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The Reason to Vote—or Not

Originally published in the Herald-Mail

Education, Government Transparency

by Thomas A. Firey

OP-EDS

NOVEMBER 3, 2016 Bookmark and Share

Of all the things the 2016 presidential election will be remembered for, the most remarkable may be the onslaught of utterly irrational utterances made by both major party candidates and their supporters.

One candidate repeatedly claims fealty to the U.S. Constitution, yet vows that, if elected, he will exercise powers far beyond what the Constitution grants the chief executive and he will restrict civil liberties that the Constitution protects.[1] The other candidate, having just been investigated by the FBI, claims she was completely honest with investigators even after she watched video of the FBI director outlining the many falsehoods she told his agents.[2]

One candidate’s supporters say his accomplishments as a businessman show that he has the managerial skill and diligence required of the Oval Office, yet he has a history of unforced business errors, his campaign has been shoddy, amateurish and undisciplined and he repeatedly shows ignorance of and disinterest in the basic principles of American government and public policy.[3] The other candidate’s supporters boast that she’s “overqualified” to be president even though her political resume shows barely more than one mediocre term as a U.S. senator and a few years as a chicken-hawkish secretary of state who repeatedly advocated ill-advised U.S. meddling in foreign affairs.[4]

One candidate’s supporters, many of whom once professed that “character counts” in political leadership, dismiss their candidate’s boasts of sexually harassing women as nothing more than politically incorrect course language and “locker room talk.” The other candidate’s supporters tout her honesty by citing a fact-check organization’s finding that “only” 26 percent of her investigated claims were “mostly false” or worse.[5]

Yet, of all the irrational babble spread by both campaigns and their supporters, the most ridiculous is something that’s been said by many other campaigns: You must go vote, because your vote could decide the election.

No, your vote will not.

Some 65 million people will cast ballots in the 2016 general election. If it were a popular election—that is, the nationwide popular vote would decide who becomes president—the only way that your ballot would determine the next president is if the national vote tally would otherwise be perfectly deadlocked between the two leading candidates. That won’t be the case.

Of course, the popular vote doesn’t decide the presidency. The United States uses the Electoral College, which (roughly speaking) awards votes in statewide blocks. The candidate who receives 270 electoral votes becomes president. (If no candidate reaches that threshold, then the presidency is decided by a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives). In some states, it’s possible that a person’s ballot could determine who will be president. But for most people reading this column—that is, people who live in Maryland—your vote won’t matter at all.

All 10 of Maryland’s electoral votes will go to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, just as they have gone to the Democratic candidate in 11 of the last 14 presidential elections. This is unsurprising in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2:1 and outnumber all other registered voters combined.[6]

What about readers in Virginia or Pennsylvania, where the battle for electoral votes is more competitive? For one person’s vote to decide the election, it would have to be the case that (1) no candidate will reach 270 electoral votes without the votes from that person’s state, and (2) the statewide popular vote would be perfectly deadlocked between the top two candidates. This year, some 6 million ballots will be cast in Pennsylvania and just under 4 million in Virginia. So it’s possible that one person’s vote could decide the presidency—but it’s a vanishingly small possibility.

Does that mean that people shouldn’t vote—at least, not for president? Not at all. Even if your ballot won’t decide the election, you should still vote if your vote matters to you. It is your statement of who you support—or oppose—to be the nation’s 45th president, succeeding such leaders as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. If you would take pride and pleasure from voting for Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump, then it’s sensible for you to do so. The same goes for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, or conservative write-in candidate Evan McMullin. You might also take pride or pleasure in voting for one of the latter three candidates if you believe that neither Clinton nor Trump is fit to be chief executive.

You may also choose not to vote as a statement of disgust or disappointment with the current candidates or with the political system in general. That is a reasonable and honorable choice. Don’t be dissuaded by those who sanctimoniously cluck, “If you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain,” Of course you have the right to complain, and your complaint will have no less merit if you don’t vote.

The displays of irrationality in the 2016 campaign are disheartening for anyone who takes governance and public policy seriously. But on Election Day, don’t let that foolishness overcome your good sense.

Thomas A. Firey is a senior fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a Washington County native.



[1] George F. Will. “The Sinking Fantasy that Donald Trump Would Defend the Constitution.” Aug. 5, 2016.

[2] Glenn Kessler. “Fact Checker: Clinton’s Claim that the FBI Director Said Her Email Answers Were ‘Truthful.’Washington Post, July 31, 2016.

[3] Kurt Eichenwald. “Trump’s Many Business Failures, Explained.Newsweek, Aug. 6, 2016.

[4] Gene Healy. “Who Would Clinton Bomb?Washington Examiner, June 10, 2014.

[5]Hillary Clinton’s File.Politifact.com. Accessed Oct. 26, 2016.

[6] Voter Registration Activity Report. Maryland Board of Elections. September 2016.