Does My Vote Really Count?
It is a myth that your vote doesn’t count. Despite the electoral college electing the President directly, every vote counts. It just counts in complex ways that differ by election, state, and region.
In other words, your vote is always counted (unless voter fraud occurs), but the ways in which your vote affects the outcome of a given election depends on many factors.
Factors that affect your vote include competition in your state and region, what you are voting on, who you are voting for, and whether we are talking about the general election in which the competitive Presidential election (including the primary and caucus) takes place alongside countless other races, or the “off-year” or mid-term elections (where there is less competition).
The truth is there are many answers to the the question “does my vote count,” and we cover all of them below. First, the bottomline.
TIP: Feel free to skip around the page to find what you are looking for, or simply ask a question in the comments below; this page covers EVERYTHING pertaining to how your vote does or doesn’t count in all elections, it doesn’t just describe how Presidential elections work.
THE BOTTOMLINE ON VOTING IN THE U.S.: Each year elections are held for a variety of different local, state, and federal positions and state-based legislation is voted on. Some of those votes are advisory votes, and some are direct votes. Meanwhile, some positions and most legislation isn’t voted on by the people at all (it is created and voted on by “representatives”). Of the positions that are elected: local, state, and federal Legislative positions are generally all voted on by the people via direct vote, as are state and local executive positions (like Governor). Meanwhile, the President and Vice are elected by appointed electors via the winner-take-all system in most states (in most states electors follow the state popular votes, not the national popular vote, due to state-base customs and rules; thus electoral votes decide the election, and the popular vote is an advisory vote). Those elections aside, most other positions of the three branches are appointed by elected representatives. With that said, the people also vote directly on some state based legislation and can run for most positions. In other words, as can be confirmed by the Amended Constitution and state-based rules, the United States of America is a Republic with a Representative Democracy, not a “Pure Direct Democracy.” Lastly, this is all complicated by parties, media, gerrymandering, strict voter ID, the winner-take-all system, and other aspects of our current voting system and political system. We explain all of those points and more (including exactly how Presidential elections work) in detail below.
Ways in Which Your Vote Counts or Doesn’t Count, Directly or Indirectly
To summarize the above in a bit more detail, your vote counts or doesn’t count in these ways:
- The people vote directly on most state, local, and federal “representatives” in the legislative branch (including Senators since the 17th Amendment). The people also vote directly on some types of Executive positions on a local and state based level.
- The people vote directly on some state-based legislation (initiatives, referendums, and recalls).
- The people cast advisory votes for the President and Vice President in the general election, but those positions are officially elected by “state-based electors” via a “state-based winner-take-all” system (a system in which appointed electors elect the President by considering the popular vote in each state). In other words, the popular vote is an advisory vote, but it is tradition (and in some cases state law) for electors to follow state-based popular votes to decide Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, but officially, according to the Constitution, the electors alone make the choice (see an essay on “faithless electors”). TIP: Presidential and Vice Presidential elections are won by getting a majority of electoral Votes. Currently, that means getting a 270 majority of electoral votes out of a potential 538 (see a detailed explanation of the process below).
- All federal Executive positions and most Judicial positions are voted on or appointed by officials, not the people. This being one of many reasons why “your vote matters.”
- Most Federal Agencies, including executive agencies with Federal Power, are led by officials who are appointed and then confirmed by Congress. Meanwhile many who work in those agencies are appointed or hired.
- All federal legislation is created and voted on by the Legislative branch, not the people. Hence the importance of the people’s direct vote on members of both the federal and state House and Senate.
- Voter fraud, gerrymandering, “red-state blue-state” politics, and the winner-take-all system complicate all the above points greatly (and can result in votes technically counting, but not being effective).
- The basics of this system are laid out in the Amended Constitution (literally, most of what the original articles of the Constitution do, outside of discussing taxes and a few legal rights, is set up this system “of checks and balances and a separation of powers,” meanwhile many Amendments address voting rights).
Understanding the Constitution and State-based Custom of the Republic Regarding Democracy
As per the Constitution, the people are supposed to affect the system by becoming “an informed electorate” and participating in local and state government. They aren’t supposed to pick every position at the top of the “food chain,” in fact those aristocratic positions are supposed to be sorts of checks and balances on the democratically elected portion of our government.
Although state-based rules, Amendments, and customs have made the system even more democratic than it was originally (with things changing after the era of Good Feelings with Jackson vs. Adams, then again during the Progressive Era under William Jennings Bryan, with voting rights won along the way), the country was founded as a sort of “mixed-Republic” (a democracy rooted in an aristocracy; a mixed government with “checks and balances”).
With that in mind, the Constitution notably doesn’t mention: the people’s popular vote, the winner-take-all system, primaries, the idea that someone has to actually run for President, or much else.
The reality is, much of what we do in practice is based on 240 years of evolving “state-based law and custom” and not the Constitution itself.
However, that makes sense, we are a federal Union of 50 Republican States, each with unique state Constitutions, United by a central Constitutional Federal Republican government, born from a Confederation of Sovereign States bound together by the Articles of Confederation (the document the Constitution replaced), with enough liberal and democratic rights to ensure a changing system if the people and states demand it (which they did).
How is it fair that we count state-based popular votes and not national popular vote? Given that the electoral system is meant protect minority voting interests and prevent special interests, one could argue that neither the national popular or state-based popular alone is fair (as both discount minority voters in certain regions). Likewise, the complications that arise from things like gerrymandering arguably aren’t fair either. There is more than one effort underway to change the voting system. Learn more about changing the electoral college, but don’t forget the intentions of the founders in forming a Republic. We should be ensuring a system of fairness, not just a system that works for the party we favor today.
Student Asks Obama About Cynicism And Gets A 10 Minute Rant That Nails It. Here is President Obama’s answer to “does my vote count?” He quickly points out that Gerrymandering is a big problem in the US. See why the House is full of Republicans despite Democratic House members getting more votes, or see the twisted history of gerrymandering for examples of Democrats using redistricting.
Making Sense of the The Many Ways in Which Your Vote Does or Doesn’t Count
Above we covered the essentials, the rest of the page will be about details regarding how the voting system works and how your vote does or doesn’t count in each of the many different elections held each year.
Your Vote Counts in Many Different Races in Each Election in General
Many different state, local, and federal races are run each year.
In other words, you don’t just vote for the President; you vote on many local, state, and federal races and state-based ballot measures!
Some votes are direct votes, and some are advisory votes, and every state has unique rules.
Thus, the answer to how much a single vote from a given state or region will affect the outcome of any given race is hard to state in any simple terms (especially when we consider redistricting and gerrymandering).
In some races, and on some ballot measures, a single vote will make little impact; in others, such as in close races or swing states, it can be a key deciding factor.
Examples of the Ways in Which Voting Matters in a Given Region
Just take my home state of Washington for example and see my 2016 regional voter pamphlet here.
We voted on minimum wage, campaign finance, a carbon tax, and gun control in 2016.
In my region, we even had to vote on Cathy McMorris Rodgers (the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress) vs. Joe Pakootas (who would have been the first Native American in Congress if he was elected).
That single race truly impacted national politics and history. Never-mind the advisory votes to maintain or repeal current legislation, or the many federal, state, and local races for executive, legislative, and judicial positions on the ballot.
It is easy to get sidetracked by the very important Presidential race, but there is way more than that at stake in any election.
With that said, let’s discuss the main topic on most people’s minds. How your vote does and doesn’t count in a Presidential election.
A Summary of How Your Vote Counts, Including the Ways it Counts in a Presidential Election
We can summarize the answer to the “does my vote count in a Presidential Election” question like this:
- Your vote doesn’t count directly in the Presidential election. The Presidential election is an indirect election where 538 electors (allotted to states based on population) officially elect the President by getting a 270 electoral vote majority. The vote is 270 to win in 2016. This has differed through history as the nation grew; see here. In the Presidential election, the Popular vote is an advisory vote (a vote meant to inform the state-based electors who vote on the President directly). Most states use a “winner-takes-all” process based on the popular vote. This means that ALL the electors in that state vote with the popular vote in that state. This is why the red state/blue state issue can make a single vote matter less in the Presidential race. The important thing to note here is that while the Constitution sets up the system of electors, it doesn’t mandate that they follow the popular vote (see faithless electors) or say how they should award votes at all. If no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes, the decision goes to the House of Representatives. This means, as with Bush vs. Gore, a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the election anyway due to the electoral vote. This also means that if a third party takes enough electoral votes, thus depriving any candidate of the majority and causing the House to vote, then a candidate can win both the electoral vote and popular vote and still lose! This is what happened in 1824, thus ending “the Era of Good Feelings” and essentially re-splitting the Democratic-Republicans into two parties (see the history of the parties). See What Happens If Nobody Wins the Presidency: QuickTake Q&A from Bloomberg Politics for more on what happens if none gets the 270 electoral majority. TIP: The general election happens on November 8th, the electors vote on December 19th, and the votes are counted January 6th to officially decide the next President.
- Your vote for President doesn’t count for much if you vote against the majority in your state or district. Simply put, if you vote against the majority in your state or region, then your vote won’t always affect the outcome of a given election due to the winner-take-all nature of elections.
- However, your vote counts in just about every other way generally speaking, especially in swing states and swing districts, for local and state races, and for ballot measures. When we consider that elected officials make the laws, pass budgets and help choose electors, and when we consider ballot measures include citizen-based initiatives like single payer and state and local taxes like property taxes and sales taxes, the gravity of this all becomes clearer. Even votes that don’t affect an outcome of a race can still sway politicians and fellow voters down the road by showing there is increasing support or opposition for an issue or candidate.
- Thus, broadly speaking and semantics aside, “your vote counts” and, “your vote matters,” especially in off-year and mid-year state and local elections where voter turnout is as low as 40%…. With this being true DESPITE the winner-take-all system and gerrymandered districts where state-based and regional popular votes diminish the effect of a single vote by a minority.
Below we will explain how the electoral college, electors, and delegates work in Presidential elections in more detail, and more ways in which your vote does and doesn’t matter on a local, state, and federal level with electoral fraud and many other factors considered.
TIP: Are you registered to vote? The first step to getting your vote counted is registering. Learn more at USA.Gov. Remember, America isn’t officially a two-party system, and there are lots of races happening in every election. Get registered and informed early and be prepared to take part in the Democratic process. Our future depends on an informed participatory electorate.
Can we change the way voting works? The way the Presidential election works could be changed by a Constitutional Amendment or by custom. The Constitution says electors elect the President, so changing that would take an amendment. However, “winner-takes-all” is a custom, and states could change that without an amendment. See the National Popular Vote initiative.
ELECTION 2016 UPDATE: On this page you’ll note we stress that the U.S. is a Republic and the popular vote is an advisory vote in the Presidential election. To be clear, the past November 8th, 2016 election didn’t officially decide the President (or Vice President), the Electoral College did when they voted on December 19th, 2016. This means that Hillary Clinton, who won the national popular vote, but not the state-based popular vote, could have still ended up being the President in 2017 if enough electors had switched their votes. In other words, everyone’s vote counted, and the popular vote mattered, and the state-based popular vote will like decide the electors’ vote in any given Presidential election (just like it did for Trump in 2016 who won the electoral but lost the popular), but the details are complex! This election has been a great example of the way our voting system works and the ways in which votes do and don’t count, so keep paying attention. Our republic may have some complex rules, and “red-state blue-state politics” may complicate this (see this critique of winner-take-all or this discussion of gerrymandering), but our rules and customs were generally enacted purposefully in the spirit of the American values of federalism, democracy, and republicanism. Yes, being a minority voter in state or district can affect how much your vote counts (how ironic given the justification for the College), but the only thing that ensures your vote doesn’t count is not voting. For any district or state, the minority voter isn’t an active voter for a party, it is [in many ways] voters in general. The most common position to take in most elections is not voting. Consider, according to PEW data, only 28.5% of voting eligible Americans voted in the primary (the preliminary popular election that picks the candidates for President)… thus, before you even cast your ballot on Nov. 8th, 2016, your choices had been decided for you by [in many cases] the direct voting of 57.6 million of our 320 million Americans. If you want your vote to count, you must cast your ballot, if you want to change the electoral system, you must participate. For official sources see archive.gov’s Presidential Election Laws and The 2016 Presidential Election.
TIP: Advisory votes aren’t the same as direct votes, but they are still important. Brexit was an advisory vote, and that affected a lot. The Florida recount in Bush vs. Gore was the Popular vote, and that mattered too, as Florida is a “Winner-takes-all” state. There are different types of votes and many elections on each ballot (the Presidential race is only one of many races on the general election ballot). Sometimes you’ll vote for officials directly; other times it’ll be to maintain or recall a measure brought by an official or even your fellow citizens. At times it will be an advisory vote on an indirect election. Each vote counts, albeit in different ways depending on your state and district.
FACT: D.C. and 48 states have the “winner-takes-all” rule for the Electoral College. In these States, whichever candidate receives a majority of the popular vote, or a plurality of the popular vote (less than 50 percent, but more than any other candidate), takes all of the state’s Electoral votes. Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, do not follow the “winner-takes-all” rule. This is why it is very hard for a third party to win the Presidency and why people complain about “splitting the vote.” See the FAQ section of Archives.Gov for official answers to many of the questions we cover here regarding the Presidential election.
TIP: Every state gets a minimum of three electors regardless of its population, for this reason, the system can be seen to favor low-population states like Rhode Island who would otherwise have fewer than 3. Likewise, high-population winner-take-all states like Texas and California have the most impact on the election of any state because they have the most electors. These are just two of the ways “what state you live in” matters regarding the semantics of the “does my vote count” question.
FACT: In recent elections, about 55-60% of the voting eligible population voted in Presidential elections, and only about 40% voted in midterm elections. Midterm elections don’t involve electors, so if anything there is less turnout when the vote counts more. See Voter turnout in the United States presidential elections for specific statistics and graphs.
FACT: Paying attention to all candidates and casting your vote for EACH & EVERY RACE is called “Voting Down the Ballot.” The President may not be elected by popular vote, but many state and local positions are (including Senators and Governors for example). Candidates for local office often run uncontested. This means even a meager turnout can affect who gets elected, and thus who writes state legislation and passes budgets like state Senators and Governors. This simple fact alone is justification enough never to miss a chance to participate in democracy via the ballot box, below we will present more.
How Does the President Get Elected? – The Electoral College Explained: How Does the Voting Process Work With the Popular Vote, Delegates, and Electors for Presidential Elections?
Before we get into all the ways that your vote matters, let’s clarify how the Presidential election works.
The Presidential election works like this (2016 dates are used below to provide examples, dates are subject to change each year):
- People vote directly in primaries/caucuses to award and influence state delegates. The exact process differs by state and party, with the Democrats using appointed Superdelegates for instance.
- Delegates help determine party platforms, and they also vote for a primary candidate by pledging themselves to a candidate on behalf of their state. A pledged delegate can switch their vote at any time before the final vote is counted at the party’s Convention. Learn more about Delegates in the United States.
- Once a primary candidate has enough pledged delegates, they become the party’s candidate for the general election. The specifics can be more complex than this, for example, see FDR’s contested convention.
- Then, for the general election, officials from each party in each state pick or vote for “electors.” The process differs by state, but electors aren’t chosen by popular vote either. This body of electors forms an electoral college.
- Then, people in each state vote on November 8th in an advisory vote.
- Then, based on the Popular “advisory” vote in each state, the electoral college votes for the President on December 19th.
- If no candidate wins a clear 270 majority when votes are counted in January 6th, then it is the job of the House to elect the President.
- Finally, on January 20th, the President officially takes office on inauguration day after taking the Oath of Office.
Thus, the popular vote affects the primaries, the behavior of the delegates, and can influence and advise the electors but it will never officially directly choose the President. It is an “advisory vote” in an “indirect election“, electors cast their direct votes in December and nothing is official until January.
TIP: As noted above, dates are subject to change each election, for example electors vote “On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December” which in 2016 is December 19th. Likewise, the general election is statutorily set as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November” where the earliest possible date is November 2, and the latest possible date is November 8 (as it was for the 2016 election). See a timeline of the 2016 election for 2016’s dates. See Presidential Election Laws and The 2016 Presidential Election for more details.
NOTE: Most other positions in the U.S. are elected by popular vote or appointed, elected, or hired by one or more of the three branches.
See Article. II. Section. 1. of the United States Constitution and the 12th, 20th, and 23rd Amendment for more information on the voting process, President, Vice President, and “electoral college.” Or see, What is the Electoral College? as well as Who are the Electors?
Electoral College and the National Archives.The U.S. is a Republic ruled by law with strong democratic tradition. This video can help you understand the electoral college.
A Summary of Why Voting Matters on a Federal, State, and Local Level
Now that you have the gist of the argument and an overview of how the Presidential election works, let’s cover a few key points:
- The first thing to understand is that America is a representative democracy. It is a Constitutional Federal Republic with three branches. Elected representatives make the laws, vote on the laws, and pick the President. People vote for elected officials and on some state-based ballot measures. There shouldn’t be an expectation that the popular vote will pick the President directly. We have a Democratic spirit, as can be noted by our rather democratic process of electors following the advisory vote and all the other direct elections, but we aren’t a Direct Democracy where people vote directly on laws.
- Secondly, many positions in the three branches (especially the executive and judicial) are hired or appointed (so again, you are voting for someone else to act, not voting directly on many things; a representative democracy). Whether it is the 4,000,000 working in the executive branch, or federal judges, not every seat in government is an elected one.
- Lastly, red state/blue state politics, red district/blue district politics, and sad partisan strategies like gerrymandering add complexity to the topic. Your vote will count less if you are voting against the majority in your state or region and more if you are in a swing state or swing district.
- The first two statements can be verified with a quick reading of the Constitution and its Amendments including the human rights document The Bill of Rights which helps affirm the democratic part. The last statement is what we need to safeguard our Republic by voting. The structure of government is enshrined in the Constitution, so we must honor it, but party politics are a matter of culture, and voter fraud is an affront to democracy.
Semantics and complexities aside, when people say “your vote doesn’t count” they are typically being cynical and talking about how the electoral college works, how the electors pick the President, and how the President is not elected by popular vote.
As one commenter said, “it is 270 electoral votes to win, not 320 million popular votes.” True, such is Article. II. Section. 1. of the Constitution which states the race is won by winning a majority of electoral votes. However, the Constitution also points out “if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President” and “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
We the people choose the House as intended by the original wording of the Constitution, and this is significant.
Consider John Quincy Adams vs. Andrew Jackson in the 1824 election where Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral vote but didn’t get 270 electoral votes. Consequently, Adams won anyway in a “corrupt bargain” with Henry Clay. When no candidate gets a clear majority, the vote goes to the House. In 1824 the House, filled with officials elected by popular vote, picked the President. Certainly, people’s votes counted in the 1824 Presidential election in many ways, despite Clay’s sway.
DESPITE the electoral college being the body that elects the President directly in a normal Presidential election, and the Popular vote being an advisory vote that influences them, there are many complex ways in which your vote matters in a Presidential election. These include in the Primary when delegates are awarded and in swing states and swing districts as well as in complex indirect ways like when you vote for a House member in mid-term.
Almost more important than the ways in which your vote affects Presidential elections is the way it affects essentially everything else including other races on the ballot in the general election.
Some state and local votes are advisory votes, such as votes to repeal or maintain taxes. State legislative positions on the ballot including those in the House and Senate may also be advisory. Senators have been elected by popular vote since the Seventeenth Amendment. Many local positions like Governors are elected by popular vote. State-based ballot measures like LGBT marriage, state-based healthcare reforms, and recreational/medical marijuana are also enacted by popular vote and can even be brought to the table by voters like you using initiatives, referendums, and recalls.
Your vote always matters. You vote counts when we discuss public opinion, swing states, the President’s ability to pick Supreme Court Judges, uncontested seats in local and state elections, state-based ballot measures upholding the principles of federalism. It counts in getting the public option on the ballot, getting a say in whether your sheriff is a staunch conservative, liberal, a libertarian, or whether it’s about the budgets your governors will pass and programs they will shut down or start up.
Simply put, to reiterate, America is a Republic which can also be described as a “representative” democracy. We aren’t a “pure” “direct” democracy where people vote on matters and create laws directly. State-based initiatives, referendums, and recalls are the exception. This concept is confirmed by the Constitution and goes back to the Greeks and Romans.
Madison, the father of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, working with other Founders on both sides of the isle. They constructed a “large Republic” carefully (see the Federalist #10). They included a separation of powers and checks and balances knowing that the many elected positions could offset corruption in the few (see The Federalist No. 51). The people check the legislative branch; the House checks the Senate; the Popular vote advises the Electoral vote; the President picks SCOTUS justices. Not all these processes work the same, but in all cases, a participatory electorate serves as the foundation.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: State Legislatures and ALEC (HBO). John Oliver explaining ALEC and some of the ways in which your vote matters in state and local elections. Once it sinks in how many uncontested seats are out there and how much this affects our Federation of 50 sovereign states you’ll never skip an election again.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The question “does my vote count” is not simple to answer. The bottom line is, “your vote counts for a lot in some races, particularly at the state level and in swing states where you can influence electors, but less so in others. Your vote counts less in matters concerning the electoral college, gerrymandering (and other forms of voter suppression), and general “red state” “blue state” politics.” Political maneuvering can dictate certain positions in a state or district.
THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Where do you think the concept that “your vote doesn’t count” originates? Do you think it’s easier or harder for special interests to wield power when a well-informed citizenry participates in a representative democracy? Think about it. You and your vote matter. You have a voice, you have a pen, you have a ballot, and you have the right to use them, as ensured by the Amended Constitution.
Voting, the Republic, and Voter Fraud – When and How Your Vote Does or Doesn’t Count
Above we presented all the basics. Below we will explore some additional details, differing viewpoints, and present some helpful videos purposefully curated to help better illustrate all the key points.
In America, elected officials, and not citizens, vote directly for most laws and importantly for the President. The President then appoints Federal Court Judges and Executive positions. Meanwhile, citizens vote for members of Congress, the Legislative Branch, the House and Senate, and some local positions like mayors, sheriffs, and local judges, etc. People can also bring initiatives, referendums, and recalls to the table directly, and these can be voted on directly as well.
In summary, “citizens vote for elected officials who pick the President and make the laws.” This government style, laid out by the Constitution, is called a representative democracy or a republic. America is not a “direct democracy” because the founders chose a Republic.
While your vote doesn’t always “count” directly in some ways, and voter fraud (including voter suppression) has occurred in just about every election in recorded history (including American elections), your vote still matters in enough ways to make it worth participating in EVERY election.
A single vote can affect elections and influence politicians in a wide range of ways, even when it doesn’t count toward the winner of an election or change a law (especially when considering voting in primaries and all local and state elections). Despite this, in any election you aren’t just up against a popular vote, you are up against the official and unofficial political machines (including the major parties) who put their weight behind their self-interest and the self-interest they share with other groups. Some might see this as a reason to stay home, but we will argue this is more of a reason to get out and vote and to general participate in all elections.
Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained – Christina Greer.
TIP: Consider that the much debated “Brexit” was an “advisory vote”; the people didn’t get to choose to exit the EU directly, they simply made popular sentiment known via the ballot box. Britain also has a type of representative democracy. In the case of Brexit, “sovereignty rests in the Queen in Parliament” who must represent the House of Lords and Commons, the people, their respective parties, and the nation as a whole. This type of system trades direct democracy for a more conservative system of order, tradition, the separation of powers, and some checks and balances.
TIP: When a race is close, voter fraud is the most dangerous, when overwhelming support is shown for a candidate or issue, it becomes much harder to suppress the vote.
TIP: Before the 17th amendment, state legislatures elected senators; that is how the Constitution was written, see Article I, §3, Clauses 1 and 2. This worked out so poorly that the Senators themselves voted to be elected by popular vote starting in the November 1914 election. Popular Election of Senators at Heritage.org.
How Does My Vote Count?
In America, your vote counts in that it:
- Helps determine primary candidates and determines how many delegates are awarded to each candidate in state Presidential caucuses and primaries (each party holds its caucus/primary).
- Helps influence the vote of delegates and super-delegates. Delegates vote directly in Presidential primaries, not people, and they can change their mind even if awarded or “pledged” to a specific candidate.
- Helps influence electors in the Presidential general election. Electors vote for President, see electoral college explained below.
- Directly affects Senate and House positions and some local positions and legislation.
- Helps influence politicians, the media, and your fellow citizens.
Why is Voting in the Presidential Election Important?
The popular vote does not decide the presidential election (see Bush V. Gore). Also, the majority in your state can outweigh your minority vote causing your vote “not to count.” However, a single vote in a general election can sway the opinions of politicians, delegates and super-delegates, electors, and others. It can create a butterfly effect that impacts politics in a variety of direct and indirect ways.
In local and state politics your vote has real power. Legislators in the House and Senate care if they have popular support as they are subject to direct elections. Voting locally can make many practical differences in regards to local laws, programs, and taxes.
The best way to show support for a candidate, party, or idea in a representative democracy is to vote.
Does it Matter if I Vote?
Your vote matters in all elections, but admittedly voting for an unpopular presidential candidate in your state will have little direct effect on who is elected.
Voting matters most when you are voting directly for members of the House or Senate or in state and local elections, where fewer people tend to vote and where your vote has more influence. The popular vote counts for more than just electing a President.
Do I Have to Vote?
It is your right not to vote, but it is your responsibility as a living breathing citizen of your country to participate in the democratic process.
When you vote you vote for an idea, against corruption, against special interest, against voter fraud and suppression, and for the Republic and the democratic process. You vote to exercise your most basic rights as a citizen. You vote to say, “I value my liberty.” See the Bill of Rights for more information on Rights.
TIP: One person can make a difference. Think about Plato, Aristotle, Smith, Keynes, Jefferson, Hamilton, FDR, MLK, LBJ, etc.
Not Voting Matters Too
Not only does your vote count, but those who don’t vote count too, as every missing vote is a vote for apathy (and in many ways a vote for the other side). Voter fraud is when votes are suppressed. When you suppress your vote, what should we call that? When another person tells you your vote doesn’t count, it is an injustice, but what is it called when you believe them?
Did People Always Have the Right to Vote?
People didn’t always have the right to vote. Voting rights were gained in England starting in the 1600’s. In America, voting rights were ensured over time through the Constitution and amendments to the Constitution from 1787 to the 1960’s. Today all citizens have the right to vote, but only a fraction of the population exercises their right. Unfortunately, some types of voter suppression and voter fraud complicate the issue.
A good example of why the right to vote is important is The Three-Fifths Compromise, found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution. It reads:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons. – Three-Fifths Compromise
It took a Civil War and a hundred of years of Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, and voting rights acts to get where we are today. And every time we let our guard down at the ballot box we see redistricting and state-based voter ID laws (which hurt young people, social and economic minorities, and seniors). The right to vote was hard won, and it is potentially easy to lose again if we aren’t vigilant.
FACT: Women were denied the right to vote until 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. Before that, women had only been able to vote in select states. Many women of color couldn’t vote due to discrimination at the state and local level until after the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed under LBJ.
Constitutional Compromises: Crash Course Government and Politics #5
Your Civic Duty V. Your Liberty and Rights
You have a (moral, not legal) responsibility to yourself, your country, and the world to vote. You also have Liberty, and thus you have the right not to vote. This may be a matter of free-will, but it is also a question of morality, ethics, and justice. When you don’t participate, you open the door for corruption. Corruption is what happens when power is given to the few without the consent of the people. Participation helps to avoid “an oligarchy.”
Now it is time for some dissenting viewpoints, which are summed up in the following video.
How America Votes: Does Your Vote Count?. A free market approach to voting? That doesn’t sound good? It sounds like something special interests would do when people were not politically active or vigilant. Wealth inequality and voter fraud have done a number on our society, which is all the more reason to get out and vote.
And Now, a Quick Message From Our Founders – An Informed Electorate in a Representative Democratic Republic
Your ancestors died for your right to consent to be governed. Your basic human rights depend on your participation, and the extent to which you make the right choice depends on your ability to inform yourself.
“The Founding Fathers believed that a concerned and informed electorate was necessary to establish and maintain an efficient and effective democratic society. Eligible voters were expected to take the time to study the issues and candidates, discuss these issues and candidates at public meetings, and then carefully weigh the relevant information before deciding how to vote.” – The Economics of Voting: What Do You Mean My Vote Doesn’t Count?
The fight for the right to vote in the United States – Nicki Beaman Griffin. Only 6% of Americans were allowed to vote in our first election, today only a fraction vote despite everyone having the right. You have liberty and the right not to exercise your rights.
Much has been said of the impropriety of representing men who have no will of their own. They are men, though degraded to the condition of slavery. They are persons known to the municipal laws of the states which they inhabit, as well as to the laws of nature. But representation and taxation go together…. Would it be just to impose a singular burden, without conferring some adequate advantage? – Alexander Hamilton 
“…whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” – Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price Paris, January 8, 1789
TIP: For extra reading, if you can find it, Edward Bernays’ “Speak Up for Democracy: What You Can Do—A Practical Plan of Action for Every American Citizen.” “Speak up” has been all but buried by history, as it was never that popular, but luckily Bernays’ 1920 masterwork Propaganda was. Read Propaganda by Bernays online here, and realize this applies to you, “the new propagandist,” too. You may not have a PAC or a lobbying firm, but you do have the right to free speech, press, assembly, and a computer. See tips for understanding the cycle of oppression and rebellion to understand the pros and cons of forming groups.
Voting For President – 8 Reasons Why Your Vote Doesn’t Matter. Here is the opposing view that says, “your vote doesn’t matter.” The underlying inalienable right your country protects for you is liberty. You have the liberty not to vote; that makes choosing to uphold your civic duty even more admirable. You’ll have to make up your mind, do you trust the person who says “don’t vote, it doesn’t matter” or do you trust me when I tell you “your liberty is on the line.”