Voting only matters now

Voting only matters now

July 17th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

With the polls now open for early voting in both Tennessee and Georgia, you've likely heard folks tell you how important your vote is. Normally, they're wrong. Your vote simply doesn't matter.

In their 2001 research paper "The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter examined more than 16,000 Congressional elections. In all of those races, they discovered only once instance in which a single vote made a difference -- a 1910 election for an upstate New York House seat.

One vote has never determined which presidential candidate garnered a state's Electoral College votes.

So the odds that your vote would matter in a federal election are, historically speaking, literally next to none.

To make matters worse, redistricting just occurred in both Tennessee and Georgia. Like it or not, one of the primary roles of redistricting is to create districts that greatly favor one party, resulting in lopsided, landslide victories in the general election.

As a result, there's even less of a chance your vote will matter in November. In fact, there's a better chance that you'll wreck your car on the way to the polling station than alter the outcome of a race in this fall's general elections. Unless voting gives you patriotic tingles or you're looking for a reason to get out of the house on Nov. 6, don't even risk it.

During these even-year summer elections in Tennessee and Georgia, however, all conventional logic about the importance of voting -- or the lack thereof -- goes out the window.

In the primary and local elections that are upon us, more people run and fewer people vote. This makes the likelihood of one vote deciding an election much greater. Add in the fact that the same redistricting responsible for making general elections less competitive actually makes primary elections much more unpredictable, and there's additional reason to cast your ballot.

Several local races stand out as potential nail-biters:

• In Hamilton County, about 30,000 voters are expected to determine the next General Sessions Court judge -- a seat that features seven candidates, most of whom are well-known and well-qualified for the position.

• Ten candidates are vying to become Soddy-Daisy's next city judge -- and that doesn't count an aggressive write-in effort.

• With no Democratic challengers to confront in November, Catoosa County's five-person Republican primary for the sheriff's seat made vacant by the retirement of Phil Summers is for all the marbles.

In each instance, a handful of votes -- or even one vote -- could determine the outcome.

Practically speaking, it's ridiculous that more people will vote in November than over the next few weeks. In addition to your vote being, statistically, much more valuable in general and local elections, the local officials you elect now will make much more of an impact on your daily life than politicians in Washington.

After all, issues ranging from property tax rates to fixing the potholes in your neighborhood to how long you'll spend in jail for getting drunk and running through the streets naked are decided locally, not on Capitol Hill.

This November, with local elections behind us, stay home. Your vote just won't matter. But your one vote on July 31 in Georgia or Aug. 2 in Tennessee may just make the difference.