Tuesday, October 22, 2013


     My University of Washington MBA economics professor (the best lecturer I ever heard) said something interesting: “I believe people who don't vote, choose not to because it's not fun anymore.” At the time (mid 1980's) ballots had tiny perforated nubs that voters poked out using a pointy instrument (a pen or pencil would do) beside the selected candidate's name. “I believe if we went back to the old voting machines, more people would vote.” The machines were of the punch-card variety with the pull down lever that left a rectangular hole beside the selected candidate's name.
     I confess, I saw his point. The process of pushing out the perforated nubs felt far less satisfying (dare I admit it?, manly) than thumping down the arm of the punch card machine with authority. The ballots themselves looked cheap—like some no-brain elementary school assignment.
     Our professor expanded on his theory and said nearly everyone realizes that his or her vote doesn't matter. “Has there ever been a single election where your one vote cast decided the outcome?” he asked rhetorically. “Knowing this is unlikely to happen, individuals decide whether or not to vote based on how well they enjoy the act of voting—whether the positive feelings (or lessened negative feelings) associated with it exceed their costs.” The economic principle of marginal costs and marginal benefits applied to more than just business decisions, he explained.
     A fellow student stridently argued the importance of everyone voting, because in the aggregate such actions had major implications for everyone's lives. The professor conceded that voting is a good thing and everyone ought to do it, but insisted that voting machines would bring more people back to the polls.
     I suggest that the reason many, if not most people bypass voting (or have little fun voting) has little to do with the voting mechanics and much more to do with the choices presented. When a buffet table offers slim pickin's and you know you're going to feel nauseated afterward, does it really matter what type of dinnerware the food is served on or the quality of glassware and table cloth? As Simon and Garfunkle put it, “Laugh about it, cry about it, then you've got to choose, anyway you look at it you lose...” or Ralph Nader, “Pick your poison.” When was the last time a candidate for national office spoke words that moved you to the core with complete and total conviction that he or she “got it” exactly the way you believe? For me, these have come few and far between, and have never won. I voted for them anyway as I like to encourage third party and alternative candidates to run. Two choices are seldom enough. On occasion, I find a major party candidate that I can support with some hopefulness. But the most fun I get voting is for the all-important state constitutional amendments and other such initiatives.
     Friends and family used to tell me I waste my vote on nonviable candidates. I tell them if I ever believe my vote will be the deciding vote, I may then vote for the lesser of two evils. This has never happened, and I doubt it ever will.
     Following my professor's line of reasoning, I come to the inescapable conclusion that either every person's individual vote doesn't matter, or every person's vote does matter (in the rare instance that an election is decided by one vote). However, collectively, everyone's vote always matters and decides the outcome of every single race. So, fun or not, please do vote every election (as do I, passionately).
     A fanciful notion to make voting funner occurred to me: develop optional electronic voting in a video game-style format. Selecting a candidate will result in a short show—perhaps a cartoon of the candidate getting beknighted with a sword or bedecked with a crown, all smiles and jumping about, while the upset challenger looks on and boos. It would probably increase voting—at least among the apathetic youth—until the novelty wore off, at which point the video shows would have to be updated.
     By the way, I haven't voted in person in decades; I vote absentee ballots all the way—so much more convenient.

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