Does Your Vote Matter? (Plus: Some Endorsements!)

Throughout this election, I have hoped that my state, Minnesota, would be a “safe state” for Clinton or Trump. This would free me to vote my conscience with no worries at all.

Neil Patrick Harris sings A Better Way starring Paul Ryan
If you haven’t seen This American Life‘s new song about Paul Ryan, it’s a good anthem for ’16.

After all, the whole argument for voting for one of the major-party candidates instead of for a third party is that only the major-party candidates are viable alternatives to one another. But, in a safe state, there is no viable alternative to the winner, so you can feel free to vote for anyone. Even if there were a dramatic upset, enough states would already have been carried by the underdog to ensure that candidate’s victory in the Electoral College with or without your state’s help. So, no matter what you do, your vote in a safe state fits the wide definition of a mathematically wasted vote. Therefore, in a safe state, you should just vote for the person you want most to be president, even if that person is a fringe third-party candidate.

So I have carefully watched the list of safe states grow and evolve throughout this election. Sadly, Minnesota never appeared on it. The full list is below.

To those of you who live in safe states, I recommend casting your vote for Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party. I have reservations about Maturen (see his often-great, occasionally idiotic platform here), but he is the only candidate besides Darrell Castle with a clear commitment to the protection of fetal life, and I believe Maturen’s party is a serious party with serious future prospects — unlike Castle’s Constitution Party, which is essentially a fringe debating society for conservative purists and always will be. Maturen is an officially registered write-in candidate in most states (full list here). This means that you have to write his name in, but your votes for him will be counted.

In safe states where Maturen is not a registered write-in option, I recommend writing in Evan McMullin.

In the handful of safe states that do not allow write-in votes, I recommend no vote for president. You should still show up to support candidates in down-ballot races.

Here is a full list of safe states — states where there is no plausible chance that your vote will have any impact on the outcome of the election — based on the latest projections from FiveThirtyEight (with my endorsement in parentheses):

  • Alabama (Maturen)
  • Arkansas (McMullin)
  • California (Maturen)
  • Connecticut (McMullin)
  • District of Columbia (Maturen)
  • Hawaii (no vote for president)
  • Idaho (Maturen)
  • Illinois (McMullin)
  • Indiana (Maturen)
  • Kansas (Maturen)
  • Kentucky (Maturen)
  • Louisiana (McMullin)
  • Maryland (Maturen)
  • Massachusetts (McMullin)
  • Mississippi (no vote for president)
  • Missouri (McMullin)
  • Montana (McMullin)
  • Nebraska (3rd District Only) (Maturen)
  • New Jersey (Maturen)
  • New York (Maturen)
  • North Dakota (Maturen)
  • Oklahoma (no vote for president)
  • South Carolina (McMuffin)
  • South Dakota (no vote for president)
  • Tennessee (McMullin)
  • Texas (Maturen)
  • Washington State (Maturen)
  • West Virginia (McMullin)
  • Wyoming (Maturen)

Congratulations! Your votes don’t matter.* I envy you.

To the rest of you, I have bad news: your vote, plausibly, could decide the election.

This may surprise some of you, especially those of you who live in small, lightly-polled states that are traditionally hardcore Democratic strongholds (like Delaware, which is somehow on this list). There is an enormous amount of uncertainty in this election, because Trump/Clinton has mixed up the electoral and demographic maps in a big way, we just won’t know until Election Day how that shakes out in some states, and in the smallest states, your vote simply has a greater impact more than it does in the big states.

Here is a list of states where your vote matters. In parentheses next to each state, I have given how much your vote matters on a scale of 1-10 (1 is right on the edge of plausibly mattering, while 10 matters a lot). This rating is objective data based on FiveThirtyEight’s Voter Power Index:

  • Alaska (5)
  • Arizona (2)
  • Colorado (5)
  • Delaware (1)
  • Florida (3)
  • Georgia (1)
  • Iowa (3)
  • Maine (2)
  • Michigan (4)
  • Minnesota (2)
  • Nebraska 1st District (1)
  • Nebraska 2nd District (2)
  • Nevada (7)
  • New Hampshire (9)
  • New Mexico (5)
  • North Carolina (5)
  • Ohio (2)
  • Oregon (1)
  • Pennsylvania (4)
  • Rhode Island (2)
  • Utah (*)
  • Vermont (1)
  • Virginia (2)
  • Wisconsin (3)

Utah is a special case, because of Evan McMullin.  In Utah, I recommend voting for McMullin. He is looking like more of a longshot now, but, if he wins, the rewards could be rich.

The rest of us, however, are in a real pickle. How should we vote? That is the subject of my next post. But, spoilers: I’m not going to have any straight answers for you.

UPDATE: Clarified that the swing state race ratings are based on FiveThirtyEight data, not my own guesswork.  I took the 538 VPI, rescaled it so 7 = 10, then rounded to the nearest whole number.

*Admittedly, there are some possible worlds where your vote in these states ends up mattering, but it is profoundly unlikely — at a rough estimate, somewhere down in the “odds of being struck by lightning twice while simultaneously drowning” territory.

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