“Does my vote really matter?” Yes – but probably not why you think it does…

“Does my vote really matter?” It’s a question that I hear from both voters and non-voters. It is easy to look at elections and the huge numbers of votes and think, “if I don’t show up, it doesn’t matter because it won’t affect the outcome.”

Other similar refrains:

“All politicians are the same — it doesn’t matter who wins, so why should I bother to vote?”

“She is going to lose, the polls have her down huge — why should I stand in line to go vote?”

“My state is so partisan — no way my vote will matter.”

These are all reasonable points, and worthy of a deeper look.

“If I don’t show up, no problem — it won’t affect the outcome.

It is true that there have been very few elections — only a couple including the recent Shelly Simons tie in Virginia — where every single vote actually mattered. So it is pretty easy to feel like your single vote won’t matter to the outcome.

However, this actually misses the core point of voting.

In many US elections, less than 20% of the population shows up to vote. In these situations where only a small percentage of people vote, the results can easily be skewed and are often non-democratic where the population doesn’t get the candidate it would if everybody voted. We see the effects of this clearly where politicians get elected and re-elected even though public opinion of them is low.

The reason they win elections is because their voters show up at higher rates than other voters do. So even if the voters who dislike them are a significant majority, they still win if those voters don’t show up to vote.

This may be the largest flaw in a representative democratic system — elected officials with minority or even fringe views can govern in ways that most of the population don’t agree with — because they know their voters will show up and others won’t. If everybody showed up, politicians couldn’t get away with this and would have to govern how the majority preferred, or lose their job in the next election. Said another way, politicians have to listen, but only to those who vote.

“Politicians are all the same — it doesn’t matter who wins.”

Unfortunately it often is the case that our elected leaders will say anything just to get elected, and then act differently. However, as I mentioned above, they can get away with it if we don’t vote. Politicians are often not held accountable for how they act as our representatives and this makes them seem like they don’t listen to us.

Think of it like speeding while you’re driving. We all do it on occasion, but if you know that every time you are on a certain road there is a police car watching for speeders, you won’t speed there because you know you are likely to get caught. But if you never see a police car there, you’re much more likely to test the limits.

Our politicians are the speeders. They know that most of us won’t vote either way, so they speed… that is, make decisions that are for a small subset of the population (typically, deep pocketed donors with agendas that benefit them at the expense of the larger population) without consequence.

If, however, they know we are all voting, they can’t speed anymore — their actions will have to reflect the majority view, or they will get voted out of office.

Everybody voting will lead to politicians being far more accountable and focused on what we as citizens want, and actually being good at their jobs — they will HAVE to be, or they will be replaced with someone who is.

“She is going to lose, the polls have her down huge”
“My state is so partisan, no way my vote will matter”

These fall into a similar category of people who feel like their vote doesn’t matter because the election is already a foregone conclusion.

The truth to this is that many times these frustrations are real. The Electoral College often ensures that certain states have less impact on presidential elections. Further, a candidate who is up big will often win the election. Again, however, there is more to the story.

As noted above, even in a blowout situation, each vote is important so that politicians continue to know everybody will be voting and they will then have to act with our interests in mind.

But there is another big reason to show up every year — and this is for state and local elections. Often, there are literally dozens of elections going on at the same time as a Presidential or a mid-term election, and by going to vote on a headline candidate, it gives the opportunity to elect local officials who do the most to affect our day-to-day lives. It also minimizes the potential for Gerrymandering and other voter suppression tactics.

Gerrymandering — the dark art of drawing voting districts to maintain power — is another way that those who actually vote wield power over those who don’t. Politicians voted in during one election cycle can stay in office by manipulating voting districts and making it harder for certain populations to vote in order to stay in power far longer than current voters want because of the decisions made by people who voted a decade previously.

When we all vote to elect the right officials and continue to vote to hold them accountable, they will not survive attempts to prevent other’s votes to be fully counted or counted at all.

So…. “Does my vote matter?”

Yes. It clearly matters a ton. Imagine a CEO who came to work only thinking about how to make a small fraction of her customers happy — and changed her performance goals to meet just the needs of those few as soon as she was hired. She wouldn’t last very long, yet this is exactly what politicians are doing.

Your vote is the only way to hold politicians accountable for their actions and how they’re representing us. It’s how we tell them they are doing a bad job, or a great job. It is easy and understandable to get frustrated with elected officials who just don’t seem to listen to us, and it seems like the partisan gridlock we face will never get solved.

But it’s actually surprisingly simple to fix — we all need to vote. Every single vote matters, and politicians can only be held accountable by all of us. President Obama said it well, “Don’t boo. Vote!”

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