Ron Barnette's Zeno's Coffeehouse Challenge #57 Result

This thoughtful challenge stirred over 300 replies, which is appreciated! I have listed below the original challenge, followed by several respondents' thoughts on the matter. I want to thank ALL respondents for their thoughtful time taken with Zeno's Coffeehouse, and to encourage your continued support, as critical thinking exercises are explored for mental growth and recreation. Minds need exercising with shared, reflective thinking.

Thanks!...Ron Barnette

A Voter's Paradox?

After observing low voter turnouts in elections, especially in the U.S.A., several Coffeehouse patrons had a spirited conversation one evening recently in an attempt to explain this phenomenon. Why indeed? One of the patrons---Chris---offered what many considered to be a humorous rejoinder, but Chris' argument and his challenge definitely created a variety of responses. Take a look at his remarks, and submit your reasoned response as your submission to our latest Zeno's Coffeehouse challenge! Give this some thought:)

From Chris:

"Please reflect on this, my dear coffeehouse colleagues, as I present a case against voting, a position which many folks might have held in recent elections. I once read of this paradox in a marvelous book by the philosopher Robert M. Martin, which I want to relate.

Realistically, what are the chances that your vote will make a difference in who wins an election? That is, by breaking a tie, or creating a tie, in the final vote total? The chances of this happening are obviously to impossible. Only a fool would think that his or her vote is even remotely likely to create or break a tie, and thus to affect who wins; so no matter how passionately you care about the outcome of an election, it's a waste of time to vote. Playing the lottery is a better bet!

This reasoning is impeccable, as you no doubt realize. It's sound reasoning for me, for you, my good friends Charles and Maggie, and for all of the thousands or millions of would-be voters too. Therefore, it doesn't make sense for anyone to vote! Don't you agree, when you think about it???"

Some views expressed, and thanks to all!:

From Dunedin, Florida, USA, by Bill Coleman
comments: Chris is absolutely wrong in his logic.To cast a ballot is to stand up and voice your opinion in a silent format. In this country, majority rules. If all of us thought we may be the deciding vote, than Chris's reasoning may hold some validity. Chris knows better, he just want to kick start our brains and engage us in political conversation. We can make a difference not indifference. To cast your ballot is taking sides, drawing your own line in the sand. Some people just can't make a decision. They want to be loved by all. They can't be for or against, pro or con, one way or the other. That way, I can't be hurt, I can't feel bad if I should lose. My emotions are just too vulnerable. Chris, don't make me make a choice, I rather sit home and watch the results on TV drinking my beer and yelling curses at the networks for pre-empting my football game. I'll vote for that!

From Michael Deasey, in Wynnewood, PA, USA
comments: The power of the vote is not in the individual, but in the masses.  This is why the founding fathers so feared mob voting; if someone were to inspire the masses to vote as one, say, with promises of free money or no taxes forever, they would surely win the election.  And therein lies the safeguard: the electoral system.   Trustworthy people are slected to act in the interests of the people in terms of choosing whom the electoral votes go to.  But, in the example of the impossible promises, the electoral voter knows that the candidate will never be able to fulfill those campaign wishes and is incompetent, they are under no obligation to give the electoral votes to the person who won the popular vote for that state.

In the case of whether or not the single vote matters, however, the logic is not sound.   The single vote does not matter, as Chris has so eloquently stated.  However, if that single vote is clumped together as the force of 30 million individuals, that certainly can make or break a tie.  If everyone were to follow the logic of Chris, the single vote would become enormously important.  As the number of voters decreases, the power of the single vote increases.  So yes, Chris is correct, to a certain degree: if the voter conceives of his or her vote as an individual vote, then yes, it is meaningless.  but if he or she considers it in the context of 10 million or 20 million other voters, then it is certainly not meaningless.  The single vote in context is powerful, whereas the single vote thought of as the single vote is meaningless.

From Lauri Kullti, in Finland (a long-time Zeno's patron and previous contributor:)

comments: Reasoning certainly is impeccable in a sense that your vote will make no difference. But that just is one of the good properties (there are others and there are some presumably bad properties) of this kind of voting procedure. The idea is familiar from e.g. Kenneth Arrow's writings about social choice theory. It is usually accepted that social preference ordering should satisfy certain conditions, one of which is so called non-dictatorship condition: social preferences cannot (or should not) be based on the preferences of only one person (more or LESS accurately phrased). Votings with huge number of voters will most probably satisfy this condition because everyone's singular vote is (almost) without significance. That is, "only a fool would think that his or her vote is even remotely likely to create or break a tie, and thus to affect who wins", as said by Chris.

But unlike playing the lottery, the voters might (and perhaps should) have other incentives than just the success of their "guess". In order to keep the voting procedure as one satisfying the non-dictatorship condition, it is in everyone's interests that as many potential voters as possible do actually vote. Your major contribution to this effect is actually voting.

As one can see, there is something nasty in Chris' reasoning: if he succeeds in convincing all the others (or significant number of others) that voting is waste of time, the importance of his own vote will grow enormously (or at least significantly).

From Joanna Molloy in London, England

comments: If this is the case , breaking a tie or creating a tie never happens..It is obviously written for men or adolescents (same thing) since it appeals to personal vanity and power rather than responsibility and democratic sense.

From John in Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA
comments: In examining this predicament, one must delve into the realm of ethics. As one has no doubt heard thousands of times over, it is a citizen's duty to participate in the political process. Voting is merely one piece of being responsible for one's political environment, ideally thus improving one's well-being and happiness. Voting is merely the formal tallying of one's opinion in a political matter. Although one's voice in a vote may seem hopelessly small, it is the process of actively making one's political and social opinion heard. Voting exists as a quintessential part of standing up for one's political beliefs and thereby actively attempting to improve one's happiness and quality of life.

From Roger Hutchinson, in Silver Spring MD, USA
comments: If each voter flips a coin to determine the candidate to receive his vote, then each candidate has the potential to receive the same number of votes as the other.   Each voter has a 50 percent chance of his vote resulting in a tie (if an even number of people vote) or a win for one candidate (if an odd number of people vote).   The number of people who vote is irrelevant.  If 3 or 3,000,0001 people vote each person has the same potential to determine the winner.

From Archie Hill, in Bury St Edmunds, UK
comments: only a fool would NOT consider voting. every vote counts even if the result does not go one's way. the result does not in every case reflect the views of the electorate as a whole. if only say 36% of the population votes it sends a sad message to that parlimentary system and only reflects in voting terms that 36% are interested enough in going out and voting. - a sad reflection on what the aspiring MP's have to offer. it also brings this question into play - should voting be compulsary?