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Does Voting Actually Matter?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The question as to whether voting matters is a difficult one to answer. In the main, voters do get to let their voices be heard through the act of voting. Depending upon what you vote on, your vote may matter more or less. For instance, a vote cast for a Presidential candidate who has already essentially won an election, may not matter as much as votes that were cast earlier in the day before a clear winner was determined. On the other hand, votes can be so close, that each vote can matter immensely.

In the US, in most cases, you must be registered to vote. The only state in which registration is not required is North Dakota. But voter registration totals can reveal a lot about how much people think votes matter. Less than half of the population eligible to vote is registered. In huge elections like general elections for the presidency, voter turnout even among registered voters can make a difference.

In 2004, for instance, only about 85% of registered voters cast a vote, and total votes cast represented only approximately half of the citizens who could have voted. Given the close elections of both 2000 and 2004, not voting clearly mattered. A few more voters registered in each state could have changed election outcome.

While we often think of voting as it relates to big elections, there are many local, regional or state elections where voting really does matter. A proposed law, measure, or tax may be defeated or passed in a direct fashion through the voter. Failing to vote on such measures can affect the degree to which you like what your state or local government is doing. Another way in which a vote can matter is if you are voting for government representatives, either to your state or to the federal government. Generally, you look for those representatives that most closely share your views.

Of course, your vote does not mean that a representative will always represent your views. This is why it is well to continue to exercise your option to vote, and to contact representatives when they seem to be acting in ways opposite to the positions for which you supported them. You can also vote for other representatives when the current representative’s term is up, especially if you feel inadequately represented by an elected official.

Voting also doesn’t mean that your candidate or your position will always win. But failing to vote means that you create greater opportunity for candidates or positions you support to lose, and you create more chance that candidates or ideas you don’t support will win. This is probably the most important part of exercising your right to vote. You opt out of the entire political process when you don’t, and you lose the opportunity of allowing your thoughts and opinions to hold sway.

Though this is not always the case, the ability to vote is envied in many countries where the people are given no say in the way a country is run. They are victims of the decisions of a government, without ever having a chance to be full participants in those decisions. This can create extraordinary crisis at times, such as when victims of the 2008 Myanmar cyclone saw ships carrying relief from other countries turned back, condemning some of these people to death or extreme deprivation and starvation. It’s thus wise to consider whether you really want to give up the right to vote, and let the government make all its decisions without regard to your opinion.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon996821 — On Oct 17, 2016

Your vote does matter. The one thing the government is terrified of is a good majority of Americans turning against them, but with Hillary and Obama and the rest of these thugs, I'm not too sure.

By anon977096 — On Nov 07, 2014

No, your vote doesn't matter. The two-party system in reality is just a one-party system. They are just puppets who follow the puppeteers' orders.

Even if you vote no on certain local stuff, the government will try again. But this time, they will threaten that you will lose services that you use to guilt you into voting, yes. Or they revise it enough until they get part of what they want.

Another reason your vote doesn't matter, is how divided this country is. Left hates the right and right hates the left. It really makes voting pointless when the leaders act like a spoiled children.

The only thing it matters in, is bragging rights. You earned the right to complain about how bad the government is. However, if we fix the system, your vote can matter. Until that happens, no.

By anon348310 — On Sep 15, 2013

In my eyes, presidential voting doesn't matter. The people of the United States can vote 99 percent for president A, but the House of Representatives can vote for president B, nullifying the people's vote.

By anon296840 — On Oct 13, 2012

My opinion is that votes don't matter, simply because of the two-party system. Both parties are looking out for the government more than any individual person or "class" of people.

That's where I think that famous "If voting actually made a difference, the government would make it illegal" quote comes into play. It's not saying your vote doesn't count or matter from a literal perspective. It's saying that if your vote goes toward a major party nominee, it's basically going to the government, whereas if you vote independent, your candidate is going to lose. So while your vote does count as one vote, it will not bring about any change, because the close ties of each party to the government won't allow that to happen.

Why do you think independent parties don't get equal representation and have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected?

By pollick — On Feb 03, 2012

I've heard some people say "if voting actually made a difference, the government would make it illegal." I can see some wisdom in that myself. The right to vote has been promoted as a powerful thing for hundreds of years, but in actuality there are always thousands or millions of people who vote for losing candidates or failed issues. If that sort of thing happens long enough, it's easy to see why a person might fail to see the value of voting. No matter how he or she votes, there's a majority of other voters who are going to nullify his or her opinion.

There have been a few times in history where an election or an issue has been decided by a handful of votes, but in most cases the majority of votes is a clear majority. There are some election years when a local voter can just tell how things are going to play out, so he or she won't even bother to vote. One political party may have such a tight grip on the local races that voting for the opposition just feels like an exercise in futility.

The one benefit voting has over not voting in this situation is that a voter can say he or she took a stand against a popular but unscrupulous candidate. At least I didn't vote for the mayor who would be kicked out of office on corruption charges two years later.

The one time I think voting is most important is when control of the US House or Senate is up for grabs. A partisan voter needs to get to the polls and vote for the candidate of his or her political party, since many of these elections remain too close to call, unlike presidential elections where a winner can be declared ten minutes after the polls close.

By candyquilt — On May 25, 2011

I read an article about this. The article cited a study that was done to answer this question. The results showed that voters are better represented than non-voters, especially in congressional issues.

It turns out that Senators don't really care what non-voters think. You do have to go and vote in order for them to pay attention to your opinions.

I guess the only time voting wouldn't matter for someone is if they have no opinions and no preferences about an issue. But I honestly can't imagine that there wouldn't be at least one issue that affects someone.

By fify — On May 23, 2011

I personally think that voting does matter. But I know many people feel that it makes no difference. The fact that many Americans are choosing not to vote every year and feel that there is no way to change the present system, is a huge blow to democracy.

Why do we even ask if voting matters? There must be something wrong with the way this country is being run that makes its citizens wonder about this. I think it's a quiet protest to the system. And why do thousands of Americans vote for Mickey Mouse every year? I doubt that it is just for fun.

By ysmina — On May 22, 2011

The right to vote is probably one of the most important elements of democracy. The article has touched on a good point. There are so many countries in the world run by dictatorships. There are even so called "democracies" that still do not give the people the right to elect their leaders.

We are extremely luck to have this right. We know that when we vote, our vote is going to reach the right place. Americans should vote even if it is just in the spirit of this right.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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