Does One Vote Really Make a Difference?

Does One Vote Really Make a Difference?

Hawraa Chreim, Fall 2020

The term Citizenship can never be fully explained without in some form emphasizing the need, right, will or duty to vote. Through centuries of fighting, different classes, races and genders have shown defiance to the government discrimination and racism in order to obtain full rights in this country, the land of the free. Now thankfully voting rights have been more open and obtainable than ever before. Especially at the time when this country faces a grim future in regards to its government and leadership, this opportunity and accessibility is of utmost importance yet it has been a running trend that the numbers of voter turnout is getting lower and lower. For those who don’t vote, their answers are; “I don’t like politics’ ‘, “I don’t know how”, or that is the most contemplating “My one vote won’t make a difference”. Through this analytical essay this common phrase will be examined thoroughly in its connection to voter turnout and the goal is to explore this phrase as an idea that goes against the fundamental aspect of US Citizenship.

What is significantly important to the process of citizenship is the ability to vote. Unfortunately, it took centuries for the American public and politics to progress in a way that allows for inclusive voting. Yet, the issue here is that citizen voting doesn’t directly affect presidential campaigns. Instead the electoral college created in 1804 with the ratification of the 23rd amendment decided who the president will directly be.[1] This fact calls into question citizenship. For electoral college voting should be directly effected and inspired by the popular vote of the people but for most states, this isn’t true. An important fact to bring up is the reason citizens of the United States feel so disillusioned by the voting process and that directly has to do with the presidential campaign efforts in connection with the electoral vote. This essentially is due to the fact that the states that have large electoral college votes get large attention by the presidential candidates and the campaign trail.[2] For states outside of the large electoral college population, the citizens feel disconnected and misrepresented due the fact that they know the candidates running don’t see their votes as a high priority, thus leading people not to vote. Based on the United State VEP Turnout Rates 1789-2025, the diagram illustrates the drastic decline in voting turnout after 1900 which is so shocking.[3] This data is revealing because it illustrates that even with a large portion of the country being disenfranchised and marginalized from voting in the 19th century, there was nearly double the voting participation as compared to when voting become more inclusive to others, rather then just white men.[4] Essentially the voting history is important because it shows the growth of the belief and distrust in a citizens ability to vote and the lack of interest in voting by a population who feels excluded and unheard because of their representation.[5]

Essentially and technically for the people who say that their one vote won’t make a difference, this has a lot of truth to it. For the electoral college is the deciding factor in choosing United States Presidents. However, this belief clearly shows the lack of knowledge of the governmental process. For it is only the final presidential election tally that the electoral college has superiority, but this is not true for the primaries, caucasus, local issues and not for essentially every other governmental vote.[6] It is the people who create a candidate’s campaign, the people who control an election but it is only the final step, the last choice of the electoral college to be then choose the final victor of the presidential election created by the people. Yet the fracture in the voting process that makes people feel also that their one vote doesn’t count is due to the voting accessibility, disenfranchisement that continues for minorities and the peoples disconnection from politics. Voting accessibility plays a very important role in the utilization of a person’s vote, records conclude that the voting turnout has largely to do with where people can vote. A citizen after citizen might not believe in the importance of their vote due to the limitations of voting accessibility in their area. In saying, this issue is just one but not the only factor of low voter turnout since “We suspect that the benefits from centralized and open voting systems disproportionately flow to infrequent voters and persons less interested in politics and therefore less likely to vote.”[7] Along with the situations of being faced with voting placement comes the continued disenfranchisement of minorities who feel as if their one vote is being ill represented. The false promise of “One Person One Vote” signaled the continuation of gerrymandering, plural voting, misrepresentation of minorities and the overall broad grouping together of votes rather than voting being an individual right.[8] Also “In 2016, 4 percent of registered voters did not vote because of “registration problems,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data”.[9] This thus fully caused the promise of an individual vote to seem faint, causing the meaning of one vote to not be meaningful to the average voter. Finally, and most prominent and the biggest reason in which citizens believe their vote will not matter in the scale of politics is because of the disconnection and lack of faith that citizens see in the American political system. As said best by one unhopeful citizen “I feel like my voice doesn’t matter,”. . . . “People who suck still are in office, so it doesn’t make a difference.”[10] With all these factors, it’s clear to understand why the phrase “ My vote doesn’t count” is truly felt by many citizens. The reason for going over all these idiosyncrasies in the voting process is not to show that’s fraudulent or very problematic, yet to exemplify the reason why people might say they’re votes don’t count. Through the process of recognizing the issues then it’s possible to identify the problem and then face that with the facts of how the American voting democracy works. While these collective reasons may show the errors that lie within the political and voting process, it does not reveal fully that one vote doesn’t matter and here is why.

The population of the United States is roughly 331 million. Out of this population 74% are over the age of 18, thus taking into account felony charges and other reasons for the removal of full citizenship status, roughly 60-70% of the American population can vote.[11] Yet based on the 2016 Presidential election only 56% of the eligible voters voted, thus sinking the voting count of the American population down to about 30%.[12] If slowly individual voter turnout decreases continuously, the amount of voting will be left to such a small group of people who will be running and controlling their fate in American politics. What kind of democracy is that? Therefore voting being individualistic is true to some extent, yet the communal activity and participation in voting allow for a democracy in which all votes matter. If there is a strong ideology of a person’s vote not being significant, then it wont. When examining politics, votes matter greatly. Maybe not specifically and exclusively with the final presidential election but for most other opportunities to exercise citizenship, every vote counts. For example, in the State House race a strong contender lost by just one vote over 11,000 casted, one vote significantly altered the political makeup of a state’s representation in government that easily.[13] Back in 1910, one vote also altered the victory of New York 36th Congressional District allowing for a barely there Democratic take over.[14] On a larger scale and in more recent years, very minimal votes allowed for George W. Bush’s greatest victory in Florida, which cemented his victory as the United States President. This state is known primarily as a battleground state due to the importance of its popular vote turnout, in this election Bush won by just .017%, the tightest presidential race in American history.[15] Newspapers were pumped out reading headlines such as victory “By a single vote” and the Bush’s victory “Too Close”.[16] Presidential campaigns which are usually known for their fairly predictable nature and clear victories was not also the case with the presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama where the voting turnout was also very close. Based on the presidential statistics, Obama was represented as victorious by less than just 4% of electoral votes.[17] For today, there was a shocking revelation. The 2020 election inspired strong voter turnout that has been shown in years. The predicted winner and current president Donald J. Trump lost many important battleground states in the race due to lower votes, and since the popular vote increased to his advisory Joe Biden, the public had voted for their next president.[18] Marking the early predictions of the election wrong due to the significance of people’s vote that this time was mirrored in the electoral college.

The importance of voting turnout and one vote speaks volumes in the continuation of a democracy. By one vote an influential state representative can be turned away, by one vote a primary can result in candidates that are beneficial or not. With one vote in a caucus it can persuade the rest of the election so greatly, that one of those candidates will be victorious. Voting is essential to the fundamental aspect of which this nation was created. Do you agree that your vote matters now?

Notes

[1]“Electoral College Fast Facts.” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, https://history.house.gov/Institution/Electoral-College/Electoral-College/.

[2] HANSFORD, THOMAS G. and BRAD T. GOMEZ. “Estimating the Electoral Effects of Voter Turnout.” The American Political Science Review 104, no. 2 (05, 2010): 268-288.

[3] “National-1789-Present.” United States Elections Project, http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present .

[4] Ibid.

[5] Denny, Kevin, and Orla Doyle. “Does Voting History Matter? Analysing Persistence in Turnout.” American Journal of Political Science 53, no. 1 (2009): 17-35.

[6] “Presidential Election Process.” USAGov, https://www.usa.gov/election.

[7] Stein, Robert M., and Greg Vonnahme. “When, Where, and How We Vote: Does It Matter? When, Where, and How We Vote: Does It Matter?” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell) 93, no. 3 (September 2012): 692–712

[8] Grant M. Hayden, “The False Promise of One Person, One Vote,” 102 Mich. L. Rev. 213 (2003).
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol102/iss2/2

[9] Khalid, Asma, et al. “On The Sidelines Of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote.” NPR, NPR, 10 Sept. 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/09/10/645223716/on-the-sidelines-of-democracy-exploring-why-so-many-americans-dont-vote.

[10] Ibid.

[11] United States Demographic Statistics.” Infoplease, Infoplease, https://www.infoplease.com/us/census/demographic-statistics.

[12] DeSilver, Drew. “In Past Elections, U.S. Trailed Most Developed Countries in Voter Turnout.” Pew Research Center, 5 Nov. 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/11/03/in-past-elections-u-s-trailed-most-developed-countries-in-voter-turnout/.

[13] Montanaro, Domenico. “Why Every Vote Matters – The Elections Decided By A Single Vote (Or A Little More).” NPR, 3 Nov. 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/11/03/663709392/why-every-vote-matters-the-elections-decided-by-a-single-vote-or-a-little-more.

[14] Murse, Tom. “What Are the Odds That One Vote Can Make a Difference?” ThoughtCo, https://www.thoughtco.com/can-one-vote-make-a-difference-3367480.

[15] Kennedy, Lesley. “How the 2000 Election Came Down to a Supreme Court Decision.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 24 Sept. 2020, https://www.history.com/news/2000-election-bush-gore-votes-supreme-court.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “United States Presidential Election, 2012.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_United_States_presidential_election.

[18] Mcnarama, Audrey. “13 Battleground States to Watch in the 2020 Election.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 4 Nov. 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/swing-states-remaining-2020-presidential-election/.

Further Reading

Jessee, Stephen A. Ideology and Spatial Voting in American Elections. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Gelman, Andrew, Lane Kenworthy, and Yu-Sung Su. “Income Inequality and Partisan Voting in the United States.” Social Science Quarterly 91, no. 5 (2010): 1203-219.

Worcester State University Fall 2020