How Much Will You Pay for My Vote? Going Once …



Our very own Katherine Mangu-Ward has argued, persuasively I believe, that voting is an essentially pointless activity. She also addressed the rather banal arguments raised by documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris, in favor of voting, which even he doesn't seem to find very convincing. Yet, many of us continue in this pointless activity, myself (intermittently) included, even though we agree with my esteemed colleague that we're wasting our time. You know why? Because we're not allowed to unload our votes, or even our entire right to vote, on the deluded clods who actually value the things.

Hey, I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. George Washington knew enough to offer voters a hell of a party in return for their support. Says the Smithsonian:

Even the father of our country, George Washington, was known to bribe the electorate with booze. In his recent book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent writes: "When twenty-four-year-old George Washington first ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he attributed his defeat to his failure to provide enough alcohol for the voters. When he tried again two years later, Washington floated into office partly on the 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer his election agent handed out—roughly half a gallon for every vote he received."

I think we're on to something here. It's not like Americans have changed much, despite all the goo-goo hectoring. A few years ago, Politico inspired cries of outrage by detailing how a poll of New York University students revealed their willingness to trade votes for tution payments or electronic goodies.

Two-thirds say they'll do it for a year's tuition. And for a few, even an iPod touch will do.

That's what NYU students said they'd take in exchange for their right to vote in the next presidential election, a recent survey by an NYU journalism class found.

Only 20 percent said they'd exchange their vote for an iPod touch.

But 66 percent said they'd forfeit their vote for a free ride to NYU. And half said they'd give up the right to vote forever for $1 million.

Personally, I think a million bucks way overvalues the right to vote. But, you know, a thing is worth whatever somebody else is willing to pay, and who knows …

Of course, buying and selling votes is illegal everywhere in the United States, although modern mail-in ballots at least make it do-able, if you're willing to do the exchange under the table. Hand over a little money or Washingtonian grog in return for the ballot, and a win-win deal has been closed. Selling an overall right to vote is a lot more challenging — impossible to enforce under our present system, so far as I can tell.

But why should it be? All the exercise-your-franchise nagging demonstrates only that some people value voting a lot more than do others. If it's so damned important to them, why shouldn't we give them a chance to put their money where their civil religion is and buy votes from those who'd rather sleep in on Election Day?

How's this: With the caveat that I'll feel no more bound by the results of elections than I do now, and assuming that we can reform the system to make such a mutually beneficial transaction possible, I'll open bidding for my right to vote at $100,000. Any takers?

NEXT: Sandy's North American Death Toll at 82

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  1. One MILLLLLLLION dollars not to vote?

    Sign me up. Yesterday.

    1. I’ll sell mine for $100.

    2. A million dollars to never vote again is a no-brainer–which means half of NYU students have no brain.

  2. I have an even better idea.

    Adjust the voting system so that each person gets 1 vote for free but can buy additional votes for an exponentionally increasing cost. So..

    1 Vote = Free
    2 Votes = $1
    3 Votes = $10
    4 Votes = $100
    5 Votes = $1000

    With no upper limit.

    Further, anyone can give anyone else any amount of money they like to purchase the votes, they can even do it right there in the voting hall if they like. However the ballots actually cast remain secret so there is no way to know for certain whether they actually spent the money on votes for the candidate or issue you were pushing, spent it on votes for other candidates or issues in other races, spent it voting for your opponent, or just pocketed the cash.

    All of the revenue collected from the votes purchased would of course be sent to the general fund of the level of government holding that election.

    1. Walter Williams had a similar idea, but it was based on how much someone paid in taxes. The idea being that someone who pays more taxes should have more say in how the money gets used. It’s how investing works.

      1. Except poor people who can’t afford to pay as much in taxes would have to live under the decrees of the govt they had no say in, while people who don’t invest in a company aren’t forcibly affected by its decisions.

        1. So, not much different than the way it is now, huh?

    2. And make that the ONLY source of revenue for government, and we’re on to something.

      1. That basically combines it with DanD’s post.

      2. Funny thing is you probably could completely replace all local tax revenues with this mechanism.

        Just think how many ballots the public employees unions would purchase for their members combined with those purchased by the local Chamber of Commerce and so on when it comes to voting for School Board, Councilmen, and Sherriff.

        State and Federal government however you’d probably need to implement some other form of tax, preferably a low consumption tax to make up some of the revenue because I just don’t see this raising anywhere near enough even with massively smaller governments to fill the need.

        At the State and Feder

        1. State and Federal government however you’d probably need to implement some other form of tax, preferably a low consumption tax to make up some of the revenue because I just don’t see this raising anywhere near enough even with massively smaller governments to fill the need.

          You should reexamine your definition of “need”. The actual politicians I’ve known define “need” as “roughly 50% more than we can currently extract, on average”.

          1. yeah in this case I am defining “need” as about 15% of what we currently collect in taxes. For example Federal tax revenues currently run about 1.5 trillion a year. I don’t see you collecting anywhere near $250 billion a year at the Federal level like this and I don’t think any serious argument of running a Federal government on less than that could be made.

  3. …if you’re willing to do the exchange under the table.

    The IRS should shut this blog down just for that clause right there.

    1. You are cordially invited to blow me.

  4. “But 66 percent said they’d forfeit their vote for a free ride to NYU.”

    Revealed preference says that many will forfeit their votes for free.

    1. I bet they wouldn’t, really. It’s a free rider fallacy.

  5. This problem has already been solved — Elections should be based upon television ratings. Duh.

    1. So Snooki for President?

      1. I’d go for that. Can’t be worse.

  6. I’ll undercut JD’s offer. My vote for $10, or about a half gallon of beer.

  7. I liked the episode of Justified last season where Boyd and Eva had their whores giving out blowjobs in an attempt to get their guy elected sheriff. This is how America should work.

  8. Son of a bitch 2Chilly, you have some of the finest alt-text skills.

  9. So I accidentally ended up watching 30 Rock last night and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. They did their election special and Tracy Morgan had the best parts. Should I feel ashamed now?

    1. Absolutely. You should feel most ashamed that that terrible fucking show didn’t compel you to immediately change the channel. You sicken me!

    2. I like that show. Don’t care what anybody else says. It’s funny.

    3. No, 30 Rock’s awesome, and anyone who thinks otherwise has something in common with Epi. And no one wants that.

      1. The mere fact that Epi posted negatively makes me feel better.

        1. I completely agree with Epi on this topic. And yes, it makes me feel dirty.

    4. 30 Rock has its moments. There are worse shows on tv, and there aren’t a whole lot on networks that are better. Modern Family and Parks and Recreation are the only ones that come to mind.

      1. 30 Rock has good writing. I caught parts of last night, and I larfed.

        “There’s no I or Me in America!”

        1. I was laughing for five minutes straight after the speech that Tracy gave the guy about voting because he had no idea what the right thing to do was.

  10. Why don’t we sell seats on juries, too?

    There are some functions of a functional democratic society that cannot be replaced by the market or market-ish mechanisms. The fact that the market works in 99.9% of human endeavors doesn’t mean it works in everything. And I know someone’s going to say “waaaaa you sound like Tony!” but Tony thinks the market should only be boss in like 20% of human activity, so it’s not the same thing.

    1. Why don’t we sell seats on juries, too?

      Because we are shooting for impartiality on juries.

      Next question.

    2. A particularly dumb post by Red Tony. Yes, as Emmerson said, the goals of a jury are completely different than the goals of an electoral candidate.

      1. Road construction is completely different from police work, but that doesn’t mean the same issues don’t apply to attempts to marketize both.

        Elections are supposed to make people buy-in to the government. You can’t really say you have consent of the governed if 70% of the governed traded their votes for a bowl of porridge.

    3. Why don’t we sell seats on juries, too?

      Because you can’t sell seats to something for which people hate so much that the government feels the need to conscript people to serve in them.

      It would be like asking, “why don’t we have women bid to be raped?”

      Why don’t we get rid of government law and juries and let people choose their private protective services for themselves?

      1. If said private protective services are dragging suspects from their homes and locking them in cages, there’s no freedom of choice for the suspect, is there?

        If they’re not, then they’re not really replacing the police and the justice system.

  11. But doesn’t voting for Democrats get people “free” stuff? Phones, expanded welfare, Obamacare, and so forth?

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