Your Vote Doesn't Count

Why (almost) everyone should stay home on Election Day

Wearing an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day announces that you are a proud participant in the grand tradition of representative democracy, the worst system except all the others. It says “I care,” “I’m informed,” and perhaps also “this shirt is machine washable.” 

On that day (November 6! Mark your calendars!), when Americans are resting from their quadrennial labors of locating a polling place, standing in line, and pushing buttons, pulling levers, filling bubbles, or poking a touch screen, there is a surefire way to start a fight in any bar, church, or bus in the country. Three little words: I don’t vote.

Voting is widely thought to be one of the most important things a person can do. But the reasons people give for why they vote (and why everyone else should too) are flawed, unconvincing, and sometimes even dangerous. The case for voting relies on factual errors, misunderstandings about the duties of citizenship, and overinflated perceptions of self-worth. There are some good reasons for some people to vote some of the time. But there are a lot more bad reasons to vote, and the bad ones are more popular. 

‘Every Vote Counts’

Let’s start with the basics: Your vote will almost certainly not determine the outcome of any public election. I’m not talking about conspiracy theories regarding rigged elections or malfunctioning voting machines—although both of those things have happened and will happen again. I’m not talking about swing states or Supreme Court power grabs or the weirdness of the Electoral College. I’m talking about pure, raw math.

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. 

The numbers just get more ridiculous from there. In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million. In a couple of key states, the chance that a random vote will be decisive creeps closer to one in 10 million, which drags voters into the dubious company of people gunning for the Mega-Lotto jackpot. The authors optimistically suggest that even with those terrible odds, you may still choose to vote because “the payoff is the chance to change national policy and improve (one hopes) the lives of hundreds of millions, compared to the alternative if the other candidate were to win.” But how big does that payoff have to be to make voting worthwhile?

‘Voting Is an Investment in the Future’

If you ask a man on the street why rich people are more likely to vote for Republicans, he will probably tell you a story about how the GOP promotes policies that favor businesses and lower the tax burden of the wealthiest people in society. But your sidewalk interlocutor is wrong on two counts. First, rich people are not more likely to vote Republican. (It was a trick question.) Second, study after study, poll after poll, finds that people do not typically vote in ways that align with their personal material interests. The old, for instance, don’t support Social Security in higher numbers than the young. 

In their seminal 1993 book Decision and Democracy: The Pure Theory of Electoral Preference (Cambridge University Press), University of Virginia philosopher and reason Contributing Editor Loren Lomasky and his co-author, Geoffrey Brennan, offer an alternative theory of what drives voters. But first they offer a methodology for calculating the value of a vote. On their account, the expected utility of a vote is a function of the probability that the vote will be decisive, delivering gains (to the individual or society as a whole) if the preferred candidate wins. The probability of casting the decisive vote decreases slowly as the size of the voting pool gets larger, but it drops dramatically when polls show that one candidate has even a slight lead. Which means that in a presidential election, where the number of voters is about 120 million and one candidate is usually polling a point or two ahead on Election Day, you’re screwed.

In his brilliant 2011 book The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press), on which I have relied heavily for this article, Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan (no relation to Geoffrey Brennan) applied the Lomasky/Brennan method to a hypothetical scenario in which the victory of one candidate would produce additional GDP growth of 0.25 percent in one year. Assuming a very close election where that candidate is leading in the polls only slightly and a random voter has a 50.5 percent chance of casting a ballot for her, the expected value of a vote for that candidate is $4.77 x 10 to the −2,650th power. That’s 2,648 orders of magnitude less than a penny. 

It’s not hard to beat that offer. Say you plan to sleep for an extra hour instead of voting. Unless you are astonishingly well rested, an hour of sleep is almost certainly worth more to you than an infinitesimal fragment of a penny. Or say you plan to use that time to write an election-related blog post. The expected social payoff of even the lowest-traffic blog post is higher than the payoff from voting. In fact, an alternative activity plan isn’t even necessary: Simply not driving to the polls slightly reduces the chance that you or someone else will die in a car accident on Election Day, which is worth more than your vote can ever hope to be.

Those figures reflect 2006 GDP figures and 2004 voting totals, but it almost doesn’t matter what batch of reasonable numbers you plug into the equation. Say you think victory is worth 10 or 100 or 1,000 times more than the roughly $33 billion that 0.25 percent of GDP amounts to. Say the polls show a gap of two percentage points between the candidates. In any plausible scenario, the expected utility of your vote still amounts to approximately bupkes. A vote for a third-party candidate pushes the figure into even more infinitesimal territory.

Voters know this on some level. If they truly believed that each person’s vote could be the vote, imagine how they would treat people who disagree with them in early November. Voter suppression happens occasionally, of course. Unscrupulous actors send out flyers that give the wrong date for Election Day or mislead voters about the correct polling place. But if people were operating on the theory that your vote actually counts, far dirtier tricks would be happening everywhere, every day.

‘Voting Is a Civic Duty’

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  • Tulpa Doom||

    If those who favor liberty don't vote for anyone, those anyone who's voted for won't favor liberty.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Tulpa, do you really think that the votes of 40 HnR commenters are going to matter at all?

  • Tulpa Doom||

    They could snowball.

  • Loki||

    Hey what you choose to do is your own business, but I think I'll pass on the whole "snowballing" thing.

  • Calidissident||

    If those who favor liberty vote for candidates who are really anti-liberty, those elected will never have any reason to favor liberty

  • TheAstorian||

    If those who favor liberty vote for Obama/Romney, those who voted don't favor liberty?

  • Tulpa Doom||

    If those who favor liberty don't vote for anyone, anyone who's voted for won't favor liberty.

  • tarran||

    Hey Tulpa, you'll probably find this deep.

    Did you know that "dog" spelled backwards is "god"?

  • sarcasmic||

    Hear about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac?

    Stayed up all night wondering if there really was a dog.

  • CE||

    NOt me. I heard it barking.

  • tommy0302||

    I thought he was the one who sold his soul to Santa?

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Zeno's Paradox, again. The analogue of Diogenes the Cynic walking away from Zeno when he claimed nothing ever moves would be pointing at the fact we've had thousands of elections where votes did in fact count.

    KMW could just as easily argue that my decision to purchase a peanut butter that tastes good instead of one that tastes like coffee grounds has no effect on the direction of resources in the economy, and conclude that this means the market does not in fact respond to the desire of consumers for good-tasting peanut butter.

  • Mo||

    I would say it's more akin to Sorites paradox than Zeno's. It's obvious that a vote doesn't matter when one billion people vote and it matters when only three people vote, but at what point does a heap of people whose votes don't matter become a non-heap.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    That's not the point I'm trying to make. We don't get to choose the size of the electorate.

  • R C Dean||

    Yeah, we leave that to the party apparats in their hidden war of voter manufacture/suppression.

  • Trespassers W||

    KMW could just as easily argue that my decision to purchase a peanut butter that tastes good instead of one that tastes like coffee grounds has no effect on the direction of resources in the economy

    Could she just as easily argue that? There are observable, non-negligible consequences to me and the seller if I choose to buy the good peanut butter or not. The good peanut butter is consumed, and I have less money to spend on other things. The seller earns a quantifiable profit.

    In contrast, it makes no difference to me or the candidate if I choose to vote or not.

  • Mo||

    Do you think Apple notices the $200 profit it makes from selling an iPad to you? Compared to the over $100B they have in the bank, it's a rounding error of a rounding error.

  • CE||

    Yes. They notice the 200 dollar profit on every iPad they sell.


    So you're saying that we should all steal iPads?

  • NL_||

    1. Greater marginal value of units sold versus votes cast.
    2. PB shopping game is played far more often on a far more flexible timetable.
    3. PB has far more substitutes, and substitutes can be partial rather than total.

    The marginal value to the seller of selling one more unit of Extreme Crunchy Peanut Butter is much greater than the marginal value to a politician of one more vote. There is a measurable dollar value to every unit sold, whereas extra votes past the winning vote have a de minimis (though nonzero) value to the winning politician.

    Consumption happens all year, not just every two to four years. The PB seller can be constantly rewarded or punished, unlike the politician. The best peanut butter can be repurchased by adoring fans every week or even every day if it's truly that awesome. Or it can be overlooked and bought far more rarely.

    And whereas most elections have two plausible victors, PB consumption can have multiple winners and multiple substitutes. You can buy a certain brand every time you get PB, or only on special occasions. You can get alternatives to PB itself, like eating ham sandwiches or fruit or candy bars instead of PB. A certain brand can be a larger or smaller part of the mix of items in your annual shopping basket. Whereas a politician is zero-sum, with few substitutes; you pick only one for each office, and often there's only one plausible alternative victor (and far too often there's really only one possible winner).

  • NotSure||

    This a purely hypothetical question, if absolutely nobody votes (not even the politicians themselves), who gets into power ?

  • tarran||

    This a purely hypothetical question, if absolutely nobody votes (not even the politicians themselves), who gets into power ?

    Who cares? The crisis that would result and the inevitable questions about the legitimacy of whomever won the scrum would be very healthy for society.

  • $park¥||


  • Tulpa Doom||

    Our turnout rates are already low enough to make that happen if it were going to happen.

  • $park¥||

    Wrong. If it hasn't happened yet it's because voter turnout rates aren't low enough.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Sounds unfalsifiable to me. What rate would be low enough?

  • $park¥||

    Let's lower voter turnout every year until the system breaks, then we'll know.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    And if you say 0, then the Martin Prince Paradox comes into play.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    If nobody eats any food, what food will producers produce?

  • tarran||

    A candidate is motivates to get votes because that gets them a seat at the pig-trough.

    When a particular candidate gets a vote, he concludes correctly that the views/policy positions/pronouncements that he demonstrated got him that vote. If he wins the election, he thinks that his bundle of lies/actions are just fine and dandy.

    A vote for Obama doesn't keep a monster like Romney out of office, it tells Obama that he can murder American citizens at will and still win office.

    The best thing people can do in current situations is to loudly and proudly refuse to vote for unacceptable candidates and allow the cards to fall where they may.

  • $park¥||

    You're on a roll here, tarran.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    And when a certain ideological group refuses to vote for anyone who doesn't agree with them on 95% of the issues, that tells candidates that their votes are irrelevant because they're not voting for you or your opponent so there's no point trying to cater to them.

  • ||

    If the only successful path for liberty is getting politicians to cater to it, then I'm afraid the goose is cooked.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Are you suggesting there's no shot in voting our way out of this?

  • Calidissident||

    On the other hand, if they're willing to vote for someone who agrees with them on 20% of the issues (being generous), then that tells them they don't have to try because they can take those votes for granted

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Something about voting seems to remove reality from the process. We vote. The prez does his thang. Shit happens or doesn't. People get killed, incarcerated, awarded, lauded, lost, found, yada yada... We eat supper. Read shit. fuck... sit on the back porch do boring cr ap g et l o s t in l i f e

    YET, why isn't the voter held to a higher level of accountability when their man or woman starts fucking shit up? Personally, I think voter accountability should be a major part of the political process. Where IS voter accountability? SHOULD the voting system NOT be a simple dumb-as-fuck maneuver by life-addled tax whores who take ZERO responsibility for the evil their votes result in?

    Just throwing some stuff out.

  • Juice||

    Sounds like something from a Lysander Spooner tract.

  • tarran||

    YET, why isn't the voter held to a higher level of accountability when their man or woman starts fucking shit up?

    Here's an idea for a Constitutional Ammendment.

    Only people whose candidate won will pay taxes. The losers aren't taxed.

    Every politician comes with a multiplier, a governeor or president is 50%, a attorney general is 25%, a congressman is 25% etc.

    So let's say you vote for the winning congressman and nobody else, you are only responsible for 25% of the Federal Taxes you individually would be assessed.

    You vote for the winning governor and nobody else, 50% of state taxes, etc.

    Consumption taxes could be handled by taxing the property with the % the property owner voted.

    For corporations, prorate the taxes according to the owners' individual rates at the end of the quarter.

    There's your voter accountability right there!

  • Tulpa Doom||

    I think there's a little free rider problem there.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Larger or smaller than the free rider problems we already have?

  • Juice||

    Poll tax!

  • Torontonian||

    I have a better idea that would sort the gov't spending and entitlement problem out in 2 years max.

    No changes to voting rules for the President or your Senator. However, the process for electing House Representatives would change in two ways:

    1. Taxpayer status would replace citizenship as the eligibility criteria (i.e. non-citizen taxpayers would get a vote for a Representative.)

    2. Each vote for a Rep. gets multiplied by the cumulative amount of federal taxes paid by the voter as shown on his/her tax filings since the last election.

    Result: Taxation = Representation.

  • Rhino||

    So the new gripe is "No Representation without Taxation?" kinda bites the libertarian argument that Taxation is bad in the butt.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    The voters have to live in the world they have made...that's accountability enough. Unfortunately, most are too lazy or stupid to foresee the results of their actions.

  • Loki||

    most are too lazy or stupid to foresee the results of their actions.

    Most are to stupid to understand the results of their actions after the fact too. The fact is people are idiots. And voters are the biggest idiots of all.

  • Rhino||

    doesn't help when we're constantly faced with the lesser of two evils option and the good option is "unelectable."

  • Moogle||

    Racist! what the voting advocates will say. Even wanting better ID checks to make sure people voting actually have that right is just dismissed as racist Nazi yada yada.

    Opining that maybe we shouldn't encourage mass voting because that just gets more ignorant voters to the polls, well, my goodness! We need to shift to the MHS (Multiple Hitler Scale) where just calling you a Nazi isn't enough. Claiming that ignorant voter might be a problem? You rate 3.7H, or 3.7 Hitlers.

  • Juice||

    In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election.

    What if you're an elector? In 1800 the electoral vote was tied. 1876 was decided by 1 vote.

  • WWNGD?||

    "Wearing an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day"

    I usually stick mine on the front of the dumpster at work. That makes me feel good.

  • Hollywood||

    There's a great shirt on that reads "I Voted...then I vomited."

  • Juice||

    Katherine would be pleased to know that.

  • $park¥||

    No way am I voting. That being said, as trashy as it might be, I'd vote if I could fuck Paris Hilton right afterwards.

  • Anomalous||

    Paris Hilton? I would hold out for Charlize Theron.

  • KM||

    Voting (at least at the federal level) amounts to collusion in one's own suckering.

  • The Derider||

    Does collecting government benefits also amount to collusion in one's own suckering? I don't see any difference.

  • Loki||

    Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
    Rock the vote or else I'm gonna stick a knife through your eye
    Democracy is founded on one simple rule
    Get out there and vote or I will muthafuckin’ kill you


    I like it when you vote bitch (bitch)
    Shake them titties when you vote bitch (bitch)
    I slam my jimmy through your mouth roof (mouth roof)
    Now get yo’ big ass in the polling booth

    I said vote, bitch, Or I fuckin’ kill you

    Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
    You can't run from my .38 go ahead and try
    Let your opinion be heard, you gotta make a choice
    ’Cause after I slit your throat, you won't have a fuckin’ voice

    Vote or die

  • The Craig||

    This is my favorite South Park episode. They need to revise the song for the current election, something along the lines of

    "Get out there and vote or you will not have free contraception, leading to mass rape and no abortion forcing you to bear the illegitimate child"

    Meh, needs work I guess.

  • Hollywood||

    I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
    I love the country but I can't stand the scene
    And I'm neither left or right
    I'm just staying home tonight
    Getting lost in that hopeless little screen

  • Stilgar||

    I think this is one of the worst pieces I've read on Reason, and three pages at that. Oy vey.

  • Trespassers W||


  • jcp370||

    Oh man, how totally ironic post-modern you hipster libertarians are. Totally.

  • Moogle||

    Pfft. I was a hipster libertarian before any of these turkeys.

  • Rasilio||

    Does it count if we only vote ironically?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted—whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter!

    When did forced sterilization enter the conversation?

  • Sherlockski||

    Dear Katherine,
    I scanned through the rest of your article, but didn't have to go much further than the "every vote counts" section to notice an error in your logic. It seems to me that if we accept your reasoning there, then we may also accept that: since you can train your heart to beat 65 times per minute rather than the 70 times it beats now, those extra 5 beats don't matter, therefore no beats matter, so you may as well just stop your heart beating. Am I wrong?

  • Juice||

    This is a terrible analogy.

  • Trespassers W||


  • wef||

    Try that heart beat argument again. You are not clear.

    The basic argument that my vote is worthless in terms of election outcomes (not necessarily as a religious gesture or as a display to others) is one of probabilities. That is simply a fact.

  • Sherlockski||

    It seems to me the writer's argument in that section is that your vote doesn't matter because no one single vote ever turned an election. Then she cites the vast number of total votes and other statistics as her reason.
    Well if one has a value of zero because of the huge grand total of the many, then each and every one can be valued as zero, then there is no grand total other than zero.

  • wef||

    Yes, your vote does not matter (again in terms of outcome) to you. If outcome determination is your motive then you are in error.

    You are making an integration argument regarding the sum of votes that would determine an outcome (give or take the cheating, but put that aside). Your argument is for ward bosses, party whips and get-out-the-vote campaigns, where the probabilities are sufficiently high that an investment in whipping votes might make sense.

  • Sherlockski||

    But WEF, I'm not making any kind of argument about outcome, motive, good, evil, or any such aspect in why we should or shouldn't vote. I'm not making a political or philosophical point here, I'm arguing a logical point.

    The author's syllogism on whether a single vote makes a difference does not make sense. It is illogical. I thought my last example made that clear.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    She never says that your vote has a value of zero. She just says that the value is extremely small. This is why she uses terms like "almost certainly" and not just "certainly".

    1/x for large values of x isn't zero, but it's close enough for some approximations. The question then becomes whether or not this is one of those "close enough" approximations.


  • Juice||

    Also, if you conscientiously did not vote you have more right to complain than anyone. If you voted and your guy wins, you have the least room to complain.

  • whatifwedid||

    This has to be a joke. If you "conscientiously" refuse to vote then you "conscientiously" give up your right to complain. Complaining without voting is simply bitching and moaning about something you refused to express your opinion on in the first place.

    If you vote for a candidate and they win, I agree you have no right to complain about things they campaigned on. However, once they break promises then you can complain.

  • Zeb||

    Anyone can complain about anything they want to. But I object to the argument that if you don't vote, you can't legitimately complain about the outcome.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Talking about Obama-Phone-Woman is totally racist

    It's not. And we never said that the person who made the tape was racist. We don't even know who the person holding the camera was. BigFurHat of the site iOwntheWorld, who claims to have posted the video, made this defense: "I have no idea how it could be construed as racist because it’s simply a woman speaking for herself, you know, like voting." True enough! But the racism comes in when Drudge, Rush, the people who giddily retweeted the link, do a mental calculation that if enough people would just see this video they would support Romney, because it plays on the same racist stereotypes that are usually trotted out this time of the election cycle. The video posted on Drudge and played on Limbaugh was a black lady who has all the standard visual cues of being poor -- messed-up teeth and skin, her waistline, her yelling.

    Or maybe this is, you know, just one more example of Obama's school of electioneering/goverance, which is simply the distribution of largesse to the faithful. Phones for people with missing or defective chromosomes, bailouts for the unions, sweetheart loan deals for the green energy cult, cheap weapons for the Saudis and Bahrainis, White House appointments and plum ambassadorships for his donors, and it just goes on and on.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    D'oh! Meant to post in A.M. links.

  • Trespassers W||

    In his 1851 book Social Statics, the English radical Herbert Spencer neatly describes the rhetorical jujitsu surrounding voting, consent, and complaint, then demolishes the argument.

    Spencer just pwned Tony.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Saw a bit of the C-span appearance, and I'd suggest adding a reason or modifying one of the reasons people have to vote. One progressive chucklehead kept calling KMW "an elitist", another was a black vet who refernced the civil rights days, and another was a Liberian immigrant. Instead of "it's fun," how about "voting gives some people the feeling of an emotional connection to their country."

  • wef||

    Yes, voting could be a type of religious celebration. That might have other problems, but it does fall in the box of reasons marked "fun".

    On the other hand, there are those who might think that the regime is illegitimate. Not voting is a form of protest. If it is taken as blasphemy, all the better.

  • R C Dean||

    Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    If there is no voting, there is no democracy.

    Voting, then, is valuable not for the outcome of any particular race, but as an inoculation against a worse form of government. Your vote is like a white blood cell: sure, no one white blood cell will save your life, but if you didn't have any, you'd be dead.

  • Rhino||

    even democracy can be an tyrannical as a dictatorship. that's why you need constitutional limits to protect the people from their govt and then elected officials who will actually abide the law.

  • Zeb||

    That's kind of how I look at it now. Voting is never going to get us a very good government. But it does keep things unpredictable and random enough that no one can get too much power or fuck things up too badly. As bad as things are now in some ways, just imagine how bad it could be without the veneer of democracy.

  • Rhino||

    If people don't vote for their own personal gain, how do you explain the Obamaphone lady? Immoral ignorant voting, perhaps.

  • CE||

    ...if everyone behaved as the nonvoters do, the whole system would fall apart. A certain minimum level of participation is necessary for elections to appear legitimate.

    Finally, a good reason for convincing people to NOT vote.

  • ||

    What if the arguments against voting were so persuasive that everyone stopped voting? This worry, which channels the categorical imperative of 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, posits that if everyone behaved as the nonvoters do, the whole system would fall apart. A certain minimum level of participation is necessary for elections to appear legitimate.

    This IS the optimal outcome -- ending the perceived legitimacy of a brutal, coercive state.

  • ||

    Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    Lots of better forms of social arrangement, starting with not having a coercive government at all, or having a strong constitution that is adhered to. An actual democracy is kleptocratic mob rule, hardly the best possible form of governance.

  • CE||

    The "clean hands principle" argument against voting is bogus. Lysander Spooner demolished it over a century ago.

    If tens of millions of other people are voting for one of two candidates, each of whom wants to tax and spend and borrow the country into oblivion, I don't dirty my hands by voting for a candidate who wants to scale back the spending and taxing madness and end the borrowing.

    If millions of Californians want to vote for one of the several ballot measures that will raise my taxes, I don't dirty my hands by voting against them. Morally I could take up arms to try to stop them and their representatives from stealing from me, but that might not end well, and it would behoove me to try non-violent means of stopping the plunder first, such as voting and persuading others opposed to the widescale theft to vote also.

  • The Derider||

    You're also free to leave.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Ah yes, the same argument the mafia uses when it "asks" for protection money.

  • The Derider||

    And the same argument a hotel makes if you don't want to pay the rent.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    A closer analogy would be that a hotel was built around my house and wanted to start charging me rent.

  • The Derider||

    What came first, the US federal government or your house?

  • Zeb||

    There are a lot of houses that pre-date the US government. And plenty of families who have owned such properties continuously since before the US. So you are saying they don't have to pay taxes?

  • CE||

    If voting doesn't matter, why do old people who vote get to plunder the young nonvoters through Social Security and Medicare, and ban their recreations and imprison them and ruin their lives through drug prohibition?

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    The argument isn't that voting doesn't matter. It's that your specific vote doesn't matter.

    If you don't agree, then go vote against all that stuff you listed and see how it works out for you.

  • Moogle||

    The problem is this:

    [ ] Main Stream Sociopath 1
    [ ] Main Stream Sociopath B
    [ ] 3rd Party Sociopath
    [ ] Batshit crazy Green/Progressive/Whatever

  • Azathoth!!||

    Katherine, three pages? To trumpet your ignorance? Three? You could have done it in a sentence.

    Votes, Katherine, accumulate. The candidate who accumulate the most votes, Katherine, win. That they might win by more than one vote does not diminish the value of any individual vote because any one of them could be the one that pushe the candidate over the finish line. So every vote matters, Katherine, because them more you have, the more likely it is that you'll win.

    People vote in their self interest, Katherine. That self interest may not be readily apparent to you or to other liberaltarians who use their underlying leftist philosophy to judge what constitutes someone elses self interest, but that's what they do. The vote for the guy they like better than or hate less than the other guy. Sometimes they vote for someone because they think he's cute. Other times they vote for someone because they've given deep thought to the issues and think that one guy will do better than the other. Both are instances of people voting in their self interest. Learn that you don't know what's best for other people, Katherine.

    I could go on and on. But why? Should you read this you'll smugly think me the fool while ever failing to hear the bells jingling on your cap.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Votes, Katherine, accumulate. The candidate who accumulate the most votes, Katherine, win. That they might win by more than one vote does not diminish the value of any individual vote because any one of them could be the one that pushe the candidate over the finish line. So every vote matters, Katherine, because them more you have, the more likely it is that you'll win.

    You fail statistics forever, Azathoth!!. I could go on and on. But why? Should you read this, Azathoth!!, you'll smugly think me the fool while ever failing to hear the bells jingling on your cap.

  • whatifwedid||

    I could not agree with you more! The voice of the few collects to become the voice of the many. If the remaining 60% of the population would actually vote, a completely different person could win the election than polls predict. Votes matter. It's asinine to think otherwise.

  • Zeb||

    Voting matters. Individual votes do not. It is a subtle but important distinction.

  • The Derider||

    There is a way to increase the utility of your vote. By banding together with like-minded people who all agree to vote for the same candidate, people multiply the effectiveness of their vote.

    It's called a political party. The effectiveness of this strategy explains why politicians backed by political parties win nearly all electoral contests in the US. It also indicates that people who refuse to back "team red" or "team blue" or "team purple" will never have influence over the electoral process.

  • Trespassers W||

    There is a way to increase the utility of your vote. By banding together with like-minded people who all agree to vote for the same candidate, people multiply the effectiveness of their vote.

    In other words, your vote has utility once it's part of a majority.

    At which point it has no utility.

    Way to resolve the voter's paradox, Joe.

  • The Derider||

    You're confusing a political party with "the majority". Your vote is still magnified in importance if you band together in a small party. Minority parties and parties with the plurality of votes still have significant power.

    Way to read for comprehension, Joe.

  • RandomJackass||

    George Carlin said it first, and said it best.

  • Combaticus||

    One in 60 million? So you're saying there's a chance...

  • martin_md||


    It's hard to equates a voter's aspirations, essentially, with someone hoping to win Lotto. Furthermore, it doesn't help that you began every interview answer with "So" on CSPAN today, which I think has become a trademark of DC insider slacktitude.
    In pure numerical terms, your argument is pretty sound. Yet when you accuse GOTV drives or low-data hordes as 'dangerous', you render your thesis as jejune puffery. What makes them dangerous if they don't count as well?

    Try Harder.,

  • Shoogledoogle||

    What an incredible irony to see Libertarians line up behind this.

    Now let's be clear, it's not a new argument, nor one I disagree with: I recall that Anthony Downs' 'An Economic Theory of Democracy' brought this up about fifty years ago.

    The fun of it is that it kills the Libertarian Hayekian bible stone dead - if rational self-interest, so in-vogue for economic theory, cannot explain such a central tenet of social action and mass activity, how, precisely, can the market reflex be supposed to make rational decisions for society?

    This quite apart from other ill-thought out flaws, such as charity functioning as an acceptable societal safety-net. Ever observed the imbalance created by charitable funding on top of state? Do you think it a great thing - or rational - to have shiny new cancer wards built every ten years whilst geriatric care is carried out in conditions half a century out of date? Do you really think that exculsively charitably funded healthcare for the poor would be acceptable in a country not blessed with incredible oil wealth nor run as a tiny tax haven for the wealthiest? Do you like the sight of kids with rickets and double amputees begging, or something?

    Hayekian model Libertarianism is at least as irrational as Marxism, and every bit as dangerous.

  • NL_||

    Economics works when people are connected to the results of their choices; politics mostly fails because it alienates people from the results of their choices.

    If businesses manage to stay afloat by satisfying customers, then the market worked. If they fail, then it means either they were poor managers (or had bad luck) or that not enough other people wanted that sort of product. In which case the market allowed people to shift their spending to other products they wanted more.

    Markets work not just when people are Randians or hedge fund investors, incessantly seeking to maximize their wealth like Scrooge McDuck. Markets work because they allow people to choose their own relative priorities and then connect with other people who have compatible priorities.

    So when you're talking about "rational decisions for society," what you really mean is that you dislike the choices other people are making. You think somebody at the top needs to enforce the choices you prefer, at the expense of the choices other people are making.

    If you really think you'd make better choices, then you should get involved yourself in whatever area you think you can best assist. It might be hard to get in, though, because health care in particular is heavily regulated and expensive due to the machinations of earlier people like you who thought they had all the answers.

  • LifeStrategies||

    As economist Professor Thomas Sowell said:

    It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

    Cris Baker

  • neilhorn||

    I saw part of Katherine's interview on CSPAN and thought she was hilarious. Then I read her article here and I'm still inspired by her audacity.

    On election day I want to go to the poll and ask if I can purchase a more significant weight in the outcome. I think we should institute voter ID cards that show the voter's IQ, which number would serve as a multiplier of the number of votes the person casts. I have a lot of dead relatives and friends who cannot vote. I could vote for them since they are disabled.

    Or maybe I'll stay home and play x-box that day.

  • NL_||

    Being able to correctly complete math problems and word analogies probably doesn't correlate too strongly with understanding market regulation or foreign policy.

    I've known some people of middling to low intelligence who were genuine and decent people, who believed in a form of politics that seemed far more humane to me than all the Rawls, Kant and Plato you'd care to read.

  • Intn'l House of Badass||

    If everyone who decides not to vote decides to drive by a polling place and shoot at it, it will affect the election. Possibly, it will improve the results.

  • Ken Moellman||

    The entire concept of not-voting is stupid. In almost every state, there are independent and "third" party candidates who are carrying a torch for an issue YOU care about. When someone "wins" a race with less than 50% of the vote, it takes away their "mandate". When you buck the oligarchy and not only don't fall for it's fear-mongering but also vote against it, it makes a huge statement. The last 150 years have seen that the role of third parties is not to take over, but instead to push public policy at the ballot box, where politicians (aka policy makers) pay the most attention.

    If you don't vote, you're considered by politicians to be one of the uninformed sports-obsessed retards. Congrats on muting yourself, and being discredited.

    Find someone and vote for them. Don't like what the Ds and Rs are doing? Well, you can whine about it on Reason's blog (which I'm sure they're glad to have you here, but...) but chances are pretty damned good that your elected official doesn't read Reason's blogs. Run for office as an I, or G, or L, or whatever. That will make the statement. And the more people that support you in the election amplify your voice for that issue.

    That is, unless some retard convinces people to stay home, instead, and mute your voice and your issue.

    It's not about being THE vote. It's about being A vote -- A voice that makes a statement.

  • NL_||

    KMW has probably contributed more to libertarianism than 99.9% of all the people who've ever voted libertarian. Publishing writings and appearing on television contribute more to appreciation for freedom than pushing a given third-party candidate's vote result from 0.320001% to 0.320002%.

  • Phil N. DeBlanc||

    On the contrary, I'd say that Ms. KMW's illogical and immoral arguments in this article more likely set back the libertarian movement.

  • NL_||

    I've heard people argue that voting is just political masturbation. Which is the best argument I've ever heard for voting.

  • Phil N. DeBlanc||

    I'd say that Ms. Mangu-Ward's arguments are nothing more than mental masturabation.

  • Phil N. DeBlanc||

    Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.

    - Mahatma Gandhi

  • Phil N. DeBlanc||

    What a Nihilist Ms. Mangu-Ward appears to be. What is the significance of just 1 person out of the 7 billion plus people on this tiny planet, circling an unremarkable sun in a distant corner of a galaxy somewhere in a universe of untold billions, that will one day be destroyed by an asteroid, comet or supernova?

    I say that she wouldn't be missed (particularly with the ridiculous arguments she makes in this article) if she disappeared off the face of the earth. Let's have a Vote!

  • Steven Mazie||

    Ms. Magnu-Ward misrepresents the Kantian argument for voting, misses the point of the consequentialist argument from authors she cites, and ignores other good reasons to consider voting to be a rational endeavor. Read more in this post in the Economist:

  • theWay||

    “Your Vote Doesn't Count: Why (almost) everyone should stay home on Election Day”
    This Is a philosophical argument and as such has very little to do with reality! The argument that “Your Vote Doesn't Count” may be mathematically correct however it is quite illogical. Why? Simple, you don’t live in a vacuum! You live in a society where people in government (voted in by those “whose one vote doesn’t count”?) determine how you live, what laws are enacted, what taxes you pay, what social services are provided in your area and so on; and you’ll pay for all of that unless you’re one of those that is being supported by the rest of the ‘working’ and ‘tax paying’ citizens.

    Government does not make anything without first taking from producers and then funding programs that server the society as a whole, or a ‘selected’ vocal minority, or pushing their own ‘ideas’ of fairness.

    If you choose not to vote, others will make those decisions for you whether you like it or not.

    The two party system (D&R) does not work. They tell you that voting for a 3rd party candidate like, Gary Johnson is a wasted vote. Why? Because if they persuade enough people not to vote for the 3rd party candidate, then they remain in play and in power! You loose!

    Continued in Part II

  • theWay||

    Part II. Being philosophical about voting may be amusing but it is quite unrealistic!
    Locke’s theory … is seen in the Declaration’s phrase that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
    “. . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
    (Source: John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229, October 11, 1798.)
    Visit to learn the truth about our Constitutional Republic!
    [T]he Law of Nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions must . . . be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e., to the will of God.

    Locke had also asserted that:
    [T]he first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the Legislative power. . . . [and no] edict of anybody else . . . [can] have the force and obligation of a law which has not its sanction [approval] from that Legislative which the public has chosen. from:

    Educate yourself and then vote! If those in power (local -federal) do not do what they should vote them out, next time. If they don’t obey the laws (Constitutions, Statutes) – file a complaint with your Attorney General, hold them accountable, put them in jail!

  • Slayerformayor||

    "Being philosophical about voting may be amusing but it is quite unrealistic!"

    You then go on to quote Locke, a philosopher, to support your position, which is in support of voting. You're precisely the reason that KMW is right.

  • JacobLyles||

    One sword doesn't matter in a battle either. But you don't go to battle with one sword.

    One person laying sand bags in a flood doesn't matter. But you don't build a dike by yourself.

    One person's dish in a pot luck dinner doesn't matter. Which is why you invite more than one person.

    I guess libertarians have never gotten a group together to accomplish anything before. This is where the stereotypes of aspy cartoonish individualism come from.

  • ||

    Who cares if an individual vote doesn't matter? May as well be on record for voting for what you believe.


    This is terrible. It's articles like this that contribute to voter apathy. Yes, your individual vote probably won't decide an election. But when you start broadcasting the idea that it is therefore pointless to vote at all, suddenly you have THOUSANDS, even MILLIONS of people who believe their votes don't matter. One vote may not make a difference, but thousands or millions most certainly do.

  • CharlieWM||

    You may want to look more into the electoral college. That's the real reason why our vote doesn't matter. Seriously, read the 12th amendment to the constitution.

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  • tipuasher||

    fantastic points and so true! Takes the heaviness off of perfectionists!

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  • CE||

    ...economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million

    So you're sayin' there's a chance!

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