This essay is a rehash of some aspects of an earlier entry but I figured it would be appropriate today since it is Election Day. I want to write about reasons why you shouldn’t vote and reasons why you should.
If your goal is to affect the outcome of the election, you should just stay home and save the gasoline. If the benefit you will receive from an election is determining the outcome, your one vote won’t make a difference and does not outweigh the costs involved in voting. The only times you will change the outcome of the election with your vote is when, if you didn’t vote, the election would end in a tie or your preferred candidate would lose by one vote. In all other circumstances, your vote makes no difference in the outcome. The chances that your vote will make a difference drops as more people vote in the election so it is least rational to vote in the presidential and other large-scale elections. How often has even a local election ended in a tie? The mayoral election in Wilder a number of years did but that is the only one I can recall.
So, even if your vote won’t make a difference, why not vote? The answer is there are costs involved in voting. We have outlawed the Poll Tax with the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964 but there are still costs associated with voting. Besides the above mentioned gas, you have to take time to vote. Like the saying goes: Time is Money. Voting, similar to any action, incurs Opportunity Costs. The time you spend going to vote could be spent doing something else. What is the benefit of that other activity to you? That is a cost of voting. Then if you spend time researching the candidates and the election you are just racking up more opportunity costs. If the only benefit you receive from voting is the chance to change the outcome of the race, there is no serious calculation where the benefits will outweigh the costs incurred with voting.
So, why vote? You must obtain other benefits from voting that will outweigh the costs of voting. Some people just like being involved in the contest and having a rooting interest. Others use the occasion of voting as a small social opportunity to meet with neighbors and spend time with poll workers. In the early 19th Century, voting in America was a two or three day affair that included much drinking and carousing at the polls. That environment was actually given by some as the reason women should not be allowed to vote; women should not be exposed to the depravity of the polling places.
I think voting is important because it is a civil action that brings us together as a community. That everyone in the community, in the whole state for the primary and the whole nation in the general election, is involved in the same activity on the same day is an important aspect of our national identity. About the only other activity that almost everyone in the country participates in on the same day is watching the Super Bowl, which isn’t quite as galvanizing of an experience. Voting on the same day brings us together as Americans in a common activity that strengthens our community.
So, join the crowd. Go out and vote. Be an American and participate in our common action and heritage, just don’t think your vote will make a difference in the outcome.
(If you are looking for information on who to vote for, I highly recommend the online Statesman’s Voter’s Guide. Just type in your address and all of the races and candidate information are provided. You can even print out a “ballot” with your preferred choices. This is a legitimate endorsement as the Statesman is not paying for it or my blogs.)
Dr. Jasper M. LiCalzi
Department of Political Economy
The College of Idaho