A reader writes:
The question in the linked article specifically asks about presidential elections. But my vote has a much greater impact on local and even state elections. The correct question isn't "Why do we vote?", but "Why do we focus so much on national elections?"
Not only is our vote much more important in local elections, local elections have a more directly felt impact on our quality of life. I suspect part of the reason is that good local news sources are hard to find. I'm lucky, as a San Diego resident, to have the absolutely fabulous non-profit rag Voice of San Diego to give focused, in-depth reporting on local issues.
I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I have voted in many local races where the vote margin is less than 200 votes out of thousands cast. Earlier this month, my county council member lost her re-election bid by 29 votes in the unofficial tally out of more than 16,000 votes cast, and the woman who represents my city council district won by 12 votes out of about 9,000 votes cast three years ago. These are seats for the forms of government that are closest to the people and where it's very possible that your vote will make the difference. I am confident I know 29 people who didn't vote this year who could have influenced the outcome of an election.
It is irresponsible that the focus on elections is too often the races for president, governor or senator, and not the ability of voters to have a real difference on who leads their city government, county government or school boards.
Every vote changes the outcome of an election, primarily by affecting the size of the win or loss. A candidate for city council who is elected by a vote of 500 to 475 will behave differently in office than a candidate who is elected by a vote of 500 to 20. Were the votes of the 475 in the first example wasted, or did they have no impact? Hardly. Although their candidate didn't win, they shaped the winner's perception of the constituency, laid the groundwork for another campaign next time, informed each other of their existence, etc.
This study is such a silly premise in light of the number of races around the nation last week at all levels, where individual votes in the aggregate are making a difference between a win and a loss - some still undecided. If most voters "won't change an election result", why the hell is Joe Miller suing to make sure that Murkowski's name is spelled correctly on every single write-in ballot in her favor? If voters "won't change an election result", why are there laws in place about how close opponents can be before a run-off must happen or a mandated recount?
When I was still in college, I drove two hours to my hometown to vote for Gary Hart in the Democratic primary. Hart only won a couple of precincts in New York, my hometown was one of them, and there he won by two votes. In the end, my vote didn't really matter, but the closeness of the contest made an impression on me and I've voted in every primary and election ever since.
I vote because I don't think you have a right to complain about the outcome if you don't.
(Photo from the Lower Columbia College Flickr account, with the caption, "ASLCC Elections are held every May to elect new officers for the following school year.")