Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

I know I'm going to get blasted for this, but here it goes...

Well, it's finally here, and no, I'm not voting. Those who know me expect this, and I get crap about it every time elections come around. I have two basic beliefs about my vote, which leads to my decision not to take a trip to the ballot box.

First, I do believe that my vote is meaningless. The chance that my vote plays any role at all is nearly non-existent. And, yes, I'm well aware of the 'if everyone who shared your belief decided to go out and vote, then the collective votes become meaningful' argument. But, truth be told, that simply doesn't happen.

Second, I believe that if you are a relatively uninformed voter, then you are simply adding noise to the system. I feel quite strongly about this point, and for me, it is the more heavily weighted of the two beliefs.

Here's an oversimplifying example. Say we had a total voting population of 110 people. Now, what if 10 of the people were 'perfect' experts in knowing how to maximize utility/happiness/whatever for the nation. Assume that other 100 are not as well informed and have a 50/50 shot of voting as the experts would. So, you've got 10 votes for the 'correct' choice from the experts, and roughly 50 votes for each choice from the 100 less informed voters.

On average, the correct choice wins out with a 60-50 vote count. But, we did just say that it's a 50/50 shot for each of the 100 less informed voters to vote correctly. It doesn't take much to swing the vote towards the incorrect choice. If just 56 of the 100 voted for the 'incorrect' choice, then we can say that the noise has overwhelmed the signal. This will happen about 13.6% of the time based on the binomial distribution.

As we continue to dilute the informed voters by urging the less informed types to vote, the signal-to-noise ratio continues to degrade, and eventually we have what is essentially a lottery or crap shoot that elects our leaders. Most people overestimate their own intelligence, and I'm sure I am part of this group as well. But, I think I know enough to know that I haven't the information to really make a wise decision about a leader for the country or regarding a state proposition.

Can I fix this? Yes. I could spend a good deal of time really understanding all the issues, etc. But, at this point, it's not worth it for me due to my belief that my vote is effectively meaningless.

It's obvious that very few voters really understand all the issues involved, as often one will see two campaign ads where one ad says one thing and the other ad basically says that it was not factual. If most people really had the information, these types of back-and-forth ads would not exist as they wouldn't be useful, since you can't really convince someone that a fact isn't a fact... no matter what an ad might do to convince me, I know that 1+1 equals 2 and not 3.

That said, there are some elections where I do cast a vote. One would be voting my shares for some of the companies where I feel that I am more informed or knowledgeable. In these cases, I feel that I am adding signal to the equation, and not just noise. Another time where I vote is as part of a committee at work, where I am very well informed and again, I believe I'm adding signal and not noise.

I know I'm rambling now, but I think people should understand that there is another choice when it comes time to vote. That choice is to ABSTAIN. People often abstain from a vote by recusing themselves due to conflicts. Others abstain from a vote due to indifference. But, I think one reason that people should abstain is often overlooked, and that is, the voter is simply unqualified.

Before I end this, I should ask the following.

Say you were going to build a house and there was a question as to what materials should be used and how the house were constructed. Would you prefer that a smaller group of qualified house building experts voted, or would you prefer that the population of your state casts their vote? Sure, there's a chance that your house would be built just fine with the large-scale vote, but I doubt anyone would prefer it. The building of your house is a whole lot simpler than all the issues involved in running our nation, so why do we insist that everyone throw in their 2 cents when often it's worth much closer to nothing.

*** Edit #1 ***

Okay, I've got some people slamming me now on chat about this...

The bottom line is that I do urge those that are informed to vote. I just don't think the non-informed or ill-informed types should spoil it for the nation. I happen to be in the non-informed crowd, hence my decision not to vote.

*** Edit #2 ***

I have to say that the free swag being offered to those that voted today is really a bad thing. Basically, some part of the population is voting only because of the free Starbucks, Ben and Jerry's, Krispy Kreme, etc. Those folks whose decision to vote or not to vote was tipped due to the free stuff are much more likely, in my opinion, to be uninformed or misinformed or vote randomly. So, companies that offer free stuff to 'get out the vote' are doing the nation a serious disservice.

Why would you possibly want to force or urge people to vote when it's likely that they are not well-informed?

*** Edit #3 ***

A friend of mine made a good point. He agrees that votes are meaningless and that most people are 'stupid' (aka mis- or ill- informed). But, he votes to keep the voter turnout high. His reasoning is that politicians that see a low voter turnout would feel less obligated to do what's right for the masses due to the population's lack of care.

He did say that something that needs to be there on the ballot is an option to Abstain from voting. This would help reduce the noise as those that are conscientious enough not to vote when they are not well enough informed will choose to abstain, but it would also allow the voter turnout number to remain high.

I think I like this idea. I suppose one could just leave options blank and use the write-in space to just say "Decline to Vote." Maybe that's what I'll do next time.

*** Edit #4 ***

This is just something kind of funny... definitely evidence of how misinformation is quite possibly more of a problem than lack of information. This is a Howard Stern interview from Harlem earlier this year. Our nation's elections seem to be very much popularity contests where the good of the nation is rarely being taken into consideration.



*** Edit #5 ***

Okay, I've stepped down from my platform. But, here's something funny... so how the heck are votes counted and updated? Right now (5:17pm PST), there are 3 votes total that have been counted in Maine.



I just think it's odd. How can that even be possible to count exactly 3 votes and have it be reported to the media? Strange.

1 comment:

Rowr said...

ugh, I can't even reply to this.

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