Note: These arguments have all been said by people to me when I ask if someone voted and asked why they didn't vote. I have attempted to avoid the strawman fallacy but if you don't believe I have presented the argument fairly, please let me know.
Argument 1: Rational choice argument
Rational choice argument can be dressed up in many ways but it essentially boils down to the following. My vote is unlikely to matter in the scheme of an election. I should, instead focus on doing things that are more productive and not waste my time. Certainly, you are more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the voting booth than you are to have your singular vote decide the outcome of an election. This is why I am a big fan of voting via mail. Jokes.
Argument 2: MY vote doesn't count
This is a similar argument to the one presented by rational choice arguers. The argument is that because there are so many people voting, my vote doesn't count because there are so many other people voting that my vote will be drowned out. One vote will not make a difference. I choose to not vote because my vote will not make the difference nor have the desired effect of having my voice heard as MY vote does not influence elections.
Response to these arguments
I'm going to do something I hate. I'm going to build you a philosopher's trap. It's unwise to assume that just because you see these people at the voting booth or filling out the ballot, that these ballots are being filled out correctly. These people may be filling out their ballots by including non-registered write-in candidates. The voters themselves may be ineligible, for a variety of reasons, such as not being registered. Or the people who are at the polling place are not even voting but hanging out or insuring that there is no voter fraud taking place. The truth is, unless you are watching and instructing that each ballot is correctly filled out by each voter and that they are actual voters, you have absolutely no idea if these votes are going to count. The only thing that YOU have control over, is making sure that YOUR ballot is filled out correctly. This ensures that your vote counts. Consider the insane hypothetical where all the voters in a district, for whatever reason, choose either not to vote or do not fill their ballots out, correctly. But you, yourself, fill it out correctly. All of a sudden your vote is no longer going up against thousands or millions of people, it's just you. Obviously, this is nearly impossible. YOU do have control over YOUR actions. YOU do not have control over others.
But that is the weakest response to these arguments. The people who are not voting have voices that are not heard in the electoral process. They represent, what could be, real change. Here's how non-voters performed in 2012. If you're too lazy to click on the spreadsheet, I'll summarize.
In 39 states, the winner of the state was outperformed by non-voters. Only in 11 states did the winner of the presidential election in the state actually beat the performance of non-voters. Meaning that if we gave in and allowed non-voters their idea that not voting is a statement, then the electoral college results are strikingly different.
Mitt Romney: 0
Barack Obama: 86
Outside of a handful on anarchists and/or libertarians, I don't think too many people would be happy with this result.
But can these non-voters make a difference? This is how I looked at it. I wanted to see how many of the non-voters would have to go for the loser to change the state's outcome. In the six main swing states, a very low amount of non-voters would have to go for the loser, in order to change the election, not only in the state, but the country. Of course, this assumes that all of the non-voters go for the loser in this scenario.
North Carolina: 4.03%
What happens when we reverse these outcomes? Electoral college results:
Mitt Romney: 277
Barack Obama: 261
Instead of Barack Obama being re-elected, Mitt Romney is the President. But, thanks, I guess, in part due to people not voting, Barack Obama was re-elected. Even in Republican or Democratic stronghold states, the percentage of people not voting that could change the election is not as high, as you think.
In fact, there are only three states where the non-voters won where they would need 50% or more of non-voters to vote for the loser to change the election outcome in their state. 36 of those states need 37% or less. The average state would need 23.09% of non-voters to vote for the loser to change the outcome. The median for these states is 22.98%.
These aren't insignificant numbers by any means, but you're talking about 750,000 people voting, changing the entire election. Not the millions that you think of.
But that's just the Presidential elections. I looked up the competitive Senate elections in 2012 to see how non-voters could impact the Senate control, as well. I focused on the states that had more non-voters than the ballots cast for the Senate winners. Again, I looked to see what percentage of non-voters would have to vote for the loser, in order for the Senate outcomes to be reversed.
|New Mexico: 6.976744|
So, those are all state-wide elections and we can see that even then, the idea that your vote doesn't count is starting to leak water. So, how about if we focus on elections that have even less people potentially voting.
Here are the 10 closest House races during the 2012 election.
Note: The margin of victory is the first number listed. The average member of the House of Representatives represents 700,000 people. The second number listed in parentheses is the estimated number of non-voters. It is estimated by dividing the number of non-voters in the state by the number of Congressional districts. Obviously, it can be suspect as this assumes that the number of non-voters is the same throughout the state.
NC-7: 684 (187,000)
UT-4: 768 (202,000)
IL-13: 1002 (201,000)
MI-1: 1881 (181,000)
FL-18: 1904 (178,000)
AZ-2: 2454 (226,000)
MA-6: 4330 (177,000)
MN-6: 4296 (116,000)
IN-2: 3920 (233,000)
The average Congressional district has 200,000+ non-voters. I have not run the numbers, yet, but I wonder how many seats the not voting candidate would get in the House election. My assumption is, the majority.
This ends the first part of the voting manifesto. I have yet to finish the response to the original argument. So I will pick it up soon.