Marolt: Voting not because I think it counts
December 29, 2016
My vote doesn't make a difference. I don't know what you talked about at your holiday dinner parties between the Inglenook and the eggnog, but this is the conclusion I arrived at. Who says you shouldn't discuss politics or religion?
Of course, some were offended and disagreed with me after I made this declaration, my son going so far as to say he was glad I was his father and not a Founding Father, but all the hard evidence is on my side. I have voted in every local, state, national and HOA election since I was eligible and my vote has not mattered in any of them. How can I say such a thing? Easily — had I not voted, the outcome of every single one of those elections would have been exactly the same. It's a fact.
I am sure some of you want to argue, but know before you fire off an email that I have almost assuredly heard a similar version of your case during the two hours we discussed it over a bubbling pot of fondue. At this point I am only interested if you are prepared to prove that your vote actually flipped the results of an election.
The odds are long for casting a meaningful vote. Suppose, for example, you were on a road trip with only two other people in the car, deciding which fast food restaurant to stop at for lunch. Even in this tiny group your vote will count only if the other two disagree about where the best burger is served. You have just a 50 percent chance your vote will make a difference when making a decision among three friends. How much longer are the odds when 128 million people are involved? (Keep in mind that if there is an even number of voters, the very best you can do is force a tie.)
This is the hard truth, not even considering that we are not a one-person, one-vote democracy, as the latest election demonstrated. While Donald Trump's supporters each got one vote, Hillary Clinton's got only .956488 of one. Almost 3 million more votes for Clinton could not make a difference, so I am supposed to believe my single vote would?
Persuading more people to vote is counterproductive in this regard — the more people who vote, the less valuable my ballot becomes. It's like building a sand castle. The more grains you pack on top, the more there are that roll down the sides. You can only build it so high and then the thing collapses under its own weight. You can't say people who don't vote don't understand the math.
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"My gosh," you say. "If everyone thought like you, what would happen?" Well, for starters, not everyone does think like me. There is ample evidence in every election to prove it. And, secondly, even though I think like this, I still vote, so if everyone thought like me, we would have 100 percent participation in all elections.
I know what you really meant, though. You meant to say, "What would happen if nobody voted?" The simple answer is that then I could run down to the polling place and my vote actually would count; it would decide the election. Keep in mind that the odds of this happening are very, very remote.
So, technically, voting could matter in two scenarios: The first would be in the case where nobody else votes and your vote becomes the deciding vote. The second case would be in the off chance an election would have ended up in a dead tie had you decided to play golf instead of voting. In the case of a presidential election, you would have to hope this unlikely scenario occurs sometime after the equally unlikely abolishment of the Electoral College. In other words, voting is like taking out an insurance policy on something that has never before occurred.
I form a bleak appraisal of the practical value of a vote. So, why do I vote?
I think of voting similarly to the way I think about going to a public library and pulling a copy of "Catcher in the Rye" off the shelf and sitting down in plain sight of everyone there and reading it. I think of it about the same way I do walking into St. Mary Church in broad daylight and sitting down in a pew for some quiet reflection. I vote because I can, and I am more appreciative that I can vote than I could ever express to all who made that freedom possible. My vote is a "thank you."
As always, Roger Marolt votes to stay in on New Year's Eve, so he'll probably see you at the midnight fireworks display at Wagner Park. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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