What Is Voting?

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case.

- Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government

Podcast of the Day

Come election season, it's easy to get cynical. Why cast a ballot if your single measly vote can't possibly change anything? In this episode, we search for the single vote that made all the difference, from the biggest election on the planet, to a tiny election that ended a town.

Listen to One Vote by the Radiolab podcast

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Just 537 votes in Florida would have been enough to change the outcome of the 2000 election from George Bush to Al Gore – a margin of 0.009% (recount pictured above). And that wasn’t even the closest-won state that year: in New Mexico the margin was a mere 366 votes.

People say it’s your civic duty to vote, but it also seems like it’s very unlikely your vote will make a difference.

Who is right? Is voting really valuable, or a waste of time?

Continue reading Robert Wilbin's article: How much is one vote worth?

Further Reading

The act of voting has an opportunity cost. It takes time and effort that could be used for other valuable things, such as working for pay, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or playing video games. Further, identifying issues, gathering political information, thinking or deliberating about that information, and so on, also take time and effort which could be spent doing other valuable things. Economics, in its simplest form, predicts that rational people will perform an activity only if doing so maximizes expected utility. However, it appears, at least at first glance, that for nearly every individual citizen, voting does not maximize expected utility. This leads to the “paradox of voting”(Downs 1957): Since the expected costs (including opportunity costs) of voting appear to exceed the expected benefits, and since voters could always instead perform some action with positive overall utility, it’s surprising that anyone votes.

However, whether voting is rational or not depends on just what voters are trying to do...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on The Ethics and Rationality of Voting by Jason Brennan

Related Topics

Democracy | Equality

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