One vote makes an infinitesimal amount of difference. That’s just a mathematical inevitability. The number of voters in the 2000 national election was over 104 million; therefore a single vote counted about 0.0000000096%.
Given that, taking time out of your day to vote is a profoundly irrational thing to do. People stood in line in the 2004 national elections often for as long as 5 hours to cast their votes. Assume that their time was worth approximately $20/hour (a value reasonably close to the 2004 US median income). That means that each person stuck in line for 5 hours spent around $100 to cast a vote that made, effectively, zero difference in the outcome of the election. The opportunity cost is obviously far too high for a rational person to waste his time with such a process. This remains true even if your time is only worth $1 per hour!
Most people are less profligate about the lottery! Very few are crazy enough to spend $100 on lottery tickets, even when the potential winnings are in the hundreds of millions of dollars—interestingly, such a strategy, it could be argued, might actually be smarter in the lottery’s case, because each additional dollar you spend increases your odds of winning. With voting, on the other hand, each additional minute in line is entirely additional, uncompensated, cost.
2. Voter Fraud
Reason #1 makes the assumption that your vote is going to actually be counted correctly. However, given the frequency of news reports about things like the willful destruction of voter registration records, numerous electronic voting machine errors—such as coming pre-programmed with votes for a particular candidate, security holes, or other “glitches” (real or intentional)—the “miscounting” of paper ballots, unexplained but statistically significant discrepancies between exit polls and “actual” vote totals—the list could go on—it is far from clear that your vote will actually be heard. Thus, can it really be said with confidence that “the will of the people” is actually followed in any given election?
3. Rational Ignorance of the Electorate
Supporters of voting may argue that reason 2 is not an aspect of voting, per se--that voter fraud, in modern parlance, "is a bug and not a feature". Fair enough. But even if we could ensure that all votes are always counted correctly, we're left to wonder if there really is such a thing as "the will of the people".
Every day we must make choices about how to spend our time. Learning the substance of all of the political issues of the day is usually at the bottom of the list. Given the huge difference in ratings between, say, C-SPAN and Monday Night Football I believe that such a claim is far from unreasonable.
Research studies show that only around 4 percent of the population can accurately describe the differences between a liberal and a conservative. That means that the other 96 percent of the population is using something other than an intelligent and informed understanding of the issues to decide how they’re going to vote. How often have we seen the late night talk show “man on the street” interview repeated where the interviewee is unable to answer seemingly obvious questions, like the name of the vice president, or how many senators there are in Congress?
In fact, most people don't vote from a dispassionate and intellectual place. Instead, they vote based on feelings they have about the candidates-their analysis goes no deeper than “I don’t trust him,” or “he cares for people like me.” This is not to say that voters are all stupid or irrational. The problem of rational ignorance would exist even if everyone were a genius. We’re all busy and need to (and should!) focus on things that are going on in our immediate lives-not keep tabs on what’s going on in Washington.
Appeals to people to not expect positive change unless they are "willing to invest the time" to learn about the issues are a hopeless waste, because they can't bypass the fundamental economic reality of opportunity cost.
Further appeals to “get out the vote”—to whatever extent they manage to be effective—accomplish nothing more than ensuring that the outcome of any election will be random in nature, and not due to any real factor, such as a candidate's legitimately better platform (assuming there is such a thing). In what sense are we any better off because “Rock The Vote” might manage to generate a 10% higher turnout among 18- to 22-year-olds?
4. Special Interests
Reason #3 fails to consider that people might sometimes have selfish reasons for voting a particular way. Our government has the power to redistribute wealth. Thus, politicians have an often irresistible incentive to buy votes with this power. Voters, in turn, see an opportunity to obtain unearned wealth at the public trough. The result is the growth of the special interest lobbies and a further erosion of government that is legitimately in the public interest.
There is an insidious nature to this redistribution that makes it self-perpetuating and nearly irreversible: the benefits are concentrated while the costs are diffuse. Any one voter’s share in farming subsidies, for example, may be only a few dollars, but the farmers’ benefits are often in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hence, the typical taxpayer is not likely to spend more than a few dollars complaining about it, whereas farmers are willing to spend thousands of dollars to ensure that the subsidies continue, regardless of whether the actual effects of the policy are, on net, good or bad.
5. Package Deal
As “our representatives,” politicians are necessarily a package deal. It’s extremely unlikely that any voter will agree completely with the political platform of any candidate (assuming that the voter even knows the candidate’s actual platform. See point #3). Unfortunately, when you cast your vote for any single candidate, if he is elected, you have to take the bad with the good.
As an aside, I find it an interesting and disturbing fact that Hitler was initially voted into power—and except for the part about wanting to exterminate Jews and Gypsies, his platform is remarkably similar to many politicians in the U.S. today.
6. Corrupt, Ignorant, or Incompetent Politicians
Even if by some stroke of wonderful good luck you actually found a politician with whose platform you agreed 100%, there’s nothing to guarantee that this person will live up to his or her campaign promises (“Read my lips: No new Taxes”—Bush the Elder). In fact there is overwhelming historical evidence that they won't.
Admittedly the contention that all politicians are corrupt is a simplistic one. However, even the most honest and idealistic politician can be simply misguided. Whether the problem is dishonesty or lack of knowledge, it remains that there is no coherent and reliable basis for determining whether or not a given candidate is the “right” one.
Of course all of this assumes—unrealistically—that “your candidate” would even be able to effect his or her entire platform while in office.
7. Lack of Legitimacy
Engaging in the process of registering and voting is an implicit acceptance of its legitimacy for effecting social change (hopefully by now you’re starting to question such a belief!). I submit that this acceptance precludes complaint about both the outcome and any effects of the outcome — regardless of who wins. By participating in the system, you are tacitly accepting the rules of the game. If your candidate wins, would it not be rude of you to say, “nyah nyah!” to the losers? By the same token, aren’t you a sore loser if you whine about what the winner does?
A simple example (hat tip to Marc Victor) may serve to illustrate my point. Imagine that you are with a group of friends at a restaurant, eating dinner. The meal is almost over. However, the night is still young and you all are enjoying each other's company and would like to continue. Some of the party suggest going to get coffee, while others would like to go get ice cream. As there is not enough time to do both, everyone agrees to decide via a vote. If the ice cream contingent wins, is it then good manners for the coffee contingent to make a stink about the outcome?
In other words, as Andrew Galambos once said, “If you vote, don’t complain.”
As I hope I made clear in reason #7 above, a vote is not only a vote for a particular candidate, but also a vote for the political process in general. Chairman Mao once said that government comes out of the barrel of a gun — meaning that the basic function of the political process is the coercion of others. Done in self-defense, this presents little difficulty. The state, however, long ago abandoned its role as a provider of justice and safety. Thus, the act of voting is an aggressive act, regardless of the insulating effects that the voting booth provides.
Can it really be said that coercion is an effective means of improving the world? Is your participation in the extortion and murder of others made okay because your only connection to these acts is punching a hole in a ballot? Is Hitler not guilty of genocide because he didn’t physically pour the Zyklon-B into the gas chambers? What, then, of the guilt of the voters who put him in office? Are they completely free of blame?
Join the ranks of those who can proudly proclaim, "Don't blame me! I didn't vote!"
More non-voting articles can be found here.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Posted by Einzige at 9:39:00 PM