Fishbein: Voting Is Not Enough

by Dan Fishbein | 10/21/15 6:30pm

Election season is heating up. The New Hampshire primaries are only a little more than three months away, and more and more presidential candidates have begun to visit Hanover. Republican candidate George Pataki came to campus on Oct. 5, while Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley stopped by the Top of the Hop last Friday. If you turn on a television, you are bound to see campaign ads from candidates on both sides of the aisle. This is all a part of a marketing ploy to sell us, the viewers, on what amounts to a flat-out lie — that our individual votes matter.

Indeed, you have a better chance of winning the lottery 128 times in a row than deciding a presidential election — about a one in 10 to the 1,046th power, according a 2004 Slate piece written by Steven Landsburg. The 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, arguably the closest in American history, came down to 537 votes in Florida in favor of Bush. In the most fiercely contested election in the most fiercely contested state, one vote did not make a difference. Even if a few votes had changed, Bush could have won by 538 votes or 536, but either way he still would have won. In Florida, if every one of the then-six million residents had a 50/50 chance of voting for either of two candidates, the probability for each candidate getting the same number of votes — and thus for your one vote to make the difference — is one in 3,100. Factoring in any amount of bias, even a slight one, for a certain candidate leads to the one in 10 to the 1046th statistic.

In primary season, votes obviously carry more weight than in the presidential election. In New Hampshire, delegates are allotted proportionally, according to vote percentage, after a certain threshold is met — 10 percent for the Republican Party, 15 percent for the Democratic Party. This is different from a winner-take-all election, where the candidate who receives the most votes wins all of the delegates — even if they only won with 30 percent of the vote, meaning that a majority of voters go without representation. Furthermore, because New Hampshire hosts the first primary, the percentage of the vote a candidate receives carries weight for how the rest of the primary will play out. If a candidate does well, they garner media attention and momentum that can help carry them through subsequent states. If a candidate fairs poorly, they might as well hang up their political boxing gloves. Even here, though, primaries are not decided by one vote. In the 2012 New Hampshire Democratic Primary, 60,659 votes were cast. Each vote constituted a measly .0016 percent of the total.

Yet, just because your vote does not matter does not mean you should skip going to the ballot box — although, ironically enough, the chance of a single vote mattering would rise significantly if everyone adopted that mentality. Additionally, without voting, people cannot fairly criticize the government, since they did not provide their opinion during the election — no matter how little that opinion might matter. But simply voting feels ineffective. To me, casting a ballot serves as a sort of existentialist reminder that, in the grand scheme of things, I am insignificant.

I am not a particularly politically inclined person. Although I have my fair share of opinions, there are things I care about more than who will occupy the Oval Office for the next four years. Because my opinions lie most in line with those of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), however, I have become a member of the Bernie Sanders student group on campus. If I simply go to the ballot box and vote for Bernie, I have not done anything of significance. Rather, I need to advocate for my candidate. I need to tell people what his policies are and why I believe those policies are best for our country.

To counter voting inefficacy, there is really only one thing that we can do — be active. Tell other people to vote. Work for a student group working to promote a candidate or volunteer for a local campaign office. When candidates stop by campus, even if they are not in line with your ideologies, go see them talk. Do not simply go stand in line, cast your vote and leave. If you can tell 537 people why they should vote for a candidate, you might just swing an entire election.