In the wake of the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, more people than ever feel fired up to vote. US citizens feel this is a civic duty that gives them a voice in the direction of their country. However, the bleak truth is that everything from outdated systems to the dominance of the two-party system means that your vote may not count for anything at all.
10 Many States Have Made Up Their Minds
Presidential voting is often characterized as the ultimate act of democracy in the US—a chance for each individual to play a part in determining the future of their country and, to a lesser extent, the world. But this view envisions the presidential race as one big contest.
In reality, it’s more like 50 separate races—one for each state. The vast majority of voters live in states that made up their mind to vote red (Republican) or blue (Democrat) years ago. The Electoral College for these states usually works on an “all or nothing” system.
In Alabama, a vote for a Democrat quite literally counts for nothing in the presidential race of this predominately Republican state. Although some voters live in the so-called “swing states,” the Electoral College helps discredit their votes, too.
9 The Electoral College Is What Matters
The majority, “popular” vote does not actually determine who becomes president. Instead, it is left to the 538 members of the Electoral College, and the winning candidate must receive at least 270 electoral votes. Each electoral vote can count for as many as 500,000 popular votes.
The “winner-take-all” nature of a state’s electoral votes means that any vote outside the majority for that state is meaningless—those voters have no power. Accordingly, these states receive far less attention from presidential candidates as they campaign, putting voters in non-swing states even further from those they are asked to elect.
Some states have more electoral votes than others, which is how candidates like John Adams in 1824 and George W. Bush in 2000 lost the popular vote but became president anyway.
8 You Encourage Uninformed Voters
Comedian George Carlin had a famously cynical quote: “Think of how stupid the average person is and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Sadly, this applies to voting as well.
Nonetheless, we encourage voting as a civic duty for everyone 18 and older. But Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw once opined that we should not dissuade our friends who tell us they aren’t voting.
In all likelihood, these friends are like the countless voters that researchers in 1996 discovered left many blanks on their ballots. Their conclusion was that many potential voters are uninformed about the candidates and choose to not vote.
By encouraging everyone to vote, we actual decrease the number of educated and informed voters making this monumental decision affecting the country. Letting them stay home may make the country stronger.
7 Third-Party Votes Count For Nothing
When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump solidified as the 2016 candidates for president, many individuals and groups sent renewed rallying calls to vote for a third party. Some liberals urged votes for Jill Stein or Bernie Sanders while more conservative groups rushed to remind everyone that Libertarian Gary Johnson would be on the ballot in all 50 states. Unfortunately, these options are meaningless.
Votes are bought by money. Not directly, of course, but via the kinds of advertising machinery that makes even the most politically unaware feel a sense of confidence in a candidate. Both Democrats and Republicans are financially beholden to various corporate interests, and stagnating economic growth has reduced the ability for a truly independent candidate to finance a competing campaign. Thus, while symbolic, a vote for a third party is utterly meaningless.
6 There Is No ‘Lesser Of Two Evils’
Many Trump supporters and many Clinton supporters think that they are voting for the “lesser of two evils.” However, the futility of this line of thinking is so obvious that even a child can see it.
Unsavory candidates for president do not arrive in a vacuum. They rise to prominence by promising to fix a broken system. (In the case of career politicians, it’s arguably a system they helped to break in the first place.)
By consistently voting for a candidate you feel will fix a couple of the symptoms and then leaving the causes of our country’s problems open like wounds, you guarantee that the problem lives on and new symptoms will arise.
5 Disenfranchisement Makes Democracy A Lie
Voting is considered sacred because it is founded on the idea that all the country’s citizens help to shape its future by voting. In truth, not all of them get to vote.
Here’s an example: In 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a voting law established by North Carolina in 2013 that allegedly prevented voter fraud. However, the courts found that many of the law’s changes were based on racial data. Such data showed that African Americans were likeliest to vote Democrat, take part in early voting, and use photo IDs other than a driver’s license.
The law eliminated early voting and made a driver’s license the only acceptable photo ID, which also affected the elderly. Worst of all, these changes were later found to have no significant effect on voter fraud (which was found to be a nonissue). When specific segments of the population are still being disenfranchised in the 21st century, the dream of democracy via equal voting rights is dead.
4 The Candidates Are The Same: The Illusion Of Choice
Another bit of infamous George Carlin wisdom is what he called the “illusion of choice.” Carlin noted that the media labels those who see connecting interests between politicians (on all sides) and corporations as crazy conspiracy theorists.
“You don’t need a formal conspiracy,” Carlin said, “These people went to the same universities and fraternities, they’re on the same boards as directors, they were in the same country clubs, they have like interests. [ . . . ] They don’t need to call a meeting. They know what’s good for them, and they are getting it.”
He noted that the dwindling of things like oil companies and insurance companies ran parallel to the dwindling of viable political parties and that we have “23 flavors” for things like bagels but only two choices for the most powerful position in the world.
The vote represents the illusion that we are choosing between significantly different parties rather than two elites from the same circles.
3 Super PACs And Corporate Control
It’s easy for skeptics to shrug at the assertions of George Carlin and others that corporate interests control elections. However, that’s been factually true since 2010.
Previously, the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prevented corporations and unions from donating to politicians for an obvious reason: How can a president show no favoritism when certain corporations played a major part in helping him or her win the election?
In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned certain parts of that act, allowing corporations to donate to Political Actions Committees (PACs) to help a candidate win the election. This quickly led to so-called “super PACs,” which have no limits on the amount they can donate.
By July 31, 2016, super PACs had spent nearly $1 billion on various political candidates in that election cycle. As elections are determined by money, billionaires and their corporations always trounce the “vote your conscience” sentiments of common citizens.
2 Voting Keeps Your Party From Changing
When it became obvious that Bernie Sanders would not be the Democratic Party candidate, one group became more fired up than ever. The “Bernie or Bust” movement declared that they will never vote for Hillary Clinton, and much of the Democratic National Convention was spent trying to either cajole or shame this group into falling in line and voting for Clinton.
The problem is that this furthers the notion of treating voting like sports—as if voters have an obligation to always vote for their “team” rather than honestly evaluate the principles, promises, and previous actions of the candidates. Withholding your vote sends a powerful message to your party that you want a candidate more in line with your values.
1 Not Voting Is Also Your Right
Your right to vote is spoken of in the same hushed tones as your right to free speech. However, you have the right to not vote, too. Some may shame you with the old line that those who don’t vote do not get to complain about the president.
Here’s a secret: Not voting is your complaint about a corrupt, rigged system. Think of it as supply and demand. Not voting makes the candidates have to work harder to sell themselves to the public. Withholding your vote encourages presidential candidates to discover the platforms and promises that citizens want and, ideally, to deliver them.
Chris Jenkins is just ready for the election season to be over; provide him emotional support @pocketepiphany.