It is often true that just a few votes per precinct can change the outcome of an election. However, voting affects more than the election at hand. There are many other gains associated with voting, including political, community, health, expressive, economic and even altruistic benefits. Read what the experts say...then send us your opinion!
Voting is linked to "personal efficacy" - a sense of agency or power. Voting gives the voter the satisfaction of knowing they have voiced their opinion and played a role in shaping government and policy. It is the expressive power of voting for or against a candidate, an issue or the direction of government.
Voting correlates with certain health benefits. Beyond the psychological benefit that results from a feeling of personal efficacy, high levels of social and physical health are associated with communities that are engaged in voting and civic participation. Communities that vote are better represented in government and receive more attention as a result, reaping benefits such as greater social capital, less crime, more connectiveness, better health, and better services. Furthermore, as civically engaged communities begin receiving these benefits and become more healthy, they are likely to participate even further in the political process, and by doing so, continue to improve their societal well-being. In this way, the correlation betwen voting and health becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of benefits.
Issues, Policies and Community Concerns
Who votes ultimately has a powerful impact on government: on public policy, laws, appointments, budgets, and regulations enforced (or not).For the voter, the political process is about funding for programs they and their loved ones will benefit from, and about getting attention to the issues that affect their future and the future of their families. Countless factors are at stake, ranging from local and state services to national policies on children, families, the environment, the economy, education, healthcare and more. A vote impacts what and how issues are addressed.
There are four main factors that a vote impacts.
Who votes can decide who wins. Those elected not only pass laws but have a great deal of power through appointments and the platform of public office.
Who Has Access
People and communities that vote will have greater access during and after the election than those that don't. Elected officials have the list. They know which voters and which neighborhoods cast ballots at election time.
Who Elected Officials Respond To
Beyond the issue of access, public officials are more likely to respond to communities that vote. These communities are the groups to which elected officials feel they are held accountable, and as such, are the groups who will affect what those officials will do once in office.
Who Runs for Office
An often overlooked, yet critical benefit to the power of who votes is who runs. It's a big decision to seek public office. A candidate is far more likely take that leap if turnout is high among those that live in their neighborhoods, come from their backgrounds or share their views.The Cost of Not VotingThis is the flipside of everything above. Not voting puts the voter at risk of losing his or her benefits, from personal power to a say in who gets elected, who gets served and what policies get advanced.The most obvious cost is that a preferred candidate or ballot measure might lose, and that a candidate the voter doesn't like might win. By failing to act, someone who the voter fears will take policies in the wrong direction, or could make the wrong appointments, is suddenly in power. A less obvious but equally weighty cost to the voter is the diminished opportunity for people like themselves to have a say in government or run for or serve in public office.Call this the "insurance benefit" of casting that ballot. The benefit of voting...just in case.
The nonprofit community recognizes two important aspects of voting:
A vote is only as strong as its democracy. To ensure fair and equal access and impact for every voter, our electoral democracy is going through a period of overhaul and reform. In spite of some improvements, the votes of Americans remain compromised by the undue power of large donor money and outmoded voting methods that vary so dramatically in the 50 states. Fortunately, much is being done to advance democracy and fulfill the promise of one person, one vote. We highlight these efforts in pages devoted to Election Reform.
Voting is an essential part of broader civic engagement that continues during and after the election. Go to Civic Engagement Resources.
Explore with the Pew Research Center the differences between voters and those citizens who never or rarely vote.
The Psychological Benefits of Political Participation, Lynn M. Sanders
Voting Counts as a Healthy Habit, Web MD, 2004