# Don't vote. Play the lottery instead.

How the dismal science applies to your life.
Sept. 29 2004 11:58 AM

# Don't Vote

## It makes more sense to play the lottery.

We might be headed for another close election, which means your vote could really matter this time, right? Wrong. Your vote didn't matter in 2000, it never mattered before 2000, and it's very unlikely to start mattering now.

Last time around, everything came down to Florida, where Bush's official margin was 537 votes. (Yes, yes, I know, if they'd been counted differently there'd have been a different margin and perhaps a different outcome. But that's not what this column is about.) If any one of Florida's 6 million voters had stayed home, Bush's margin would have been 536 or 538 votes, and he'd still have won. Even if you voted in the most hotly disputed state in the mostly hotly disputed election in American history, your vote did not change the outcome.

Your individual vote will never matter unless the election in your state is within one vote of a dead-even tie. (And even then, it will matter only if your state tips the balance in the electoral college.) What are the odds of that? Well, let's suppose you live in Florida and that Florida's 6 million voters are statistically evenly divided—meaning that each of them has (as far as you know) exactly a 50/50 chance of voting for either Bush or Kerry—the statistical equivalent of a coin toss. Then the probability you'll break a tie is equal to the probability that exactly 3 million out of 6 million tosses will turn up heads. That's about 1 in 3,100—roughly the same as the probability you'll be murdered by your mother.

And that's surely a gross overestimate of your influence, because it assumes there's no bias at all in your neighbors' preferences. Even a slight change in that assumption leads to a dramatic change in the conclusion. If Kerry (or Bush) has just a slight edge, so that each of your fellow voters has a 51 percent likelihood of voting for him, then your chance of casting the tiebreaker is about one in 10 to the 1,046th power—approximately the same chance you have of winning the Powerball jackpot 128 times in a row.

For those of us who live in New York State, the situation is far worse. Last time around, about 6.5 million votes were cast for major party candidates in New York state and 63 percent of them went to Al Gore. Assuming an electorate of similar size with a similar bias, my chance of casting the deciding vote in New York is about one in 10 to the 200,708th power. I have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot 7,400 times in a row than of affecting the election's outcome. Which makes it pretty hard to see why I should vote.

The traditional reply begins with the phrase "But if everyone thought like that ... ." To which the correct rejoinder is: So what? Everyone doesn't think like that. They continue to vote by the millions and tens of millions.

Even for the most passionate partisan, it's hard to argue that voting is a good use of your time. Instead of waiting in line to vote, you could wait in line to buy a lottery ticket, hoping to win \$100 million and use it to advance your causes—and all with an almost indescribably greater chance of success than you'd have in the voting booth.

Jurisprudence

# Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Culturebox

# Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

# The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

# Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.