published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Voting only matters now

With the polls now open for early voting in both Tennessee and Georgia, you've likely heard folks tell you how important your vote is. Normally, they're wrong. Your vote simply doesn't matter.

In their 2001 research paper "The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter examined more than 16,000 Congressional elections. In all of those races, they discovered only once instance in which a single vote made a difference -- a 1910 election for an upstate New York House seat.

One vote has never determined which presidential candidate garnered a state's Electoral College votes.

So the odds that your vote would matter in a federal election are, historically speaking, literally next to none.

To make matters worse, redistricting just occurred in both Tennessee and Georgia. Like it or not, one of the primary roles of redistricting is to create districts that greatly favor one party, resulting in lopsided, landslide victories in the general election.

As a result, there's even less of a chance your vote will matter in November. In fact, there's a better chance that you'll wreck your car on the way to the polling station than alter the outcome of a race in this fall's general elections. Unless voting gives you patriotic tingles or you're looking for a reason to get out of the house on Nov. 6, don't even risk it.

During these even-year summer elections in Tennessee and Georgia, however, all conventional logic about the importance of voting -- or the lack thereof -- goes out the window.

In the primary and local elections that are upon us, more people run and fewer people vote. This makes the likelihood of one vote deciding an election much greater. Add in the fact that the same redistricting responsible for making general elections less competitive actually makes primary elections much more unpredictable, and there's additional reason to cast your ballot.

Several local races stand out as potential nail-biters:

• In Hamilton County, about 30,000 voters are expected to determine the next General Sessions Court judge -- a seat that features seven candidates, most of whom are well-known and well-qualified for the position.

• Ten candidates are vying to become Soddy-Daisy's next city judge -- and that doesn't count an aggressive write-in effort.

• With no Democratic challengers to confront in November, Catoosa County's five-person Republican primary for the sheriff's seat made vacant by the retirement of Phil Summers is for all the marbles.

In each instance, a handful of votes -- or even one vote -- could determine the outcome.

Practically speaking, it's ridiculous that more people will vote in November than over the next few weeks. In addition to your vote being, statistically, much more valuable in general and local elections, the local officials you elect now will make much more of an impact on your daily life than politicians in Washington.

After all, issues ranging from property tax rates to fixing the potholes in your neighborhood to how long you'll spend in jail for getting drunk and running through the streets naked are decided locally, not on Capitol Hill.

This November, with local elections behind us, stay home. Your vote just won't matter. But your one vote on July 31 in Georgia or Aug. 2 in Tennessee may just make the difference.

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Yeah, don't try comedy. You just told people not to vote. Yes, you're trying to be witty, but you're failing.

Expect the deluge of rant mail.

Next time, endorse the options that get more votes out.

July 17, 2012 at 12:27 a.m.
FreePressEditor said...

happywithnewbulbs - As the author of this editorial (and an economist with a strong understanding of the opportunity cost of voting), let me be very clear: I am not trying to be witty or funny. Voting in a general election, particularly during the first election after redistricting, is a poor allocation of time. Your vote won't matter. I thought I made that clear in the editorial since I made the point several different ways and many different times.

The local and primary races occurring now offer the best opportunity in a decade for one vote to decide an election.

Don't get me wrong, voting in November is fine - for reasons of social interaction or patriotic duty, for example - but please don't vote (in a general election, anyway) under the illusion that it's meaningful to the outcome.

July 17, 2012 at 1:23 a.m.

I doubt you are who you claim to be, but if so, expect the deluge of rant mail.

Anyway, I just don't believe you when you claim you weren't trying to be witty. So since I don't believe you're genuine, I just won't bother engaging with you.

July 17, 2012 at 2:54 a.m.
EaTn said...

Yesterday I did an early cross-over vote to help unseat an unsavory right wing legislator. Love these open election rules which gives options to make sure each vote matters.

July 17, 2012 at 7:11 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Voter turn out of 30,000 is pathetic, when there are about 190 to 200K registered voters. People will blog, call into radio, and write letters, but will not take the time to vote. I just don't get it, why? The screamers of "vote um out" don't vote. Early voter turnout is so low, I got through the process in less than 5 minutes, really. You should send someone during lunch and time it. No effort. For special city elections in March, 7 to 8 percent of the registered voter determine Mayor and City Council. :-( How can we get great candidates and break bubu hood in our local government with the same crowd voting every time?

July 17, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

On a broader front, people in some other countries either don't have the right to vote, or must risk life and limb to do so. That we Americans don't vote is shameful.

July 17, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
conservative said...

47% of American households pay no federal income taxes, 47 million and rising receive food stamps, tens of millions receive healthcare and housing heavily subsidized by other people's money, tens of millions receive checks which was other people's money before government took it from them and I want them to get out and vote!

I would have to be insane for wanting these Socialist to vote, knowing they will only vote for more Socialist government. I will pray for floods even global warming to keep these people from the polls on election day.

July 17, 2012 at 9 a.m.
EaTn said...

conservative said....."I would have to be insane for wanting these Socialist to vote"

Er, isn't a one party only considered a socialist system?

July 17, 2012 at 11:09 a.m.

aae1049, maybe we could try vote by mail like Oregon.

conservative: 47% broken down into what groups? Yeah, you never consider how many of them are disabled, senior citizens or simply children.

And no, the senior citizens who are receiving checks from the government now, are not receiving other people's money, they paid their taxes already.

But seriously, praying to harm others?

Thank you for showing your Christianity isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

EaTN: A one-party system is typically authoritarian. Of course George Washington preferred a no-party system, so it's not quite that cut and dried.

But the attempt to pray for the harm of others is demonstrative that some people do not live up to virtues. I'm sure conservative will come up with some rationale to justify it.

It'll be false though.

July 17, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.
lightkeeper said...

This is the most pathetic article yet, trying to brainwash and encourage people not to vote...yeah you wish people were that stupid, are you really that afraid Obama will win a second term to stoop to such lenths? I also see conservative is showing his true colors as well, always crying about someone living of his taxes. We all pay taxes this is a democracy dummy, my tax dollars go to people, places and things I'll never see or use, if its for the betterment of all, so be it! With conservative wishing for global warming and floods to stop people from voting, if he's not careful, will be the very thing that stops him.

July 18, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.
Fendrel said...

It is not the individual's vote which matter's per se, but rather the total of all the individual votes. So does my vote matter, of course it does, as it contributes to the total vote count of those who vote for the same candidate as I do. Now, does my individual vote carry enough weight or is it likely to be the deciding vote in an election, most likely no.

No surprises here.

July 18, 2012 at 11:51 a.m.
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