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Texas Politics - Voting, Campaigns and Elections
Former State Senator Kip Averitt talks about the importance of voter turnout. Former State Senator Kip Averitt talks about the importance of voter turnout.
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4.1    Small Chance Of Making a Difference; Then Again ...

One argument commonly made is that it makes little sense to vote because the odds of you or your neighbor casting the deciding vote in an election are minuscule. According to this argument, the bigger the jurisdiction in which you vote (i.e., the more people voting), the smaller the chances that your one vote will decide the election. In recent state-wide elections in Texas for Governor and U.S. Senate, approximately 4.5 million votes were cast. The chances that the leading candidates would get exactly the same number of votes, out of so many cast, are very small.

Some analysts argue that voters implicitly think this way. They argue that voters calculate that the personal costs they each face - learning about the issues and candidates and then going to the polls to vote - outweigh whatever benefits they each stand to gain from a favorable election outcome. Moreover, the chance that anyone's vote will decide an election outcome is very small.

Yet, in local elections (for, say, school board) the odds of a single vote deciding the outcome go up significantly. The percentage of eligible voters who actually turn out in these elections tends to be very small. Consequently, a small group of like-minded and determined voters (family, friends, and neighbors) may have a greater chance to affect the outcomes of local elections. In a race that should convince even the most jaded voter that his/her vote counts, Democrat Donna Howard managed to keep her seat by defeating the Republican challenger Dan Neil by only 16 votes in 2010.

Even for state-wide contests in the United States, elections can be very close. In Florida - a state whose population is similar in size to that of Texas - the 2000 Presidential election came down to a difference of only 537 votes out of almost 6 million votes cast. Amazingly, another state in the 2000 contest, New Mexico, had similarly close results; the difference in votes for the two major-party candidates was only 366 votes out of almost 600,000 cast.

A very close election further back in Texas history gave one of the state's best known politicians, Lyndon Johnson, a victory that was probably a critical step in his path to the White House. In 1948, Johnson was elected to the Senate after winning the Democratic primary by a scant 87 votes - amid charges of vote fraud. Afterward, opponents and some supporters took to calling him "Landslide Lyndon."

During a appearance in the Texas Politics Speaker Series in 2006, Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco) engaged his audience in an exercise designed to illustrate the importance of voting.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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