A popular slogan of each election season holds that “every vote counts.” Googling that phrase turns up a host of hits, ranging from an Every Vote Counts book, to an Every Vote Counts Amendment for the popular vote to determine presidential elections, to an “Every Vote Counts!” poster of President Obama.
Given that getting one’s supporters to the polls is key to electoral success, one can see why political movers and shakers repeat that claim, though almost exclusively to those likely to vote for them. But when it comes to determining election outcomes, it’s not true. In fact, virtually no individual vote counts.
The reason that “your vote won’t count” is more accurate than “every vote counts” is that the odds of your individual vote changing an election outcome are near zero in any large-scale election. The results will not change no matter whether you vote for the winner, a loser, or no one. And that remains true even when promoters of the politically approved line can cite elections swung by only a few votes. (Who among you gets to cast a few votes?)
And even if, despite the odds, your vote did change the result, it would do so only by ensuring that others’ votes did not change the result. Every vote would still not count. This year has made this abundantly clear, from the number of rallies focused on voting to ensure rivals do not gain power, to President Obama’s Rutgers University commencement-address assertion that “if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want,” which requires that every outnumbered voter will get the opposite of what he wants.
There is an additional little-noticed contradiction revealed by many claiming devotion to every vote counting. The policies they favor and enact frequently consist of denying people the right to get what they would vote for.
Every price floor overrides some individuals’ economic votes. The minimum wage, for example, denies anyone whose “vote” would be to accept employment at a lower wage (perhaps to cover the cost of on-the-job training) from counting, even if it means he becomes unemployed as a result.
Similarly, every price ceiling overrides some individuals’ economic votes. Rent control, for example, nullifies the “votes” of potential tenants to offer more to acquire housing and of landlords who would accept their offers if they were allowed, leaving both groups worse off.
Both regulations deny people the ability to determine, using their marketplace votes, what they will be allowed to do with themselves and their property, turning that ownership into merely theoretical ownership to be frequently overridden in practice.
Unions and the laws and regulatory apparatus through which government has given them favored treatment, including exemption from antitrust laws that they clearly violate, deny many workers and producers votes that count in determining the employment relationships they would choose, as well as the ability to vote down the requirement to provide mandatory support to union representation they oppose.
Almost uncountable government mandates deny owners voting power over their own resources, and regulations that impose barriers to entry and competition deny those who would like to offer their services in open competition the ability to do so.
Tariffs, quotas, and other barriers to voluntary international trading arrangements also negate Americans’ votes about what to buy and from whom to buy.
Those who proclaim obeisance to the principle that “every vote counts” in fact use their power, derived from the only political votes that matter—those for the winner—to override millions of Americans’ votes about what they would do with themselves and their property. We should recognize that hypocritical hyperbole both for what it is, and what it is not—“liberty and justice for all.”