Should the Vote be Sacrosanct in a Democracy?

North Carolina had a reasonably close race by the standards of mid-term elections in 2014. Thom Tillis, the Republican challenger, defeated incumbent Senator Kay Hagan by 1.7 points. Or, looked at the other way, by 45,511 votes. The Libertarian Sean Haugh polled in 108,183 votes[1]. That is, Hagan’s margin of defeat is roughly half of what a fringe third party candidate polled — a good measure of how closely contested the election was. Six years ago when Hagan defeated the then incumbent Elizabeth Dole, she’d polled 2.24 Million votes and won by some 8.5 points or 361,781 votes.

What’s interesting in the two elections is obviously the fact that in 2014 a vote seems to have had a lot more impact than it did in 2008. There were 6,629,703 registered voters in North Carolina this time. If all of them had voted, each voter would have had an impact of about e^(-1358). That’s absurdly low even when compared to what an Indian citizen has in terms of electing an MP. But these are Senate races, and are state-wide[2].

But the difference is that instead of the over 6.62 Million votes only 2.88 Million were cast in 2014. In 2008, 4.27 Million were cast. That puts the impact of each voter in 2008 at e^(-1032) while in 2014 it jumped up to e^(-847). In the absurdly low stakes, that’s still a many-fold jump from 2008 to 2014. By orders of magnitude. So what’s clearly in favor of the individual voter is to not have many voters turn up but the voter turns out herself.

This intuitive and mathematically obvious truth leads us to a question: is one vote per person in all elections the most optimal way to structure a Democracy? After all, some elections may be about nothing; as the recent mid-term elections were touted to be. Others maybe about pot or fiscal policy or foreign policy — as various elections in various Democracies have been over the years. The average person is most likely to care about some but not all issues. And therefore some elections will be more important than others to that individual. Modi’s election was to people in North India in 2014, for instance. As was Jayalalitha’s in 2011. Given we can estimate the worth of each vote on an ongoing basis, wouldn’t the ideal option be to grant people a fixed number of votes for their life-time which is significantly lower than the number of elections they are likely to encounter over their life? And, better still allow them to trade it?

The benefit of this system is that the poor have an added advantage. One’d think. Unless one is wrong about it.

[1] – Did you notice that Clay Aiken contested and lost the Congressional race for the 2nd District in North Carolina?

[2] – Impact calculations were made for North Carolina along the same lines as we did here.