Just one more, and I should be done with the voting listicles.
This year in particular, I’m a blue voter, and I live in a very red state. When elections (especially presidential ones) roll around, one of the things I tend to hear is this:
“What’s the point in voting when you know which way your state’s going to vote?”
So I want to go over some of the reasons why I vote, and maybe they can be your reasons to vote too. (At the time I’m writing this, you’ve still got a couple days left to get out there.)
1. The Presidency Isn’t The Only Race
Your vote doesn’t go very far in affecting the presidential race. Besides the fact that everyone in the country can vote in this one, the nature of the electoral college can mean that your vote isn’t really counted if the voice for the opposing team in your state overwhelms yours and the people who vote with you.
But your vote goes farther when voting for members of congress, governors, and other state-wide races. And it goes farther still for races limited to just your county or city. Especially if you also nudge your less-motivated friends to get off their butts and make it to the polls too.
After George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, Barack Obama wrote an article about how to effect change and police reform at the voter level. One of the sentences that stuck with me was this: “The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”
So I vote in the presidential election, but I also vote for the smaller races too, where my vote makes a larger impact.
2. Battleground States Aren’t Permanent
In any presidential race, there are a lot of states that are “safely won” by one side or the other, and a handful of battleground states that are too close for the polls to call, and which make or break the race.
If you live in one of the states that’s consistently voted red or blue for as long as you remember, it can be easy to assume that’s the way your state will always be. But battleground states do change. Some battleground states from 2016 are more polarized in this race, toward either side, and states that were very polarized in that election are much less certain now. Populations change as new voters come of age, old voters pass away, and people move from state to state.
While I’m sure my state is going to turn out red, I don’t know how red it’s going to be. Any year could be the one where the vote in my state becomes close enough that candidates have to seriously take it into account for the next election. And if it’s this year, I’d like to be a part of that.
3. Even Losing Votes Have An Impact
As a general rule, politicians want to continue being politicians. And to do so, they have to keep more people voting for them than for their opponents. How close the race runs determines how much they need to work to keep the public’s favor, and which part of the voting populace they need to lean toward.
If you are running virtually (or literally) unopposed, there’s not much you need to do to stay in office, just don’t screw up in a major way. What integrity and impartiality you bring to the office is mostly a matter of personal character at this level.
With a semi-serious contender (someone who may pick up 30% of the vote), the candidate has to work a little bit, but their voter focus can rest further toward the extreme ends of their political base. They don’t have to get voters to vote for them instead of their opponent, they just have to make sure their loyal base actually gets out to vote.
The closer the race is, the more this candidate’s focus has to move toward the more moderate center. The more extreme voters may choose not to vote for a candidate they see as too moderate, but they aren’t going to vote for the person on the opposite side of the spectrum. They just won’t vote. But a more moderate or indecisive voter might be persuaded to change political sides for a compelling alternative. These votes are both a vote lost for you AND a vote gained for your opponent. In this sort of race, the individual swingable voters are twice as valuable as the individual extremists in your party.
So I vote to keep the races in my state closer, so that the officials here have to appeal more to people close to the center than nutjobs on the fringes.
4. Perception Motivates and Demotivates
One of the biggest reasons I vote when it’s “pointless” in my state is so that someday, people will stop saying that it is.
I think most people have a meter inside them that determines when a race is close enough to motivate them to vote. For some, the race has to be almost as sure as won for them to get out and vote. For others (like me), that meter fills up quicker. For some people, it’s enough to see that someone is running at all.
We don’t like to vote for people that are sure to lose. We think it makes us look foolish and naive, and a lot of us would rather not bother trying. But I think making any change requires a little bit of naivete. I think voting is an act of naivete, and a necessary one.
And thus I will naively vote for candidates who won’t win, for all the reasons above. And I hope that my small impact will help nudge some of these races close enough that a few more people will be motivated to naively vote in the next one. And that those votes will bring the next elections close enough that a few more people will vote. And so on. Maybe it’s a silly thing to believe in, but sometimes silly things are worth believing in.
Anyway, the next post’ll be about space ghosts.