1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

The Ludwig von Mises Institute

Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian School

Search Mises.org

It Still Doesn't Count

Mises Daily: Tuesday, December 05, 2000 by and

A
A

In a U.S. presidential election where about 100 million votes are likely to be cast, what is the probability that your vote will be decisive in determining the outcome? Like it or not, the probability is pretty small---zero for all practical purposes. 

The probability hurdle is twofold. First, the presidential vote tally in your state would have to end in a tie without your vote. Second, your state's , electoral college votes would have to be decisive in establishing your candidate's electoral college majority. Neither is likely. That the two could happen simultaneously is even less likely, if that were possible. 

Such reasoning is considered unpatriotic to seditious by the political establishment. So when little Johnny proffers the nine-year old's version to his fourth grade class "Why should I vote, my vote doesn't count," his teacher sternly rebukes him by saying "Shame on you for saying such things, Johnny. Thousands have died for your right to vote!" No wonder Bill Clinton and his media lapdogs like Dan Rather pontificate about the recent election being "clear evidence that each person's vote matters." 

The protracted process of determining the winner of Florida's 25 electoral demonstrates that now more than ever, your vote doesn't matter! 

First, none of the Florida counts---the tabulated, the postulated, or the speculated---produced a tie. 

Second, the actions of the Gore forces reveal that as the victory/loss margin narrows, smoke-filled room shenanigans increasingly trump actual votes/non-votes. A quotation attributed to Joseph Stalin puts it best: "I don't care who votes as long as I get to count the votes." 

Third, even absent such shenanigans, why should mandated, "honest" recounts increase the likelihood of a tie? Honest recounts don't give better counts, only different counts. 

To see the latter, imagine around 6 million pennies in a giant jar. Moreover, let the pennies be in 67 different compartments of various sizes in the jar. Some pennies have a Denver mint mark, some have a Philadelphia mint mark, some have a blurred mark, and the rest seem to have no mark. Assume there are no definitive rules on ascertaining non-obvious markings. 

Nevertheless, we ask 67 different counting teams to provide a "fair, complete and, accurate" count by mint markings, allowing each counting team some discretion when it comes to non-obvious markings in their compartment. The probability the count will be "accurate" down to the last penny is very low indeed. 

Now suppose we extend this exercise by requiring anywhere between 1 and 67 of the counting teams to recount under the same or possibly different rules---still allowing discretion for non-obvious markings. "Accurate" is out of the question. 

Again, the Florida debacle does nothing to encourage an American to rush to the presidential polls in November 2004 as a well-informed voter. It will no doubt make great copy for League of Women Voter tracts and political/pundit hucksters. But the hard analytics are inescapable. Your vote still doesn't matter. 

* * * * * 

Cecil E. Bohanon and T. Norman Van Cott (TVANCOTT@gw.bsu.edu) teach economics at Ball State University.