Place your bets

17 Oct


If you suspect I’m one of those disgruntled citizens with grave doubts about the legitimacy of US electoral democracy, you’re right.  So why do I vote?

I justify the act somewhat along the lines of Pascal’s wager.  There’s a chance our votes are counted more or less accurately, that the official results of elections tend to reflect the votes actually cast, if not the will of all the people.  In that case, voters have some influence, and potential voters have some potential influence, on the process by which human persons are elected to government offices.  There’s also a chance that elected government officials have some influence over the course of government.   Accordingly, there’s at least some small chance that our votes have at least some small influence over the direction of government.

Weigh against that chance the cost to the voter of voting, which most of the time is nearly negligible, or at any rate much less than the cost of a trip to the movies or a round of drinks at a local pub.  Why forgo the chance at influencing the direction of government, however small you estimate that chance to be, when the cost of the wager is next to nothing?

The only interesting rebuttal to this line of argument I’ve heard is an argument from legitimacy:  If the turnout is low, the legitimacy of the government seems weak or questionable; to participate in elections is to seem to consent to the government produced by those elections and thus lend it an air of legitimacy.  There’s some merit to the rebuttal.  But when I consider all the other means available to register one’s dissent, and add that to the balance of the wager — well, it seems to me I might as well take my chances at the polls, and let the ensuing sting of conscience reinforce my desire to dissent by other means.


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