Does My Vote Matter?

Every two to four years we have government elections and every two to four years I wonder the same thing, “Does my vote matter?” In California, we have two Gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman (R) and Jerry Brown (D) who have the most vicious attack ads I’ve ever seen. Their ads make them BOTH sound unappealing, which makes common citizens like me depressed that no change will come.

I have to think there are attack ads in almost every city in America which is resulting in the same voter ambivalence. Am I wrong? You tell me. Every single politician says the same thing:

* I plan to change the way the Capital is run. No more politics as usual.
* I plan to balance the budget.
* I am qualified because of my experience in politics, or my experience in business.
* My opponent is unqualified.
* I answer to no one but you.
* Wonk, wonk, blah, blah, schimmy, schimmy, bang, bang.

Really?  Come on.  You and I know that politicians can’t please everyone and often times lie through their teeth.  They can say they will cut taxes, but there’s no way that they will say exactly where they will cut spending.  They say that they answer to no one, but we all know that the Unions, lobbyists, and other interest groups have them in their back pockets.  It’s sad, because it sure feels like my vote doesn’t matter.

YOU KNOW IT

Math doesn’t lie.  If you must know, there’s been a steadily declining turnout in voters for decades.  The average hovers around 50% for Presidential elections, which of course we have no power over due to the Electoral College system.  For local elections, the turnout is often times only 25-30%.  The reasons for a lack of turnout are as follows:

* The government has become so big that nobody believes they can fight the Borg.
* Trust among politicians is in a structurally permanent decline due to over-promises.
* People feel they are too busy and are too lazy.
* Attack ads make everybody depressed.
* People are afraid that if they vote they will get spam and unwanted solicitations. There’s even a fear that once you register to vote, the omniscient government can spy on your every move.
* There are too many candidates and issues to vote on, so people decide to vote on none.
* Officials don’t make it easy to register to vote. Why do we have to register separately in the first place?
* People believe that other people are rational and will vote for the right candidate.

As someone who believes everything rational, it’s easy to argue that if things are so bad, and if people care enough, they’ll go out and vote for improvement.  As such, why bother voting if things aren’t really bothering you enough?  And if things are, well, others are likely bothered enough to go vote, so let them go do all the legwork!  It’s just like a thread on car problems, only those with enough bad experiences and angst post.  Sooner or later, the car manufacturer will do an upgrade, or else face losing its precious customers.

On the flip side, one can argue that since only 50% or less turn out to vote, your vote carries twice or more the weight of a usual vote, and you have an opportunity to really make a difference.  Too bad numbers don’t support this thesis.

SOLUTIONS TO INCREASE VOTER TURNOUT

* Make it a law that everyone must vote. If you don’t vote, you have to pay a fine or go streaking.
* Make it a law that everyone must study the 200 page voter guide every two years and get a 50% or better passing rate or else pay a fine or go streaking.
* Lower taxes.
* Make voting easier by allowing people to just walk up to a booth, write down all their information for registration and vote.
* Create a website that lists all the people who haven’t voted & make them go streaking.
* Make it a law for ad campaigns to tell the truth and not bend truths or else get fined or taken off the air.
* Make it clear that if you vote, you will not be put on some government watch-list, like the one you’re on right now by the IRS.

I feel it in my gut that voting is a good thing because our country is based on democracy and freedom.  Thousands of people have died to defend our principles and rights.  Hence, to not vote feels like we are dishonoring their legacy.  Unfortunately, I still don’t believe my vote matters that much.  How sad.

Despite the fact that Republicans have taken control of Congress, the Democrats still control the Senate and the Presidency.  Therefore, nothing really changes.  Back to the same old stuff!

Readers, do you think your vote matters?  Any suggestions on how to improve voter turnout?  Do you think anything changes after this election?

Regards,

Sam

PS Remember, if you are one of the 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes, please have mercy on those who do pay taxes by not voting on someone who wants to raise our taxes further.  Really appreciate it!  Thanks!

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Investor Junkie says

    “Make it a law that everyone must vote.” BAD IDEA! You want people voting who know nothing about the candidates?

  2. says

    Rather than focusing on quantity, I think a better choice is a have an engaged, knowledgeable electorate. Just pushing people who care little about the outcome nor are interested in studying the issues and/or candidates does nothing but improve those numbers.

    If people want to vote they will, if not, they cannot complain about the solution.

    • says

      I agree with your last line, which is why I wrote,

      “As someone who believes everything rational, it’s easy to argue that if things are so bad, and if people care enough, they’ll go out and vote for improvement. As such, why bother voting if things aren’t really bothering you enough? And if things are, well, others are likely bothered enough to go vote, so let them go do all the legwork! It’s just like a thread on car problems, only those with enough bad experiences and angst post. Sooner or later, the car manufacturer will do an upgrade, or else face losing its precious customers.”

      If you are happy about your taxes going to 60%, then don’t vote. And if you aren’t, and don’t vote, you can’t complain!

  3. says

    I think voter turnout in the US and Japan are low because there is an entrenched political process/bureaucracy that does not give politicians as much power as we think they have. In the US we got lobbyists, corporate interests, unions, etc. breathing down the necks of politicians. In Japan they got a stodgy bureaucracy that runs the show. It is no surprise to me that voters don’t even care about putting some figurehead into office. They know by now that their politician is owned by somebody other than them.

    • says

      Well said. Jerry Brown, California’s new governor is owned by the Union groups and big corporations unlike Meg Whitman, and frankly that’s why he’s IN! We’re all expecting some huge tax increases and continued spending in California to crush our budget and leave the debt to our children. That’s what the people want! Whoo hoo!

  4. says

    Do I think my vote counts? Yes, yes I do. Do I think it counts enough to make a change, even a small one, in the results of the election? Probably not; even with all the talk of low voter turnout, my vote is will not be THE deciding vote, even in the smaller, local elections. All the same, I still do my best to continue voting.

    I like the idea of removing ads that lie; I would suggest you extend it to intentionally misleading ads as well. The number of ads that rely on ‘gotcha’ votes, using one small part of a larger omnibus bill to accuse opponents of being against all that is good in the world or in favor of (fill in the name of a hated group), is simply nuts. I might not mind these political ads so much if politicians were forced to tell the truth; at the very least, the possibility that one of their heads might explode would make the debates much more interesting.

    • says

      You believe your vote counts, but won’t make a change, even a small one? That’s kinda irrational no?

      I can’t tell one politician from another crooked politician given all these ridiculous ads! Freaking annoying!

      • says

        I don’t think it’s irrational; for all the talk of low voter turn-out, we haven’t (yet) reached the point where a single vote decides election. The result if I vote are likely identical to the to the result if I hadn’t voted; I don’t think any of the elections in my district were close enough to hinge on one vote. I keep voting because the lower voter turnout gets, the more valuable my vote becomes, and I want to one day be THE vote that decides a major election ;)

        And yes, I would strongly consider voting for any candidate supporting a constitutional amendment to ban political ads; unless I disagreed with him/her on every other issue, it seems like a reasonable position at this point.

  5. says

    Vote by mail! I voted two weekends ago, no hassle. They are predicting 72% turn out in Oregon this year. The 2008 presidential election turn out was 85%. It’s not that difficult to read the voter ballet book.

  6. says

    @EEmusings – I’d make it mandatory in college, and then every 2 years have a refresher, and look at all the main issues from each candidate and decision. Heck, why not. And if people don’t, just pay fines which will go to shoring up the budget.

  7. says

    I just learned yesterday that my babysitter refuses to register to vote because she believes it will put her on “the grid.” Even though she has a drivers license, and a social security number, and she’s employed so she pays taxes. So really, she’s already on the grid.

    Maybe we need to start a rumor that if you vote, you immediately fall OFF of the government watch list.

    • says

      Hey Lindy, that’s actually a brilliant idea! Getting “on the grid” is seriously a concern for many who…… don’t pay their taxes. perhaps b/c of cash income such as waitering etc.

  8. says

    I don’t think you can make voting mandatory if you want to promote a free country and civil liberties. Plus I don’t want people voting who don’t understand what they are doing.

    I also like that you can’t just walk up and vote. If you could, there’d be a lot of “hey, I’ll give you five bucks to walk over here and pull this lever.”

    I would like to get rid of the electoral college though

    • says

      If you want to promote a free country and civil liberties, then you would abolish such big government and abolish a progressive taxation system that discriminates & punishes hard workers! We’ve come too far to have freedom in America, which is why if we want people to vote, we make it law.

  9. says

    It’s pretty easy to feel like your vote gets lost in a big election like this. I voted this time, but more often than not – I get a little apathetic on election day (even though the polling place is literally one block away in my backyard).

    However – the closer to home the race is – the more your vote counts. I’m talking about the people running for city council, county board, that sort of thing.

    These are the people that help make decisions that will most directly affect your everyday life. Yet these are the elections we seem to care the least about.

    It’s a lot tougher to learn about candidate views in races like that. But I think it’s worth the time and effort to do a little research. Especially because a lot of bozos can easily get elected in local government if you sit back and do nothing.

  10. says

    I don’t agree with mandatory voting, but I do think we could do a lot to make it easier for people. I like your idea of walk up registration.

    I think my vote does count. My vote may not always go to the winning candidate or proposition but I had a chance to express my opinion and be part of the process. Did you see the movie “Swing Vote”. Although over the top, it does get across the message that each vote is important.

    P.S. I’m very happy wtih the way things turned our in California last night; especially related to the propositions.

  11. says

    Wouldn’t forcing someone to vote be taking away the very freedoms we always strive to protect?

    That being said I vote every time, but living in California I do feel my vote will often go to waste.

  12. says

    What if someone doesn’t agree with the *SYSTEM*? You can’t really vote to change the system. As I’ve seen the point made elsewhere, when you go vote, you’re voting to paint the castle walls red or blue. Does it really make that much of a difference what color the castle is if the castle never changes?

    Maybe non-votes should be seen as votes of non-confidence, and recognized as such by the law of the land.

  13. says

    I don’t think that any politician changes anything. They all become part of the system. If you want people to vote, offer an incentive. Offer every voter a 2-3% tax break.

  14. says

    Technically, my vote doesn’t matter because all of the politicians are pretty much the same. So, we get the same basic result no matter what button we press.

    The mandatory voting may come one day. Hey, we already are facing mandatory health insurance, so why not throw voting in there as well?!

  15. says

    I love voting. By voting, I earn all rights to complain about whoever is in office!

    We actually had about 43 percent turnout, which was somewhat impressive.

    I think providing transportation might help turnout, at least in some places. I think people also get confused on where to go. I know my precinct has changed a couple of times.

    I also wonder if all the propaganda and phone calls people get turn voter off from politics and voting in general.

  16. Greg McFarlane says

    I’m assuming Sam isn’t serious about literally forcing people to vote, which is a) impossible to enforce regardless of how they do it in Australia and b) implies that you can force people to educate themselves.

    I’d be fine with requiring people to own property before they’re allowed to vote. As it stands right now, we’re perilously close to the point where 51% of us can order the remaining 49% to be productive.

    It’s easy to say that your vote didn’t count, after the ballots have been counted. We can guess that certain races will be close, but we don’t know that until after the fact. In my home state the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race was supposed to be close. Reid ended up winning by 5.6 percentage points, which isn’t a landslide, but it isn’t a razor-thin margin either. Theoretically, 40,000 Angle voters could have stayed home.
    But in 2000, if 269 people had changed their minds, Al Gore would have been president. If not for any other reason, vote because it might count.

  17. says

    I think your vote counts and actually is worth more than someone how decides to vote because MTV told them to do so (what sheep…)

    I think if you are up on the candidate (and just don’t know someone with the same last name), then and only then, should you vote. Elsewise, you are just gambling with the election process.

    What I hate is the half truths, and bogus scientific reporting materials that is paid for by the party that claims them. I also hate the way they say one thing, then later say “That’s not what I meant’… Or if they are asked about something that they promised, they totally ignore the question and right away try to steer it the conversation down a different path…

    Tell me if you see (seven of nine) out there!

  18. Charlie says

    I don’t have any good ideas of how to make the voting system better. It is DEFINITELY confusing and daunting trying to read and understand all the different propositions, candidate backgrounds, weed through the bashing and mud slinging, and figure out the dozens of seats for positions that I’ve never even heard about. The idea of making voting required is an interesting one – but I wonder what the results would end up like as I’m sure a lot of people would vote entirely randomly & not take the time to research all the issues.

  19. says

    I was shocked looking at UK voter turnouts the other day and now looking at it all together with some other places is interesting. I don’t know if the votes matter but you have to do it just in case they do!

  20. says

    lol – love the discussion on mandatory voting

    1) require voters to be licensed by passing a test and getting qualified/certified (relatively sophisticated that the average joe will not be able to handle w/o studying, but one that readers of blogs like these would pass)

    2) those that don’t have a license can’t vote

    3) those that do not vote are taxed

    4) therefore, everyone must pass the test = everyone gets educated about the system, candidates etc.

    5) risk of incompetent, free riding or bandwagon voters is mitigated or eliminated

    :)

      • livetochew says

        while we are on the mandatory voting discussion.. I’ll add one more… those who do not meet the requirements will not be allowed to reproduce either. I think that’ll be an extra WIN in there of eliminating billy bob’s seeds from the gene pool… just as the law of nature intended.. :D

  21. says

    In a democratic country you need to exercise your option to vote. Should voting be made mandatory? Yes.

    Government should be proactive in raising awareness about the importance of voting.
    Also, the most important to increase voters turnout is to hold elections on weekends, Saturday and Sundays. This will encourage more people to turn up to vote.

    We can never expect a 100% or force people to vote as we would get random and meaningless votes. But following the above methods, we can definitely increase the voting percentage by a substantial amount.

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