This question was posed on the whiteboard at work today:
If I send in my absentee ballot on election day and the winners are announced that night, does that mean my vote doesn’t count?Well frankly, yes. Your vote doesn’t count in that case.
More to the point, your vote never counts. Almost. The only time a single, individual vote ever really counts is when the election is decided by a single vote. And that never happens. (But it can sure come close. Florida, Oregon and New Mexico in the 2000 Presidential election were all won in the hundreds or low thousands of votes. And the last Seattle monorail vote was won in the tens of votes, and absentee ballots could have changed the poll results.)
The power of democracy is that our votes add up. Individually, we have no power, but combined with others of like mind, we become a wave, a force, and unstoppable movement. (Or not.)
The power in voting comes from, for lack of a better term, peer pressure. “I did my duty, did you do yours?” On some level, I vote so that I can coerce/guilt other people to vote as well.
I also vote so that I have the right to bitch about the results. If you don’t vote for anyone, even if you would have chosen a candidate who didn’t win, then you have no right to complain. (Okay, you always have the right — that’s Free Speech for you — but any reason for people to take you seriously vanishes.)
A third reason to vote is to make a statement. In the 2000 primary election in California, only registered party members would have their votes counted, but people form other (or no) parties could still vote in those races. I was registered Green at the time, so I may have had a choice between Nader and some even less electable guy, and I didn’t really care about the outcome of that race. So instead, I “threw my vote away” by voting for John McCain on the Republican slate. My vote had no direct impact, but perhaps it (and others like it) were noted by the California Republican Party as an indication of the views of non-party members on the overall race, or even just by the McCain people to encourage his different heading on Republican issues. Even if there was no formal impact of my vote because of the non-value of it, it still gives me an example to talk about — bitching rights, if you will — something that voting for Nader in that primary would not have done.
Back to absentee ballots, though.
Primarily (ahem), absentee voting is like any other voting: you get to say “I voted, did you?” You did your civic duty. You participated.
Washington State, in particular, has a strong tradition of absentee voting. There have been many close races where absentee ballots affected the outcome of the election (or at least might have done so, as with the monorail vote mentioned above).
Further, remember that come November, you aren’t voting only for President. (At least I hope you won’t be doing only that vote.) You are voting for President (and Vice-President and the entire administration which goes with it), and for Governor, and Attorney General, and Senator, and state legislators, and Insurance Commissioner, and whether to switch from a “Montana” style primary to the “Louisiana” style, and probably some tax levies and stuff
like that. The big races are the ones which get announced, yes, but you’ll probably have to read a newspaper to get all the details on the smaller ones, especially on which ones are close. Any within a couple percentage points, even if the winner is “projected”, could be affected by absentee ballots, so your vote on lesser issues and races could still count. (It’s worth noting as well that absentee ballots tend to be more liberal, reflecting people who are intent on voting as much as those responding to a particular issue or race, making your vote in either direction that much more valuable.)
Updated on April 27, 2011
In Washington, we have moved increasingly to “vote by mail” voting — no more going to the local elementary school on election day, instead you fill out your ballot in private and send it in — which effectively makes those elections totally absentee.