In the 2000 presidential election, President Bush took Florida by a margin of 537 votes. But Florida-native Andy Levine ’08 is not planning on casting a ballot in the 2004 presidential election.
“Usually, people aren’t mad at me when they hear I’m not voting until I say I’m from Florida,” Levine said. “Then they think it’s ridiculous that I’m not voting.”
Levine said because he does not hold strong opinions on which candidate he prefers, he does not think his vote would really matter. And he is not alone. Though most Yale students said they are choosing to vote in the upcoming election, either by absentee ballot or locally, there is a small minority that thinks casting a ballot would represent a waste of time rather than an exercise in democracy.
“I’m not voting because I don’t particularly like either candidate and I don’t really see the effect that any candidate will have,” Michael Quinn ’06 said. “Plus, statistically your vote is really unimportant.”
Quinn’s sentiments are shared by others who cannot find a compelling reason to cast their ballots. They say casting a vote in a noncompetitive state will not make a difference. They say there are better ways to be involved in the American political system than voting. And they are supported by people like Steven Landsburg, who published an article on Slate.com stating that it makes more sense to play the lottery than to vote. He defended his argument by devising an intricate set of calculations to prove how little each individual vote matters.
More than any other factor, the Electoral College system seems to detract from voter counts and adds to a general sense of apathy regarding American democracy. Students who do not hail from swing states said they feel like their vote would neither help their party nor hinder the other.
A Democrat from Wyoming, Quinn said his one vote would not help bring a win for the Democrats.
“[Wyoming] being an incredibly small state with an incredibly small number of Democrats makes it very difficult for that to happen,” he said.
Republican Nick Collura ’07 from Massachusetts said his red vote would be lost in a sea of blue.
“Mainly because I’m from Massachusetts, I feel like with the Electoral College system it’s a foregone conclusion that Massachusetts will vote Democratic,” Collura said. “So there’s not much reason for me to vote either way — Had the Electoral College been abolished at some point, then I suppose every vote would count, figuratively speaking.”
But Al Jiwa ’06, president of the Yale College Republicans, said every vote has at least symbolic value.
“I firmly believe that if you’re not participating in the process it’s very difficult to come back and complain about the system afterwards,” Jiwa said. “I think if you saw higher participation levels you’d see the electoral landscape of this country change dramatically.”
To Jiwa and others who are active in politics, the justifications some Yalies provide for not voting are not persuasive enough. Regardless of how heavily Democratic or Republican a state is, the heads of Yale’s political organizations all have strong feelings about the importance of voting.
“I think that even in a state where it’s clear that one party has an advantage, I think that the margin of victory is something important to look at,” Yale College Democrats Vice President Andrew O’Connor ’05 said.
Collura said he is also deterred from voting because the issues most important to him, such as abortion, are not being discussed at great length in the election.
But when candidates are not living up to the hopes of the American public there are still ways to satisfactorily choose a presidential hopeful, Yale Political Union president Lindsay Bliss ’06 said.
“Particularly in this election, individuals are not voting because they disapprove of the positions of both of the major candidates,” Bliss said by e-mail. “While I can understand this frustration, I still tell them to look further into the positions of both major candidates as well as third party candidates. If anyone looks hard enough they can find a candidate that they agree with on many issues. If Kerry or Bush is not what they are looking for, perhaps one of the two is repulsive enough as a candidate to vote for the other.”
Though one may find the occasional Yalie choosing to abstain from the rapidly approaching presidential election, the general sentiment on campus is that most will go to the polls Nov. 2 or send in an absentee ballot.
“We have higher participation numbers than we saw in 2000,” Jiwa said. “I think Yalies as a general rule are more politically literate and more versed in the issue [than other college-aged voters], which will translate to higher poll numbers.”