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Stephen L. Carter

When Democracy Hinges On a Single Vote

Such tight races as the tie in Virginia's state Legislature deserve a new election, not another recount.
Make it count.

Make it count.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

’Tis the season to confess error. For years I have argued -- to my students, to my readers and to lecture audiences -- that it’s not rational to vote if your intention is to influence the outcome. Following the lead of the late economist Gordon Tullock, I’ve challenged them to come up with an example of an election where a single vote made the difference. No one has offered an answer.

Small wonder. The odds against one vote affecting the outcome, even in a local election, are enormous. Thus, as I’ve always explained, if I happen to skip an election or two -- or all of them until the day I die -- the world of politics will not be altered by a millionth of a millimeter.