Elections, the biggest obvious waste of tax money ever

Today is Election 2010, a boring mid-term election. The air, or at least the US-centric area of the Internet, is buzzing with a borderline Jingoistic fervor with all the “Get out and vote” and “I voted” rubbish.

@dossy: I didn't vote; you all did. Things will no doubt get worse. Is it really my fault because I didn't vote, or are you all just wasting time?

Have you ever tried to find out how much these elections cost us? I’m not talking about campaign funds and all that nonsense which apparently reaches into the billions of dollars, but the actual stuff that is, I assume, paid for using tax dollars: staffing polling locations, the cost of vote-capturing equipment, developing and certifying said equipment, processing absentee ballots, and whatever other overheads there are that I’m not even thinking of. Can you find a source for these cost figures?

I found this article that suggests that a special election that was held in West Virginia cost roughly $20 per vote. In the absence of actual costs, let’s assume that this 2010 general election will cost us taxpayers $20 per vote, too. Looking at 2006’s general election turnout rates, it appears that approximately 83.8 million people voted. That’s potentially $1.6 billion dollars in cost. Quick, name me three worthy causes that you think could really benefit from a boost of $1.6B towards their operating budget.

I know, people vote because “that’s how democracy works” and “if you don’t vote, don’t complain” and all that other noise. Lets face it: has there ever been an election outcome that can be clearly connected in a causal manner to a political improvement? I don’t mean “the person I wanted to win, won,” but a real, tangible benefit on a macroscopic level for the country as a whole. From where I sit, over time, the “goodness/badness” scale bounces around seemingly randomly despite whoever happens to be the elected officials at the time, and if you zoom out a few levels, it mostly looks like a flat line hovering around the midpoint.

It’s hard to really make claims that “elections make things better.” Sure, maybe because we didn’t have close to 100% voter turnout, the system failed to work properly. I’ll say it now: it is irrational and unreasonable to believe that we will ever get even close to 100% voter turnout, I mean not even close to 80% turnout, even. Lets face it, we’re lucky that we get the 62% that we get. So, putting a system in place that requires high voter turnout, when it’s unlikely we’ll ever achieve it, is downright stupid.

It’s more plausible that elections don’t actually have a measurable impact, other than to pacify people with poor deductive reasoning skills who enjoy spending other people’s money.

Think I’m totally off the mark? Just entertain me with a very simple thought experiment: instead of spending over a billion dollars to record votes of millions of people, instead one single person is equipped with a true and fair coin and merely flips it deciding who the winner and who the loser in a particular race is. In the event of multiple candidates in a race, the process is repeated pairing candidates in a single elimination fashion until a winner is selected.

From a distance, can you really tell whether the outcome was based on the votes of millions of people, or by pure random chance? Better yet, do you seriously think it makes a difference? You sure can’t tell by looking at the state of America, I’ll tell you that much.

Do you seriously want to bring about change? Don’t waste our tax dollars by voting. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. Eventually, we can eliminate the entire voting facade entirely and simply rotate politicians in and out of office at random. I guarantee that the outcome will be indistinguishable from what we have today, and we’ll have saved billions of dollars in the process.

Just remember, by the 2012 election, I will become eligible to be the next President of the United States …


  1. Tom Reingold says

    Certainly elections have effects on the nation and society. We elected (or appointed) George W Bush who damaged the economy, did more to increase wealth disparity than presidents before him or after him, and he spent a huge amount of GDP and lives on wars we didn’t need. Obama did less of the above damage and improved diplomatic relations (leading to less war and violence) and created programs that feed the economy. There’s plenty you can criticize him for, but overall, electing him had substantial, measurable good effects compared with how things would have been if Romney had been elected. It’s not provable in an airtight way a math proof is, but we can make statistical models that are pretty reliable. Therefore, I fully disagree with your premise. Elections have consequences.

    • The bulk of my premise is that spending billions on an election, vs. a few thousand dollars to develop software that chooses between candidates at random, makes no sense.

      The outcome of elections absolutely has consequences, obviously. That’s not what I’m interested in.

      Even more ironic is that in America, we’re not even a democracy, anyway. We don’t actually elect the President. We elect some form of proxies who then actually choose who gets to be President. And, we spend a large amount of money to do it: is it really worth it? Actually worth it? Or, could we have gotten to the same outcome for far less money with a good random number generator?

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