeno paradox, like any other paradox is an argument that can seem valid on the surface, but which has a hidden flaw in it.  In the case of Zeno's paradox, the flaw is pretty transparent to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of power series.  However, in Zeno's day there were not so many people with this background.

  •  I asked my sister not to vote.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cream Puff

    She's a bible-thumping, gay-hating, anti-abortion, war-supporting idiot who is determined to remain ignorant of facts that are as plain as her giant ass. She actually said that she considers George W. to be a "... decent, moral human being"
    I told her that, if she truly believes what she says - that God is in control of all things - then she does not need to vote.
    She got quite upset -

    Lobbyists out, lie-detectors in.

    •  'Her giant ass'? (0+ / 0-)

      Ouch.  You must have entertaining Christmas parties.

      But it's a good idea: many fundies would be better off if they didn't consider voting such a religious experience.  Sowing a little apathy and cynicism may go a long way.  It'd probably be more efficient than convincing people to vote, anyway.

      Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

      by Cream Puff on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 12:50:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yea - ouch... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cream Puff

        ... the next family get-together will be interesting.
        Honestly, though, they [fundies] are demonstrating that they do not really believe what they say. If they TRULY believed that God is in control, they should just pray instead of vote and leave selecting leaders to other thinking people ;-)

  •  Sometimes I feel quite un-democratic (0+ / 0-)

    in that I wish there was a way to keep certain people from voting.

    Not really those disagree with me, mind you. The lazy ones, the uninformed, who are uninformed not because they cannot be informed, but because they feel American Idol is more important than catching up on what Congress has been doing. They just make me so mad. I am really sick of walking around and having to actually, truly explain how the government really works and how it is supposed to work. By supposed to work, I mean people, in general, don't even know the ideas presented in their Constitution, let alone the text itself. I still have large portions memorized.

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