We have all heard the gospel from the preachers of civic religion: “It’s your duty to vote!” “People died for your right to vote!” “If you don’t vote you can’t complain!” From an early age we are taught that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a good citizen is to vote. Every vote counts. Your vote matters. According to TrueTheVote.org, “You could be the difference between a winner and a loser for your party, your ideology, even your pocketbook on tax levies. Go register and go vote. Don’t let this important duty escape your attention.”

Many have even gone so far as to say this is the most important election in our nation’s history. Well, since the predominant view in our society is that voting is a sacrosanct responsibility not to be taken lightly, I figured that the least we could all do is go into Election Day 2012 as informed voters.

A fair warning: The following ideas may be regarded by some as heresy. However, for the open minded, I expect this will serve well as an engaging exercise in critical thinking. My purpose here is not to tell you how to vote. I am merely explaining the facts of reality and letting you choose your own adventure from there.
Understand Your Reason for Voting

More often than not, the reasons people give for why they vote (and why everyone should vote) are based on factual errors and flawed logic. Perhaps there are good reasons for voting. We will get to those momentarily, but first I want to rip the proverbial “Band-Aid” right off and explain why one popular reason for voting is mistaken. If you think your vote has any influence on who will win the 2012 presidential election, you are wrong. Your vote will have absolutely, positively zero impact on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

I do not mean that your vote counts only a very small amount, like a grain of sand on the beach. I do not mean that the election is rigged. I do not even mean that the voting machines will malfunction. I mean that your vote will be counted, and it will literally not have ANY impact in determining who wins the election. None.

Here’s why: For your vote to “make a difference” in the 2012 presidential election results, you would have to be voting in the one and only state that had enough electoral votes to swing the election to either Romney or Obama. Additionally, the popular vote in your state would have to be decided by a single vote. If, and only if, your state is decided by a single vote and your vote is the tie-breaker will your vote have any impact on the election outcome. We can safely say the odds of that happening are statistically close enough to zero to be called zero for all practical purposes. No presidential election has ever been decided by one vote, nor will it ever be.

Some might argue that the example of Florida in 2000 highlights the importance of your single vote. In fact, it shows the opposite. Not only are the odds infinitesimally small that there will ever be an exact tie, but even when elections get remotely close like they did in the 2000, the decision was quickly taken out of the hands of the voters and put into the government courts.

Again, there may be reasons for voting, but thinking that your vote will have any influence on the outcome of this presidential election should not be one of them. It doesn't. Zero. Zip. Your vote will not make a difference in determining the presidential election outcome. Not in this election, not ever.

“But I have to vote for Romney because we can’t survive another four years of Obama.” – Your vote will not matter in determining who will win.

“I have to vote for Obama because Romney is just terrible.” – Your vote will not matter in determining who will win.

“I can’t waste my vote on a third party.” – Guess what? Your vote will not matter in determining who will win.

Hopefully you are starting to get the idea.

Whether or not you vote for Romney or Obama or anyone else for that matter has absolutely zero impact on who will win the 2012 presidential election. Your thinking there is a chance you will have even the smallest fraction of an impact on the results is a mistake.

However, just because your vote will have zero impact on determining who will win the election, it does not follow that your vote is meaningless. It just means you need to have a better reason for voting than naively thinking your vote will make a difference as to who will win.

Take a moment to think of a few reasons why think you should or shouldn’t vote. Remember, don’t include anything like “because I want candidate X to win”. We just illustrated why that is not good reasoning.

Understand the Costs and Benefits of Voting

As Bryan Caplan notes, voting is a lot like watching your favorite sports team on the television from your basement. Your participation doesn’t have any influence on the winner of the game, but one of the main payoffs for voting, besides any entertainment value you derive from the process, is that you get to tell everybody that you did it. Voting is probably best understood as an expressive act. By selecting your candidate's name at the ballot box and then telling everyone about it, you get to communicate to others who you are and what you stand for. You get to feel like you are a part of the process, a part of something bigger than yourself.

Of course, since your vote will have zero impact on who wins the 2012 presidential election, you should not include any expected costs or benefits of the next administration's policies in your own personal cost/benefit analysis of deciding whether or not to vote.

For example, you would never watch the 49ers game expecting that your act of watching will have any impact on whether or not they win. However, you may watch because you are emotionally invested in the outcome, for whatever reason. Similarly, you might get real psychological benefits from voting. You might enjoy the entertainment value of educating yourself about the issues and candidates. Maybe voting provides you with an opportunity to express yourself emotionally.

You just have to decide for yourself if those benefits are worth the costs associated with voting. While you don’t have to pay money at the voting booth, the cost of voting includes the time and resources it takes to become informed, register to vote, travel to the polls, and stand in line, etc… as measured by the loss other productive activities you could have been doing with your time and energy.

For Whom Should I Vote?

Now that you’ve taken time to think about whether or not voting is worth your time and energy relative to the other productive activities you could be doing, let’s explore the four options available to you in the 2012 presidential election:

1)     Vote for Obama
2)     Vote for Romney
3)     Vote for Other
4)     Vote by Not Voting

It is already a foregone conclusion that either Obama or Romney will win. Regardless of who secures the crown on November 6th, it is certain that we will get four more years of wars, several trillion in additional debt, a continuously devalued currency, and more egregious violations of basic civil liberties. It will be this way whether you vote for Romney, Obama, Other, or None of the Above. Remember, your vote will have absolutely, positively no impact on determining the winner. Not even a little bit.

However, your vote on Election Day may be important as an expressive act. It communicates what you stand for. You should vote for your principles. It will be counted as part of the aggregate to communicate a message. A vote for either 1) Obama or 2) Romney says that you support the ever-expansive leviathan we call the federal government. It signals that you support the status quo that is this corrupt and illegitimate political system.

If you actually stand with Romney or Obama on principle, then by all means, express your values accordingly. We are going to get Romney or Obama either way, and your vote will not impact who wins. But you have to decide if you really want to say that you were one of the ones who voted for four more years of bad government? Is that what you want to celebrate?

For anyone who cares about individual liberty, and thinks they are supporting liberty by voting for the lesser of two evils, a vote for either Obama or Romney is worse than a wasted vote.  As I have shown in detail, your vote will only impact who wins in the case of a tie, and a tie will never occur. However, a vote for Obama or Romney, even if it is a vote for the lesser of two evils, is still a vote for evil in the aggregate. You won’t impact who will win, but you will send the signal that you support this broken, exploitative system as is. Your voting decision in the presidential election should not come down to voting for the lesser of two evils. You have the very real option not to support evil.

For anyone concerned about advancing liberty, we are left with only two options in the 2012 presidential election: 3) Vote for Other or 4) Vote by Not Voting.

Not voting in the presidential election is a perfectly reasonable position for most people to take. Perhaps you are concerned about the legitimacy of the political system and wish to withhold your consent. Maybe, you correctly understand that even when you vote for a particular candidate, there is no way to be sure that you get what you voted for, so why bother. It may be you find it strange that elections always come down to the “choice” between establishment candidates Big Government A or Big Government B. Perhaps, like many advocates for liberty who take seriously the idea that we should not initiate force against other people, you have a fundamental problem voting for someone to rule over others. There are plenty of strong practical and moral arguments that it is wrong to vote.

If you really want to go to the polls and vote, consider voting for a 3rd party or write-in. The game is different. These candidates have no chance of winning. You can go in knowing, correctly, that your vote will not matter in determining the outcome of the winner. But, in aggregate, if a 3rd party can get 5% of the popular vote, that does make a real difference for funding and ballot access. It can change the public discussion. Furthermore, if the winners of the presidential election start winning with less and less support, it may draw appropriate attention to the corrupt structure of our inherentlypolitical system.

In closing, although your individual vote is completely and totally meaningless in terms of having any impact on who will win the presidential election, it may very well count for other reasons. I do not write all of this to imply we should do nothing and give up. Quite the opposite! I suggest that potential voters merely understand their reasons for voting or not voting. We should better understand the costs and benefits of voting, and we should at least question how much we really think we are “participating” in this political system.

How should an informed voter vote? After reading this, you are now more informed than most. The decision is up to you.

Next week, I will talk about how we can use our resources to influence change in ways that are more productive than simply casting a ballot every couple of years.

In Liberty,

Jason Riddle



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