Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Economics of One Vote

With election day on Tuesday, I'll have one vote... if I decide to use it. I plan to vote, but if something more urgent comes up, as has happened in the past, I'll divert my attention accordingly. Is this a sign of voter apathy on my part?

Well, let's look at the economics of my one vote. "Every vote counts." Well, in a sense this is true, but "every vote is counted" is more realistic, rigged elections aside. Just how much does my vote count? If I look at the voting districts I live in and how many people vote here too, my vote gets smaller. I live in California, which is the most populated state by far. My county has nearly a million people. My congressional, state senate and state assembly districts are quite large and I don't presently live within an incorporated city limit. But the cities I have lived in are large, too, with populations from 50,000 to 120,000.

It is often said that a vote not cast helps the wrong side win. But, in reality, just how many times has any election I've voted in been decided by one vote? Not even close. A hundred votes? A thousand? The fact is, I've never lived in any voting "district" small enough for my vote to matter much at all. I've had plenty of occasions where five of us went out to Chinese instead of Mexican or something similar because the vote was three to two.

On a large scale, the only voting I've ever done that mattered is when my best friend and I cast more votes for Ryne Sandberg vs. Steve Sax for National League All-Star at second base than his eventual margin of victory. Long hours of ballot box stuffing paid off for us Dodger haters. We were the reason Sandberg won!

Now, how much time is required to be an "informed" voter? In California, ballot propositions are legalese, with an untold number of pages of actual text. Candidates at every level have dozens of positions on various issues. Radio, TV and newspaper ads don't often help. If I divide the actual weight of my vote by the amount of study required to make its weight felt, it's pretty close to a waste of time. Even "local" government is far too big where I live for my vote to matter much.

But what are the ramifications if a potential failure to vote ever decided anything? Let's say it results in Congress' scales being tipped from one party to another, or a 1/4% sales tax being passed, etc. Over the course of a year, I might see a few hundred bucks difference in my overall life because of taxes and regulations or whatever. But this has never even been close to happening. If I invested all the time necessary to be an informed voter into something else like my profession, my family, working overtime or extra jobs, I think it would make more of a difference to the outcome of my family and my life.

If I actually were involved in a democratic system small enough for my vote to matter, like a block vote in my neighborhood where there are maybe 50 people or less, it might be worth the effort. But I think all this goes to show that my voting habits are not the problem, but the size of civil government, even at its most local level, is the problem.

1 comment:

  1. "
    It is often said that a vote not cast helps the wrong side win."

    Another varitation of this is that a vote for a mminor party candidate also helps the wrong side.

    However, the real truth is that you and I are not morally responsible for those who vote for "the wrong side". The wrong side wins not because you or I don't vote or vote a minor party, but because other people vote for the "wrong side". So don't blame me for not voting or voting a minor party. Put the blame where it really belongs; on those who voted for the "wrong side". That is a guilt trip I refuse to take a ride on.

    "Why do the heathen rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing...."


    ~ The Billy Goat ~