It is surprising but not entirely uncommon to hear, ‘my vote doesn’t matter’, or ‘my state is already ‘blue/red’, or other similar dismissals of the value of an individual’s vote. Voting, in addition to being a constitutional right that is core to the founding of our country’s representative government, is an opportunity to ensure your views, priorities, and values are taken into account by our government representatives.
Down Ballot Voting
The most crucial way voting affects an individual is more than just the vote for president. Voting in local and state elections results in the most tangible, every day changes in one’s life such as your local school board or city policies. This can take shape in how your city allocates resources to respond to everything from homelessness to emergency services, for example. Often times, there are fewer independent analyses of these down ballot races and it can require more effort by a voter to learn about the issues and what the candidates stand for, though this doesn’t reflect how important it is to thoughtfully vote in these races. This post by @WhenWeAllVote illustrates exactly how down ballot races affect criminal justice policy and reform.
Non-Presidential Year Voting
Also called midterm voting, these are elections held in the years that the presidential office is not up for election. Because of this, these elections tend to see lower voter turnout, presumably representing a ‘this election doesn’t matter’ sentiment. However, these elections can include races for congressional seats, governorships, and a variety of state and local offices (see above for why down ballot voting matters). Because of the lower turnout for these elections, margins are even smaller between propositions passing and officials being voted in (see below for small margins).
Despite the large number of Americans eligible to vote, voter turnout for presidential voting years is around 50% of the eligible populace, and around 20% for other elections. Because of the low turnout, and because most races are won by a simple majority, each year across the country there are a number of significant elections that are won or lost by literally one ballot. This 2018 NPR article highlights election after election where just a single person’s vote or a small number of votes swung the election one way or another. Overall, these percentages highlight that there is great opportunity for a significant portion of the population to start to vote, and to vote consistently, thereby having a stronger voice in our democracy as well as potentially shifting results.
One thing to keep in mind when skipping an election cycle or not voting in all the races on your ballot is that not only did the founders of this country fight for the right to have a representative government, but in many countries around the world, voting in a free and fair election is something that individuals continue to fight and die for. The privilege of voting and being heard is not a relic of history. Our World in Data features an interactive map of the world showing the range of autocracy and democracy across countries over time.
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