A group called Democracy North Carolina analyzed this state’s 2015 municipal elections, and determined that 31 were decided by a single vote. There were also some ties. “Your vote matters,” is the lesson drawn, to quote the Raleigh News & Observer’s headline.
Looking at the actual numbers, I’m less than impressed. Many of the “tied” races or single-vote victories were for third, fourth or fifth place in at-large council elections in which the top vote getters won their seats handily.
I don’t vote, but if I did — and if I had lived in one of those towns — my vote still might not have mattered.
Say I voted for Joe over Bob in a race that Joe otherwise would have won by one vote. I would be increasing Joe’s victory margin, but that’s all. If I went for Bob in that same race, my vote would tie it up, and the winner would be decided by coin toss — which means there are even odds my guy still wouldn’t win. Only in an otherwise tied race could my vote cleanly determine the winner.
I’ve always conceded that in races with a tiny pool of voters, there’s a small chance a single vote could determine the outcome.
In larger elections it’s impossible, for all practical purposes. Consider statewide races where a few hundred or a few thousand votes separate the candidates. A recount might narrow the spread or switch winner and loser, but I can’t recall it ever being decided by one vote.
When big races are close and the parties have huge stakes in the outcome, the final result is likely to be determined not by voters but by battling lawyers, politically invested public officials or committees, or judges. Remember the 2000 presidential election and Florida? It flabbergasted me to hear so many people assert that Florida proved “your vote matters.” No, it proved the opposite!
Voting does matter, but in ways that are more serious — dare I say unholy? — than deciding which of two political hacks gets to sit on a town council. Here’s why it really matters, and why I no longer participate in it:
Voting says I approve of majoritarianism (aka “democracy”), which I don’t.
Voting says I approve of giving some people coercive power over others, including the power to dictate what they may and may not do with their lives, bodies and property.
Voting lends my support, however tiny, to the systematized violence that is statism. It is tantatmount to consenting to something I consider evil.
Worse than any of the above, voting makes me an active participant in gang warfare: Seeing who can turn out the bigger mob on a particular day and thereby gain the “right” to beat up on the losers (at least until next time). Not only is there no logic to this, I find it troubling from a moral standpoint.
As an aside, I wonder how many of the people “resisting” Donald Trump understand the enabling role they played in putting him where he is, through their support of the very system that makes a President Trump possible. If they’ve been voting for years or campaigning for candidates — any candidates — the more culpability it seems they might bear.
Not to let myself off the hook, I voted for years, and as recently as 2008. I’m not proud of it. At least I finally saw the light and stopped.
Now I’m thinking I should get a bumper sticker that says, “Don’t Blame Me, I Don’t Vote!” Or perhaps, “If You Vote, You Can’t Complain.”
Circling back to the Democracy North Carolina news release, I had to laugh at this statement from Sunny Frothingham, a senior researcher with the group:
These local officials may win by a narrow margin, but history shows they may eventually become a state legislator or even member of Congress. … Participating in local elections can have an immediate impact on voters’ daily lives and shape the pipeline of political leaders long term.
Good God! I hadn’t even thought of that. By voting in a podunk town council race I might be contributing to the rise of individuals who will one day wield really dangerous power. Count me out for sure.