Why “don’t waste your vote” is the dumbest thing you’ll hear all day.

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Don’t Waste Your Vote

I’ve already tackled why “lesser evil voting” is morally wrong, short-sighted, and largely responsible for our current predicament, and not possible anyway.Today, I’m going to explain why “Don’t waste your vote,” is the dumbest thing you’ll hear all day, any day you hear it. It’s really beginning to bug me, not just because telling people how they’re obligated to vote is against the letter and spirit of democratic government, but because it’s a quantitatively and objectively stupid thing to say.

To see why, we only have to ask one question: How likely is it that my vote isn’t wasted?


The Crux of the Wasters’ Argument

The basic idea is pretty straightforward; if you’re not voting for a Republican or Democrat candidate, you’re wasting your vote, because only an R or a D can win the election. We’re all hearing it a lot this year, because both the candidates are scuzzy filth in human suits who couldn’t be trusted to be president of an HOA  far from ideal candidates, so both groups are trying to scare you into voting for their pathetic and shameful excuse for a candidate any way they can.

It goes like this:

  1. Whoever you vote for won’t become president unless it’s an R/D.
  2. The wrong (depending on who’s talking) candidate might win without your vote.
  3. There are no checks and balances, so the world will end in fire and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

 The thing is the numbers don’t even kind of back this up. 

The Electoral College Elects the President

Let’s start with a small lesson in US national elections, for those who are rusty:

Rather than selecting the President by straight popular vote, we elect them via the Electoral College. Each state gets a certain number of votes, relative to their total population. The popular vote in each state (or district, depending on the state; it’s up to them) determines who that state’s Electoral College votes go to. The candidate with more than half the votes wins.

You probably see where I’m going with this?

Do you live in Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, or Virginia?

swing state zombie map

These eight states are this election’s “swing states”, meaning they’re up for grabs for either candidate. If you live in any of the other forty-two states, there’s a clear favorite. If you’re not one of these 60 million people, but one of the remaining 80% of the country, tough luck.

If you’re not voting for that favorite, your vote is wasted. Arizonan voting for Hillary? Your vote is wasted. New Yorker for Trump? Bam! Wasted!

But wait!

If your candidate is the favorite in your state, and your vote is counted after they reach a plurality, it’s also wasted! You can, in fact, make the argument that, since your vote won’t be changing anything for either candidate, it’s wasted even if it is for the winner. After all, your candidate didn’t need it to win the EC vote, so it wasn’t worth squat!

But what if voters in my state rally to a candidate and they unexpectedly win?

I’m sure one candidate will be thrilled, the other sad. But guess what, your vote still didn’t matter, because by the time the polls have shifted enough that a non-swing state can switch sides, the winning candidate has already accumulated enough votes in the swing states Electoral College to win.

Okay, but what if you DO live in a swing state?

Well, the thing about the swing states is that they might go either way. It’s a coin toss. So the best possible odds you can have of your vote not being wasted, under ideal circumstances, at a state level, are 50% +/- 10%.

And it gets worse, yet!

Okay, so your vote is probably wasted if you don’t live in a swing state, and even if your candidate is winning your state, there’s a good chance you’re still wasting it, and there’s roughly a 50% chance it will be wasted in a swing state, but there’s one more thing that’s important to remember:

If you do live in a swing state, your candidate wins it, but loses the election, you still wasted your vote.

Let’s recap:

  • Only 20% of Americans live in a competitive state.
  • If you don’t live in a swing state, and you cast a vote against the leader, you’re wasting your vote.
  • If you don’t live in a swing state, and you cast a vote for the leader, you’re wasting your vote.
  • If you do live in a swing state, and vote against the winning candidate in your state, you’re wasting your vote.
  • If you do live in a swing state, and vote for the winning candidate in your state, your vote is still wasted unless they win nationally.


Unless you’re a swing state voter who votes for the winner of your state election and the national election, your vote is already trapped in a state of living death. You can go through the motions, shamble about, moan a little, but it doesn’t matter. 

wasted vs. probably wasted maps

In fact, as far as changing things is concerned, actually having an effect on the future path of the country, the most impactful thing you can do is probably to lower the margins for either major party, by not voting for one. Chances are the only value your vote has is as an endorsement of a candidate. People who tell you you’re wasting your vote fail to understand what voting is: It’s not your chance to pick the next President, it’s your chance to say who you think should be picked. But I promised I wouldn’t get into any of that, so we’ll leave it with this:

So don’t let anyone tell you how to vote, especially a clueless party hack desperately in need of a little more Brraaaiiinnnnssss! 


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