Why your vote doesn't matter

One vote is a statistical error. A thousand can swing an election.

The chances of a single vote influencing an election is virtually nil. Just about every democratic election in history has been decided not by one vote, but by a percentage of the electorate. One man’s vote does not matter. But the voting patters of one percent of the electorate does. It’s the way democratic systems are structured.

Democracy means ‘people’s rule’. Elections are designed to capture and reflect the people’s choice. An individual vote is but one of many. There are any number of variables that influence a single person’s vote: personal connections to a politician, anger towards a party, random choice, family tradition, and other such factors. Every person’s vote is influenced by different variables to different degrees. By collating everybody’s votes, these factors can be accounted for.

In addition, a single vote shouldn’t be significant. Democracy is about equality. One man’s vote has the same weight as someone else. The vote of a rich and powerful corporate director has the same weight as the vote of an underpaid blue collar barely able to feed his family. This ensures that nobody can hijack an election and impose his will on society. This means the son of a powerful politician cannot keep his father in power simply by voting. This means an oligarchy of powerful men cannot simply will a puppet into political office just by casting their votes. This means ordinary people are able to rally and put their choice in office, to elect a person who would listen and represent their voices.

One vote doesn’t matter. One cluster of votes does.

Voting is a social activity. People do not vote in a vacuum. They talk to their friends and family, and everybody tries to convince everybody else to vote the same way. Then their friends and family talk to their friends and family, who talk to their friends and family too. And everybody is trying to convince each other to choose a party or a candidate. People go out and meet new people, and try to convince them to vote for someone too. Those new contacts will talk to their friends and family, and the process cascades.

A cynic would see this as rule of, for, and by the sheeple. That is, democracy is little more than an exercise in appealing to popularity. Certainly populism is founded on this notion.

But there is another way to see this. This mechanism allows people to discuss what is important to them, and whether a politician can meet their needs. It allows an individual to influence how other people to vote, and a large number of people to convert a single person’s choice. It allows people to reach out to complete strangers and convince them to vote.

If you’re reading this and a Singaporean, you probably support one party or other. You’ll definitely want that party to represent you in Parliament. If you haven’t already, go out and talk to people. Convince your friends and family to vote for your choice. Make new friends and encourage them to vote for your choice. They will convince their friends and family too. Use social media to reinforce your point of view and reach out across the Internet. Someone, somewhere, will pick up what you’ve posted. That person will be reaching out to people and convincing them to vote for your choice. This process is repeated over and over and over again until Polling Day. The vote cluster you’ve created goes a long way towards ensuring your favourite politician enters office. Much longer than a single vote.

There are no wrong choices in an election. Only consequences.

Footnote: I’ll be covering the Singapore People’s Party rally tonight. I hope I’ll have more stuff to report this time.

Why your vote doesn't matter

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