Monday, November 3, 2014


Nov. 4 is Election Day in the United States. Voting is projected to be light, as is typical for non-Presidential elections.

I recently read an economic analysis of voting, in which the author suggested that the value of any individual voting in any election was very close to nil. One vote will almost never decide an election, so why bother voting if one's vote will not make a critical difference?

In part, that question points to a flaw in utilitarian ethics and traditional economic analysis that presumes a person always acts out of self-interest. If everybody acted entirely out of self-interest and no one person's vote is likely to be decisive, nobody would vote.

Rule utilitarianism is an alternative to traditional utilitarianism. In rule utilitarianism an individual should follow rules that when applied universally maximize benefits to individuals. Rule utilitarianism would, for example, require everyone to vote because democracy is a superior form of government compared to anarchy and to tyranny, the most probable outcome if nobody voted in any election.

Rule utilitarianism aligns perfectly with deontological ethics with respect to the importance of individuals voting. For people with a theological perspective, voting is an individual's opportunity to exert divine influence on an election's outcome. That is, voting is a religious duty. If a religious voter is upset with the identity of winning candidates or decisions made on referendum questions, then one of three things happened. Perhaps the person misunderstood God's will. Perhaps the person failed to engage the political process with sufficient commitment and ardor to allow God's voice to be heard. Alternatively, perhaps evil triumphed (an outcome that I personally deem unlikely—God depends upon God's people to help move the world in a positive direction.)

For people without a theological perspective, the most common deontological ethic is Kant's categorical perspective, i.e., that one should do that which every person should do in a similar situation. In other words, every citizen should vote.

The cost of voting is VERY low. Voting wisely takes a few moments to review the ballot, to learn something about the candidates and any referendum issues, and then to go to one's local polling place and vote. Incidentally, if I have failed to persuade you to vote, in an election in which few people vote, each vote is proportionately more significant.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Altruism is still self interest, i.e., it generates an individual feeling. "Doing one's duty" similarly fulfills a self-oriented need to satisfy a code or avoid cognitive dissonance.