Voting: does it even matter?

BLUF: In presidential elections, some votes matter more than others (i.e. in swing or “purple” states); in midterm elections, every single vote matters with countless examples in history of outcomes decided by slim margins – sometimes just one vote.

It’s that time of the month election cycle again. You know the one. Where we are all irritable, stressed out, and frustrated that something so necessary to our well-being can cause this much pain and agony.

I am not talking about your period ladies. I am talking about your civic duty to V O T E!

I hear it all the time, “My vote doesn’t even count in my state.” And those folks aren’t necessarily wrong but they definitely aren’t right.

Let’s start at the very beginning (because that’s a very good place to start), the year is 1779 and only property owning or tax paying males white males can vote (we are talking 6 percent of the population!).

Then basically from 1870 to 1984, a series of constitutional amendments and Acts are passed to make voting more equal and inclusive. Some of these include:

1868: The 14th Amendment gives full citizenship and voting rights to all men born or naturalized in the U S of A.

1870: The 15th Amendment eliminates racial barriers to voting but several states use poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation etc. to prevent many from voting. Note: Native Americans still can’t vote.

1920: The 19th Amendment gives babes the right to vote nationwide (took em long enough!)

1924: The Indian Citizenship Act gives Native Americans citizenship and the right to cast their votes!

It wasn’t until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, that all men and women ages 21 and up were allowed to vote regardless of race, religion, or education. The same year, the 14th Amendment was ratified to eliminate poll taxes across the country. In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18 and in 1975 the Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests. And last but not least, in 1984, polling places were required to be accessible to folks with disabilities.

You gotta read all of that to realize in America, voting was not always a granted or guaranteed right to all of us. We have come a long way. But like all good things, there will always be room for improvement to ensure access and equality in America’s voting. Okay, so we are clear that we should not take for granted how hard people have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to vote.

Now to the nitty gritty. DOES YOUR VOTE MATTER?

First and foremost, because of the giant elephant in the room this year, if you cast a ballot, your vote is 96 percent ish likely to be counted. According to this MIT research paper, depending on the state in which you vote, risk of losing your vote is around 4 percent (which isn’t great but isn’t terrible considering over 100 million people have voted in the past two presidential elections. So, if we are being literal, your vote counts about 96 percent of the time.

Now when it comes to figuratively “counting” aka “does my vote really sway the election,” the answer sort of depends on the kind of election.

Midterm elections in America are “direct elections,” meaning that you cast your vote for your local and state representatives and those candidates are elected by whoever has the most votes. Period. No other fuss. Whether a candidate wins by 1 vote or 100,001 votes doesn’t matter. Most votes = winner. And historically, that’s happened more often than you might think. According to a 2003 research article, “The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote” by Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter:

One of every 89,000 votes cast in U.S. Congressional elections, and one of 15,000 in state legislator elections, “mattered” in the sense that they were cast for a candidate that tied or won by one vote.

Mulligan, C.B., Hunter, C.G. The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote. Public Choice 116, 31–54 (2003).

In the 2018 midterm elections, seven state house or senate elections were decided by 45 votes or less with the Kentucky and Alaska House of Representatives elections both being decided by a SINGLE VOTE.

CLOSE CALL ELECTIONS FROM 2018 UNITED STATES MIDTERMS (adapted from this chart: sort by year 2018/country US)

Turns out that’s not how all elections in America work and where the confusion/frustration of “counting” enters the chatroom.

Presidential elections in America are “indirect elections,” meaning you vote for your choice either by mail or in person, and then the electors of your state casts their votes (determined by your state’s popular vote) and those votes determine who becomes President. This is where “won the popular vote but lost the election” and discussions of “abolish the electoral college” enter the chatroom. (Future blog: the electoral college)

SIDE BAR: Not every U.S. state has the same number of electoral votes design. For example, Florida has 29 electoral votes. If President Donald Trump were to win sFlorida’s popular vote on Nov. 3, the 29 electors nominated by the Republican Party in Florida will be selected. These 29 people will gather on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president of the United States.

So, does your vote matter in a presidential election? Right now, if you live in a state where the largest population center is predominantly Republican or Democratic leaning – your electoral college votes are likely not swayed by your single vote. This is where “purple states” become extra important during a presidential election. (Future blog: purple states)

But, to prove my point that even in a presidential election your vote still matters, here is a scenario:

Say every election for the last 20 years, your state’s electoral college votes were “blue” aka for the Democratic nominee. However, you historically vote “red.” But when voting starts for the 2024 election, no one shows up. No one casts their ballot by mail. No one lines up at the polls. No one votes by mail. Maybe some kind of “Leftovers” plot kicks into effect and you’re the only person left in your state, or maybe everyone just decided they didn’t need to vote because their vote “didn’t matter” – IDK. But you are the only person who casts your vote.

Guess what! All of your states’ electoral college votes? Go RED for the first time in 20 years.

This, albeit hypothetical, scenario is to show you that just because “historically” your vote has been outnumbered, does not mean that will always be the case. Every election is a blank slate.

So, as complicated as U.S. elections are, your vote definitely matters in direct elections and matters a little less (but are still definitely important) in indirect elections.

You can check to be sure you are registered to vote at:

Also check out my favorite voting resource to take a quiz and see which candidate(s) you actually align most with (spoiler alert: the answer might surprise you!):

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

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