Internets Celebrities: Does Voting Matter?

A new episode from Internets Celebrities, a favorite web series out of NYC. In this episode, Dallas Penn and Rafi Kam set up outside the Staten Island Ferry to find out how people are feeling about their right to elect public officials. CHEA! (thanks, Casimir!)


  1. On the one hand, people who don’t vote might as well be living in a dictatorship.  They’re not exercising what limited control they have.  They’re saying, essentially, they don’t care whether government helps or harms them.  They don’t care about whether they have a job, how much money they’ll have and what that money will buy, who we do or don’t go to war with, whether corporations can poison their air and water, what they will or won’t be arrested for, and so on.  It’s baffling.

    On the other… it is distressing how much disenfranchisement is built into the system, and distressing how many people will vote against their own best interests and how difficult it can be to counter that force.

    I plan to vote for Jill Stein.  I live in a state where she’s not even an official write-in candidate — and unless I’m mistaken, that means my vote will not even be counted at all.  In fact I live in a place where a vote for Obama is probably equally futile, given the eldritch horror that is the Electoral College.

    But I’m voting my conscience, I’m voting for what I want, I am hopefully sending a message to Democrats that I really don’t want them to emulate Reagan and Dubya.  I’m voting to say I care about the environment, about treating every human like a human, and that I’m unhappy with drone wars and half-assed healthcare reform and massive income inequality and the idiocy of austerity during a recession.

    Tuesday I will go vote, and then I will go cry in my beer.  And all the damn signs for Todd Akin and the “Enough is Enough” bullshit (a campaign against taxing cigarettes to pay for anti-smoking education for kids, with millions of dollars in billboards everywhere paid for by convenience stores while the tobacco industry itself isn’t saying a thing) better all be gone by Friday.


      They’re saying, essentially, they don’t care whether government helps or harms them. 

      They might also be saying, “my vote won’t have any effect on whether the government helps or harms me.”  They might also say, “My participation in a system with a distressing amount of disenfranchisement built into it validates that system of disenfranchisement.” 

      1. Elections are all disenfranchising, if by disenfranchising you mean that losing elections means your candidates don’t win. Even in proportional representation systems it is unlikely that 7% of your vote was for Party X, so when party X gets 7% of parliament, 93% of your vote is disenfranchised. Ultimately you’re either arguing against elections or for disenfranchisement.

        I, personally, don’t believe that voting for the losing party is disenfranchisement. Being prevented from voting is. Voting for a losing party is participating in society. Not every viewpoint is ascendant everywhere at once. That’s probably for the best.

        1. I’m not necessarily endorsing these views, just pointing out that there’s possibilities beyond the ones considered by Crashproof.  “if by disenfranchising you mean that losing elections means your candidates don’t win”  That’s not at all what I meant. Not sure why you’d think it was.

  2. This is relevant to the problem of voter apathy: – First Past The Post voting is inherently unfair, and excludes the vast majority of the electorate. 

  3. i wish I felt my vote mattered.   there is too much pointing to it not mattering.  Is the election bought and paid for?   Are all the votes REALLY counted?  Does the Electorial College nullify my vote if my State votes against my candidate?   Are the electronic machines “rigged”?

    I just no longer feel my vote counts.    

    Caveat – I was a political consultant for ~ 6 years.  I’ve played inside the system.  I’ve watched elections, I’ve watched counting at county courthouses, as well as state level results.     I am sad.

    But I vote, if you dont?  you got no right to complain.

    1. If you were a political consultant, why are you focused only on the Presidential race? Something the extreme right learned two decades ago was that hyperlocal offices move policy much more than national offices do. You want Creationism in the schools? Don’t run for President, run for the school board. People who point to the Electoral College as a reason to believe their vote doesn’t count have taken all of the political headlines and missed the real story.

      1.  hmmm,   i re-read my post 2x, and dont see the focus on presidential, although my Electorial college (which may have triggered that comment from you) concerns have nothing,  at all, to do with headlines.  

        15 years ago I could tell you, within $500 the cost of a Texas State Senate seat.  I can explain GOTV, I can discuss Union CASH to certain preachers to get an entire congregation’s vote.    Downballot is truly where all the betting action is.

        I have no clue what creationism has to do with any of this, but FYI, I am in favor of Darwinism and wish it would work faster, Pro-Choice (abortion and firearm), and I want more funding for true scientific education and research.

        All that aside, you sucked me into an internet argument and reply, therefore you won.   :P

    2.  George Carlin says if you do vote you have no right to complain.  After all, you’re the one participating in the election of these idiots.  I still wish “none of the above” was required to be an option on all ballots.

  4. I’m not voting because for me, the value of voting is far less than the cost of voting. From an economic point of view, it wouldn’t be rational for me to vote. Plus, there isn’t a party or candidate that I really support. The US has a defacto 2-party system and neither party fits me better than the other. 

    1. I can’t imagine what the cost of voting is for you. You haven’t been paying the “voting toll” have you? Because that’s not a real thing.

      For the almost 25 years I’ve been voting it’s been somewhere within a few blocks of where I live, started at 6 a.m. or so and ended at 7 p.m. or so. Generally it’s not taken longer than about 20 minutes. I am having trouble imagining the economic argument against this.

      1. Freakonomics talked about this a little bit in one of their podcasts. 

        Where I live, the politics are slanted overwhelmingly in one direction. Perhaps if it were closer, I would feel that my tiny contribution would matter.

        1. So, it’s not economics. The cost to you to vote is minimal and while the impact of your vote may also be minimal, it doesn’t cost you very much to vote.

          I always vote in every race on the ballot because all of those people have the capability of impacting my life and livelihood. I may “know” how the election will turn out, but I’m still getting my little bit of a voice in there. Every. Single. Time.

          1.  Any vote worth a damn has costs. In time, in effort, in conscience. Saying it’s not economics is absurd – if I decide that the reward (the approximately zero chance of my vote having a meaningful impact) is less than the cost (spending at the very least an hour absorbing information about my options), and thus I will not vote, that’s economic. If I also decide the cost (going to the polling place) isn’t worth the reward (flipping a coin, for many of the local candidates you don’t hear anything about without effort) for an unresearched vote, that’s economic. It’s a sensible decision to simply note vote.

            If I was the only one voting, the reward would suddenly be high enough that, economically, the cost of doing hours, even weeks, of research could easily be justified. But information is not free, and good information is not particularly cheap. Unless you get some inherent personal reward from uncovering the information or casting the vote, it’s very easy to see the economic argument coming out against voting.

          2. I’m not an economist, but I’ve seen theorists try to inject economic modeling into my field enough to know that the sort of rational step-by-step decisionmaking you described started as an attempt to explain why people act and has morphed into giving people a model for how to act. I have not meant any non-economists who actually reason like this.

    2. I don’t really like either party either, but I also cannot see how anyone could say that both are exactly just as equally bad. What about local politics? What is this cost of voting? At most it is probably 30 minutes of time every four years. Seems a pretty minimal cost, sure you do not get to vote for somebody who lines up 100% with your views, but settling for 60% is not a failure, it is still an opportunity to make sure the course is going in generally a direction you agree with.

      1. Only if there’s a non-zero chance of the 60% candidate getting elected.

        (Hint, there’s a zero percent chance of all my 60%+ candidates getting elected)

        1. What if by you and others like you consistently voting for the 60% candidates were able to inspire more like minded people to vote? I understand you are not likely to overcome a gerrymandered district in 2-3 election cycles, but the next time it comes up to redistrict you might find yourself in a very different type of district based on past voting trends.

          1. I’ve never lived, and probably won’t ever live, in the same district for 2-3 election cycles. To be honest, I sort of feel like I /shouldn’t/ vote for local politicians since I tend not to stay more than a couple years in any given place. (I do ignore that feeling, though)

  5. I vote.  But I’m a bit puzzled by this idea of “If you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain”.  First Amendment rights are inherent, and guaranteed, and to be exercised by all.  You don’t buy that right by exercising your vote.  It precedes your right to vote, and is independent of it.  

    If, halfway between elections, some great event or tragedy befell the nation, or a leader took us suddenly down a wrong path, are non-voters obliged to STFU because they didn’t vote?  

    People should vote.  But they certainly have the right to speak their mind, whether they do, or not.


    1. I find it a little hard to believe that you don’t understand the “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain” sentiment, but I’ll bite. It doesn’t mean you may be legally barred from expressing complaints (i.e. you are protected by the First Amendment). It means that nobody wants to hear your complaint because you did nothing to prevent the thing you are complaining about. And yes, if you didn’t vote and the President suddenly goes nutso, you should STFU and let the adults who bothered to vote deal with it. That is not a First Amendment STFU, it’s a more personal one.

      1. I didn’t mean to convey that I didn’t understand the sentiment.  I do.  And while of course I understand it’s not a legal STFU, the position doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Liberty, Freedom, Communication, Union, etc.  The attitude seems to create more walls than bridges. 

      2. The vote is anonymous, of course, so for all we know you voted *for* President Nutso.  That makes the moral high ground sort of fuzzy and indistinct.

        1. Indeed. It’s really only people who say (a) I don’t vote, and (b) everything is all screwed up who get the STFU. Even voting for Nutso gets you more credibility than not voting at all.

          1. See now, I’m of the opinion that anyone who doesn’t engage in political activism or run themselves doesn’t have the right to complain. If you’ve never run for office, or directly influence those in office, you’ve never actually tried to fix things. If you have never tried to fix things, your opinion honestly doesn’t matter very much.

  6. A problem with voter apathy is that the screaming lunatic fringes of society (You know who you are.) don’t suffer from it.  Those guys always vote, and vote organized.  Sane and rational folk abstaining increases the political influence of nutbags.

    1.  Yes, this is a good reason to vote.  Not “you have no right to complain hurr hurr” but “No, actually there’s seriously a good reason to vote you guys.”

  7. Since neither major political party represents my views and I live in a state that is destined to vote Republican in all presidential elections, I am voting Libertarian. It is my best method of sending a message to the major political parties that they don’t represent my views and they need to pull their collective heads out of their asses. The Republican party wants to start a war with Iran and shove the views of the hateful religious right down the country’s throat and the Democrat party is filled with Lear jet liberals who have some ridiculous idealistic view of how the world should be (of course they exclude themselves and their political contributors from whatever transfer of wealth they decide on). Locally, I vote the candidate instead of the party association. That is becoming increasingly difficult because the political parties will only support candidates that pass a “purity test” rather than individuals who might dare to support the interests of their constituents.

  8. Since most of us are completely shut out of the process by which high-office candidates are initially selected, a certain amount of voter disenfranchisement is hard-wired into the system. I vote, but I don’t imagine for an instant that that act makes my opinion any more valid than the opinion of those who don’t vote at all. Some people choose not to vote as a form of protest. Whether it’s an effective means of protest is arguable, but people have a right to it.

  9. I keep seeing these kinds of discussions where the basis seems to be, 

    Democracy = you get to vote

    Fine. But isn’t the most important part of that ‘transaction’ the representation that comes after the voting?

    Anyone see the people being represented much lately? Anywhere?

  10. USA Today have a poll that says 90 million Americans won’t vote. However, based on their poll Obama would win by a landslide as 43% would be voting for him and just 18% voting for Mitt Romney. Also interesting that the remainder would vote for a 3rd party. Not enough people at the presidential level to change things, but likely at other levels that 3rd party candidates could get through.

  11. What is the function of voting in the relationship between the state on the one hand and the legislature, executive and judiciary on the other? The development of western democracy cannot be separated from the development of the modern western nation state and its institutions with their checks and balances. There is, perhaps, a perceived shift of emphasis which some see as something they can work with and others not.
    I vote, but I never really know why.

  12. This is the first election in which I’ve found myself considering whether it may be more ethical to refuse to vote.

    I’ve been wearing a Jill Stein/Cheri Honkala campaign button for over a month; the Green Party’s platform, and the local branch’s endorsements are generally a close fit for my political views on specific issues. Moreover, at least in San Francisco, we occasionally actually elect a Green to local office, some of the bills the Greens endorse go through, and so on. I agree with the argument that is presented, now and then, that while a single vote in a presidential election is statistically meaningless, a vote matters considerably more in a local race, where important decisions are decided on margins of a few hundred, even a few dozen votes. So even if the attention to the national race is exaggerated and misplaced, at least it gets people to the voting booth, where they may vote on those other issues.

    I’ve never been able to stomach the lesser-evil argument. By voting for the lesser evil, I’m giving evil my full endorsement, and can expect them to run with it. As a matter of principle, I will not vote for anyone who announces their intention to murder innocent people, and every major party candidate for national office, by endorsing acts of military aggression, has announced their intention to murder innocent people.

    But what really is moving me to despair, at this point, are the issues of climate change, which threatens the destruction of civilization, and the NCTC and the “disposition matrix”, an openly acknowledged assertion of the executive branch’s intention to arbitrarily murder anyone, anywhere, at any time, “due process” be damned. The major candidates have both agreed that we should increase energy production, which would only accelerate climate change. And who even bothers to question the kill list? We can run news stories about arbitrary murder on the front page of major newspapers. The US has now met the classical definition of tyranny, and yet there’s only a bit of criticism on the margins. The most important city in the US has been struck by a catastrophic storm, strong empirical evidence at how severe climate change has already become, and yet the major party candidates can get away with simply ignoring the problem.

    And to cap it all, in New York City, it’s Occupy Wall Street that has been doing an heroic job of organizing food supplies for needy New Yorkers, while FEMA apparently has been sitting around with its thumb up its ass. I’m reminded of how a former Black Panther explained the Black Panther Party’s school breakfast program: if this little group of activists, with a shoestring budget, can do a better job of organizing food for the hungry than can the state, with its enormous resources, than what justification does the state have for existing?

    So I have to wonder, by voting, am I just endorsing a system in which social programs are, for no good reason, tied to the state apparatus, when the only thing the state is good for is killing people?

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