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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

The case for not voting

Like me, you've undoubedly been assaulted from all sides in recent months about the need to know the candidates and study the issues so you can go out there and do your civic duty by voting responsibly. So let's hear at least one voice from the other side, "Your Vote Doesn't Count":

In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. And there are precious few examples of any other elections decided by a single vote. A 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter looked at 56,613 contested congressional and state legislative races dating back to 1898. Of the 40,000 state legislative elections they examined, encompassing about 1 billion votes cast, only seven were decided by a single vote (two were tied). A 1910 Buffalo contest was the lone single-vote victory in a century’s worth of congressional races. In four of the 10 ultra-close campaigns flagged in the paper, further research by the authors turned up evidence that subsequent recounts unearthed margins larger than the official record initially suggested.

Of course, just because a race isn't decided by one vote, that doesn't mean your vote was meaningless. To believe so would be like holding the person who missed the last shot in a basketball game responsible for the 1-point loss when in fact every play by every team member for the whole game determined the outcome. I mean, we're talking individual vs. aggregate here.

But you can see her point. The case for voting, she says, "relies on factual errors, misunderstandings about the duties of citizenship, and overinflated perceptions of self-worth." If you can get over how cynical the piece is, you'll see some common sense, including, especially, this:

. . . people aren’t particularly good at knowing whether or not they are well-informed. Many people who follow politics closely hold views that are dangerous and wrong (see George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan’s October 2007 reason cover story “The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters”). Even if everyone who had the slightest suspicion that he was not knowledgeable enough to vote stayed home on Election Day, millions of people would still be casting ill-informed votes.

One of the worst things about the election season as the day for voting gets ever closer is how shrill the harangues to "get out there and vote" become. People who at this late date are still not planning on voting and end up doing so only because they are spurred into feeling guilty about it aren't going to really add anything add to the process. We need fewer uninformed voters, not more.