Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

If you're going to vote, do it like a horse race

I don't intend to vote this election cycle, though I would enjoy seeing Trump win. Last election cycle I half-seriously voted. My write-in candidates for P and VP were Princess Luna and Twilight Sparkle. The rest of the items on the ballot, which consisted of state and county initiatives, some congressmen, and various state and county officers, I took some time to look into each option and convince myself that one choice was better than another. My choices can be found on this site, though it may or may not be illegal to share them. (shrug)

Anyway I did it more for the fun of the exercise. It's a useful exercise everyone ought to complete at least once, because it doesn't take too much effort, and more importantly it offers a glimpse into the amount of effort it would really take to be the "rational, informed voter" the system pretends everyone is. Now imagine doing that more than once every 4 years -- I get ballot mails for all sorts of stuff at the city/county/state level, I ignore them. Imagine attending local city council meetings. I don't even know their schedule but I hear about them from time to time. I ignore them because I know that in order to have an opinion that's worth anything I would need to do a lot of work. I've got my own work to take care of, and it's not in the business of ruling people. I don't want to be in that business. Hence I'm not an expert in that business, and hence I don't see my opinion as being valuable. Let those who govern well govern as they see fit, not as the whims of the governed see fit. Whether this is done under the guise of democracy (like Singapore) or under a proper monarchy matters less than whether it is done. The People make for a terrible ruler, representatives or no. (Tangent, I once participated in the National Young Leaders Conference, that was very eye-opening as well in getting a glimpse of how the machine that is the federal government operates.)

So this brings me back to the title of this post. If you're going to vote, do it for the reasons you'd bet on a horse race. Now, there are a couple reasons one might bet on a horse race, and lots of reasons why one might make a particular bet. I'm not saying to pick any one of those, only to treat the process of voting in a similar manner.

People bet because they derive entertainment from it, or because they're trying to make money. The 'soundness' of bets also typically splits on this axis though not necessarily. If you're trying to make money, it pays to make sound bets, but most people don't do full probabilistic calculations even when money is on the line so rational decision making is no guarantee. On the other hand, there can be plenty of enjoyment in betting on some set of races and seeing how good you are at picking winners, whether intuitively or by trying to do the best analysis you can. Or sometimes it can be fun to vote for the horse with the coolest name, or taking a big risk in pursuit of money by voting for the horse with the highest total payoff despite lowest odds of winning. Sometimes a corporation is doing the betting and may make some backroom deals or provide other 'incentives'. Seems rational to me.

Before I decided not to vote this year, I thought I might vote as a way of self-calibration against my state and area. The last cycle I didn't hit 100%, but I had a good showing anyway. And even some republicans got elected. When you throw in state and county and sometimes city outcomes in the mix the variance can go up quite a bit, but also the feedback in just how in-tune with your area's political preferences (whether you agree with them or not) can be priceless. You can of course get this data by "voting" but not submitting your vote, maybe I'll still do that, but if you're going to go that far it's almost a shame to waste the free envelope to mail it in some states send...

There may be one point of agreement among avid Trump and Clinton supporters, which is that non-voters like me are scum. Fortunately for us scum, non-voters have been justifying their non-voting in a rainbow of ways for as long as voting has been seen as an obligation. Here's the one I typically give.

My vote doesn't matter, at least for the Presidency. This is because the Presidency is decided by the electoral college, not by a raw popular vote across the whole country. Now it's true many states (including the one I live in) have mechanisms that basically require the state's electorates for whichever party wins to vote for that party's candidate, but that's little solace when a popular majority clearly favors one candidate but due to the division of states and votes per states couldn't achieve a critical mass of voters in enough states to make the electoral percentage match. In casual conversations I've been saying for a while now I expect Trump to win the popular vote but probably lose the electoral vote. Whether this is electorates rebelling against him or simply not having enough Trump voters in enough states to matter is pretty irrelevant to me. Though if you do live in a "swing state", maybe your vote does matter a little more. Check to see if electorates can betray you or not:

Me, I live in Washington. This state hasn't voted Republican since 1984. It hasn't had under 50% Democrat since 1994: At least electorates can't vote their conscience (at least, not without facing a hefty $1000 fine and probably more seriously blacklisting from their party...) but it's pretty clear that my vote doesn't matter here.

And that's just one reason I shouldn't vote. It's a common one (my vote doesn't matter) and it's also got some common counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments, my intention isn't to replay the whole debate. But I do want to point out it's just one argument -- there are loads more, ranging from why I personally shouldn't vote, to why most people, with certain exceptions (like swing states) shouldn't vote, to why nobody should vote (which I sometimes bring out when arguing for the virtues of monarchy).

Wrapping up, I'd just like for people to treat voting as nothing more than another dubious American pastime with millions of dollars wasted on it. We're probably nowhere near removing ourselves from the other classic pastimes, nor the identity politics around them, but at least on the intellectual side of things we all agree it's rather silly. If the American intelligent-elite could reach the same conclusion to voting, to elections, to democratic systems, that would go a long way towards securing a better formal system in the future and possibly even a better informal one in the interim. The elites already recognize the concept of "voting blocks" and use that concept to great effect, they already admit that one-vote doesn't matter, that blocks matter. But they still treat voting as this sort of serious thing that needs to be done. Just recognize it for what it is: a silly game we as a society probably ought to waste a lot less money on.

Posted on 2016-09-04 by Jach

Tags: government


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