It’s always during a Presidential election season that people begin arguing over their vote and whether it really matters. I often hear phrases like, “Thanks to the electoral college, your vote doesn’t count” or “My state is already (insert red or blue here), my vote isn’t going to change that” or “The election is rigged, because of excessive campaign funding and corruption. (insert candidate here) was essentially bought and is set to win no matter what we do”.
First let’s talk about how voting (for a presidential election) works:
The electoral college: In November (if you vote), your ballot for VP and President will join countless others for your state. Then, the majority vote will determine a slate of electorates who are vowed to be “faithful” and cast their vote as a representation of the majority votes for their states. Technically, your vote for candidate is really a vote for an electorate tied to that candidate.
Each state has as many electorates as it does Senators and Representatives. In total, there are 538 electorates in the U.S. This is why candidates try to “win states” and not just the national population. States don’t necessarily require electors to vote with the popular majority nor will they necessarily give all of the electorate votes to the statewide popular vote. Many states follow a “winner take all” system in which all of the electorates in that state put their vote towards the majority vote of the state as a whole. The purpose of the electoral college is to balance the power of the people and the power of states (and their size).
So to that first argument about the electoral college, I would say something like “your vote is being represented and has been counted but is scaled to the population of your state, since states have power in our democracy”.
My state is already (insert red or blue here):
Let’s start with a very simple (and silly) example:
Politician A is running against Politician B for President. You live in a state that for the past 3 election cycles (12 years) has voted for Politician B. Neither candidate has visited your state or campaigned in it for years because it is a ‘sure thing’ that they will either win or lose.
Scenario 1: In the last election, Politician/Party B won by 30%. When looking at the voting numbers they noticed that 43% of people didn’t vote (based on the 2012 statistics on percentage of Americans that did not vote that were eligible to do so).
- Because the 43% of people decided not to vote, Politician B knows that either they didn’t have the access or time to vote or did not have that much of a vested interest in voting for either candidate. B can assume that any policies B passes will not cause uproar among at least 43% of the population. If they are unhappy with B, it won’t matter until the next election and we might be able to assume they won’t vote then either.
- Of the 57% that did vote, B knows that at least 70% voted for B. That wasn’t even a close race for B so B will pass any laws B wants to without worry of not getting re-elected.
Scenario 2: Politician/Party B won by 1%. of the 57% B knows that only 51% voted for B.
- B is worried now that voters are uncertain and now must be wary of what policy actions B takes because B may not get re-elected or may cause unrest.
Democracy requires an active body of citizens. As in 2012, if 43% of the population do not vote, politicians can view what constituents are voting and behave accordingly. If the minority party began voting more and more than 43% of people voted in a presidential election, the percentage can sway over time. Your vote may not effect this election, but your consistent vote every election can have a collective effect over time. A trend in changing percentages can indicate to politicians that with changing socio-economic settings, demographic makeup, and the formation of new industries over time, the political leaning of a state can change. This is how battleground states turn red or blue and how red or blue states become battleground states.
Additionally, with this mindset you could argue that not voting is essentially a vote for the status quo and the continuation of how your state has always voted. So even your silence is a vote for the usual, it’s just a silent vote that the politician doesn’t have to worry about when he passes a law you don’t like.
The election is rigged, corruption and excessive campaign funds means that (insert candidate) is set to win no matter what:
My favorite argument for this comes from the end of a video by Grey’s Anatomy star Jessie William. It ends with him saying “You say vote, because there are still people who don’t want you to.” Ultimately, what are the billions of campaign dollars trying to do (besides trickling down to assist politicians trying to get elected into the House and the Senate)? Why invest millions of dollars in advertisements and even more money in personally campaigning in states if a candidate didn’t think your vote would matter? Why focus specifically on minority groups and special interest groups if they didn’t want your vote?
The slander and negative campaigning against each other, the money spent, the time invested, the media coverage, even certain voter ID policies (supposedly meant to prevent polling fraud but more often prevents certain voting populations from actually voting)… it all leads to one thing: If you are going to show up at the polls, they want your vote. But (especially in certain ‘safe states’ that you live in but you don’t align with politically) they just don’t want you to vote. So do it because there are people in power who don’t want you to. That is your power and your right.