Tag Archives: Voting


“Vote early, and often”

— attributed to many

Firstly, I must make it clear that voting is important. If you are of age and registered: vote! And vote only once. Please.

Voting’s importance is not because your single vote could sway a governor or presidential election; those odds are less than trivial. One in trillions. More on that later.

Voting is very important. Healthy turnout numbers legitimizes our democracy. When large numbers of voters “sit out” an election, that election result suffers reduced credibility, both at home and in the eyes of the world. My son took the time recently to convince me that 400 Electoral College Votes could have gone to Did-Not-Vote in 2016 (only 270 EC Votes needed to win).

In 2016 voter participation ranged from a low of merely 42.5% in Hawai’i to a high of only 74.1% in Minnesota. The 2008 turnout across the nation was a paltry 56%. In 2008 and 2012 national turnout was only 58.2% and 56.5%, respectively. This deprives both winners and losers of credibility, and validity.

So, secondly, larger tallies on each side allows winners to claim more support, while also encouraging them to also recognize that there are significant differing points of view. Well, we can at least hope on that second part.

One vote will never tip an election, but the votes of you and a few of your friends could be enough to trip a re-count.

Please do vote. We cannot be an authentic democracy without healthy turnout.

The good news is that across the country preliminary numbers suggest 2020 will have much higher levels of participation. For instance, as of October 29 Texas had already recorded more votes than were cast in all of 2016, when only 51% voted there.


The quote atop this essay is most often attributed to Chicago’s murky election past, during the last ½ of the 19th century and the first ¾ or so of the 20th century. Some actual Chicagoans who have said this range from gangster Al Capone to mayors William “Big Bill” Thompson and Richard “The Boss” Daley.

Historians have more accurately traced “Vote early, vote often” further back to the first half of the 19th century, when it was first used publicly by John van Buren – son of our 8th President, as well as one of his senior advisors. Perhaps that’s an indication of electioneer shenanigans through that century as well.

The history of ballot box stuffing and vote buying notwithstanding (especially in “political machine cities”), is a thing of the past (so far, for several decades, thank God), and the command is said rather tongue-in-cheek.

Although some vote fraud will certainly occur, I have no great concerns that it will sway any statewide election, let alone the Presidential election (which is essentially 50 statewide elections, plus DC – thus sequestering “good” state results from sullied or doubtful ones).

Worriers will point to three statewide election elections that have been agonizingly close in recent history.

1) 2004, Washington state: Christine Gregoire defeats Dino Rossi for Governor by 133 votes (or 129, depending on source and date). This is the closest governor race in US history and was decided only after two recounts, several court challenges and a few court cases. In the end, over 1,600 counted votes were determined to be cast fraudulently, although there is no indication that the fraud was intentional, nor that it would have changed the outcome. [1]

[Aside: this election was among 2nd wave of indications – the 1st was in 2000, with defeat of 2-term incumbent Slade Gorton for Senate by Maria Cantwell – that a giant blue political tidal wave was rolling up on Washington, a condition that will continue well into the foreseeable future, and making November elections there quite easy to predict.]

2) 2008, Minnesota: Comedian Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman for US Senator by 225 votes, or 312, depending on whether we take the State Canvassing Board results, or the ad hoc panel of three judges chosen per constitution by the States Chief Justice. In any case the margin was a squinty eye-watering wafer thin one, indeed.

Very similar to the Washington case, later analysis found that almost the same number of fraudulent votes had been cast and counted, about 1,670. Again, this was not necessarily intentional, and no we can’t know how they voted; or if it would have changed the outcome. [2]
Minnesota was also turning blue, and still is.

As interesting asides: (a) Norm Coleman is the answer to a trivia question; he not only lost a Senate race to a comedian, he lost a Governor race [1998] to a professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura. Oh, the ignominy. (b) The months’ long delay in deciding the winner cost Presidential Obama a bit of momentum, as Franken’s vote would become the 60th filibuster-breaking vote on the Dem side of the aisle, allowing them to steamroll legislation without inter-party compromise for about 18 months.

3) 2000, Florida: George W Bush defeats Albert Gore for president by 537 votes [coincidentally remarkably close to the total Electoral Votes available: 538]. This provided Bush with the state’s entire slate of 25 Electoral Votes and gave him a “victory” in the Electoral College by the slimmest of margins: 270 to 268. (As of 2012, Florida now has 27 EC votes).

Much has been written about each of these elections, and I don’t really wish to pick at old scars and turn them into open wounds, yet again. We are in enough drama and pain as it is.


How important is your vote? Well, even though each vote is very important (as stated above), the likelihood of any single vote changing the outcome for a state’s electors is mathematically insignificant. In that regard, the Florida voters of 2000 no doubt cast the weightiest presidential votes in history.

Again: How important is your vote? It is common for small population states and large population to complain about balance of power in choosing presidents. The most repeated refrain is that a very large state, say California, is under-weight when compared to a small state, say, Wyoming. Simple math suggests this is true: divide the state’s Electoral Votes by its registered voter total and we find that a vote in Wyoming is about 3.1 times more “electorally powerful” than a vote in California.

Electoral votes per state, 2012-2020

I submit that is indeed simple. Too simple. To truly evaluate a single vote’s “weight” the scoring must be more dynamic. One must consider not just Electoral Votes and total voters; one must consider the vote spread between winner and loser.

Such slightly advanced math deeply erodes the value of a Wyoming voter. Why? Currently Trump has an insurmountable 38% advantage. Add Wyoming’s low EC weight, and a single Wyoming voter’s weight falls from the top to near the middle.

Using average polling data from October 1 to 27th, I attempted to weigh each state’s voter’s relative effect on the outcome. It’s a simple formula: take the EC votes and divide by the expected difference between winner and loser.

To get an estimate of maximum single voter effect, I did a parallel calculation, reducing the expected difference by the average Margin of Error across all pollsters. [To avoid dividing by zero – such as when the MoE is equal to or larger than the expected spread – I used a small number (537) … hence the max impact in those states is roughly equivalent to that of a Florida voter in 2000].

The results were interesting. For ease, I have ratioed all the values relative to the top single voter power of all states. The top 13 States are shown in this figure. It tells us that (a) these are the states to watch come election night (and the days, weeks to follow); and (b) if you must skip voting these are the states your absence or neglect will have the most effect.

Three low population and low EC states (3 votes each) Alaska, Montana and South Dakota remain near the top, but get nudged down by expected differentials. (e.g. Alaska, Trump +6.0%, MoE ±5.7).

States’ Single voter relative power

Since many of these states are in the eastern time zone, we should get a fairly good idea of how the Presidential election will turn out early on. In the Central time zone Texas and Iowa will let many west coasters know likely results before they’ve even voted. If it comes down to Pacific time zone, only AZ and NV have real potential impact.

[I have casually and unapologetically lumped Nebraska and Maine into the same model, even though they assign single EC votes based on their few Congressional Districts.]

And next, are the bottom 13 states, ranked by single voter power. Note: these fall to the bottom not particularly because these are states with disproportionately few EC votes or such high populations; it’s because the outcome is not in doubt.

[Their “Max Power” ratio drops, since Texas could be so high. In effect, even at their most powerful (thinnest margin), their effect withers further if a larger state ends up close: these voters always weigh less than 1/1000th the power per single voter in a contested state].

States with weakest single voter power

Even smaller states like Connecticut, Maryland, DC and Mass that are heavily weighted by the simple ECVotes/population computation get pushed to the bottom of significance, alongside California and New York, due to high expected win/loss margins. You can color in your Electoral College map early for these states. Well, any state not in the top 13 as well. {Rhode Island may well lose an EC Vote after the 2020 census, and will drop into this group}.

Things and order jumble about, but only slightly, if we re-calculate assuming that the full Margin of Error is realized for each state. For example, big Texas — now a battleground state — jumps from #8 to #1. Georgia drops from #1 to #4. Details in the two tables at the bottom.

I must admit that this is a concept that I adopted and simplified from an extensive effort over the past few decades by Andrew Gelman, a statistics professor at Columbia University (cue Abe from “The Amazing Mrs Maisel” here). He’s been joined recently by Gary King and John Boscardin, as well as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, to determine the odds that your single vote will decide the entire election, based on where you live. Of course, the odds are astronomical, but statistically quantifiable; the inverse of that possibility is a measure of the state’s single voter power. My results, arrived at with simpler math to account for my simpler mind, has much the same results (although I don’t think they’ve done it yet for 2020) [3]

These high-powered statisticians take into account far more than I have. For example, likely voter turnout. And odds the election is even close enough for that single state to make a difference (which further de-rates low EC vote states). That is too much computing, and voter turnout (abysmal and getting drearier for decades) will be a wildcard in 2020, with most areas now expecting record turnout.

In any case, like they say: “Every vote matters; count every vote.” My ballot’s in already. I know it won’t make any difference as to who wins; but it’s a vote for democracy. And that’s important.
May there be peace. Fingers crossed.

Until next time,

Joe Girard © 2020

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[1] Gregoire wins by 133 (or 129) votes, with over 1,600 votes deemed to be fraudulent., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 5, 2005

[2] Franken win tainted?; 1,670 fraudulent votes tallied, The American Experiment, July 1, 2016

[3] When One Vote makes a difference (but never in a statewide race)

Table 1. All States at Nominal Power per single voter

StateNom Strengths
4North Carolina0.0146
12South Dakota0.0021
16North Dakota0.0018
18New Hampshire0.0016
19South Carolina0.0016
23New Mexico0.0013
28West Virginia0.0011
37Rhode Island0.00069
43New Jersey0.00058
49New York0.00038
Table 1, Relative single voter weight, all polls nominal
A single voter in Georgia is ~3,800 times more significant and powerful as one in DC

Table 2. Relative single voter weight, all states at max strength per voter (i.e. poll margins reduced by average margin of error).

StateAll Max
5North Carolina0.395
16South Carolina0.0015
17South Dakota0.0014
19New Hampshire0.0010
20North Dakota0.0010
26New Mexico0.0007
27West Virginia0.0006
40Rhode Island0.00033
41New Jersey0.00032
49New York0.00018
Relative Single Voter Strength if each state is at Max power (I.e. full Margin of error reduces final vote difference)… A single Texas voter is 9,100 times more powerful than one in DC