Does Your Vote “Count”?

I’m a very mild defender of the electoral college…more that I can imagine some reforms that would really be unfortunate, and others that I don’t think would be significant improvements. What gets to me, however, is this kind of logic, here from James Joyner:

Republicans in California and New York and Democrats in Texas are for all intent and purposes non-voters. Candidates will swing by on fundraising drives but the outcome is not in doubt. The same is true, in any given cycle, for the residents of most states.

Look, most of the people reading this are absolute partisan voters (because only seriously high-information voters read any political blogs, let alone this one, and high-information voters are overwhelmingly likely to be solid partisans). Indeed, somewhere north of 80 percent of all voters are basically reliable partisans in presidential elections. And you know what? That means that no one is interested in your vote, even if you live in the closest state in a desperately close contest. In other words, electoral college or no, your vote isn’t going to be the deciding one.

Yes, in the current system, you’re going to be totally ignored if you live in Texas, and massively pandered to if you live in Florida. But not really: you, the non-swing voter, are going to be totally ignored regardless of where you live. So why do you care whether it’s the swing voters in a handful of states or the swing voters in whatever areas get the best bang for the advertising buck?

And that’s before you get to the basic math of the situation: from the perspective of an individual voter in a nation of 300 million and more, no, your vote isn’t going to make a difference in a national election.

Now, yes, there are some policy implications of the electoral college and those matter, and fair enough. And yes, political is still to some extent geographical, so you’re more likely to meaningfully participate in ways other than voting if you live in Ohio than in New York. And perhaps that’s enough to make reform a good (if not an urgent) idea. Perhaps. But there really is something screwy in the assumptions of the anti-EC crowd about who “counts” and who doesn’t in different types of election systems.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.