5 Myths About Voting

Julia Shaw /

Last night, the presidential candidates wrestled with questions from ordinary Americans. Next week, they will debate foreign policy.

Alas, for some viewers, these exchanges come too late—they’ve already cast their ballots and can’t change their votes.

If you think early voting is a healthy trend, just read on, as we explode five myths about voting.

Myth #1: Early voting is good for the republic.

In 32 states and the District of Columbia, people have been voting for weeks. “The easier it is to vote, the more people will vote, and that will be good for our democracy,” according to one editorial in North Carolina.

Yet early voting doesn’t increase voter turnout. At most, “early voting does encourage turnout among regular voters for low-intensity contests, but it does not help solve the participation puzzle for new voters or those outside the system,” notes Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College.

Moreover, early voting erodes the democratic process. As National Review argues, it “exaggerates the advantages of having the early money lead, preexisting ground game, and known-quantity name recognition of the incumbent.” More than that, it curtails the deliberative process: Voters who cast ballots in September can’t change their minds later.

Myth #2: Voter fraud is inconsequential.

“Fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare,” argues a policy brief published by the Brennan Center for Justice.

But Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund point to several examples of voter fraud in their latest book: In 1982, 100,000 fraudulent votes were cast in Chicago, plenty to swing the outcome of the state’s gubernatorial election. Then there’s the 14-year vote fraud conspiracy in Brooklyn, New York, that resulted in thousands of fraudulent ballots being cast in state and federal legislative races through impersonation fraud.

Von Spakovsky and Fund suggest a few measures to guard against fraud: require voters to authenticate their identity, verify that voters are citizens, alter qualifications for absentee voting, and ensure that databases are accurate.

Preventing voter fraud should not be a partisan issue: Whether fraud is Democratic or Republican or located in the North, South, East, or West, it damages democracy.

Myth #3: The Electoral College is an outdated, inadequate method of selecting the President.

In most presidential election years, somebody complains about the Electoral College. It’s called “outdated,” “unfair” or “a cancerous tumor on American democracy.”

No, it isn’t. Imbued with the ideals of this nation’s Founders, the Electoral College is the best selection system for our federal republic.

The Electoral College requires a presidential candidate to win simultaneous elections across 50 states and the District of Columbia. This promotes federalism by ensuring that each state matters in the presidential election. Candidates who focus too narrowly on a handful of states, regions, or metropolitan population centers will not be successful in the Electoral College.

Finally, it grants definitive electoral outcomes. The Electoral College magnifies the margin of victory for presidential candidates and, therefore, confers a sense of legitimacy to the new President.

Myth #4: Not so long ago, only white, male property owners could vote.

Let’s get the facts straight: The Constitution grants states—not Congress—the power to determine the qualifications of voters for federal elections. Women were voting in New Jersey in the late 1700s. Free blacks were voting in at least five of the 13 states in the early republic.

Myth #5: Voting does not matter.

It’s easy to insist that voting “doesn’t matter at all.” Statistically, you are more likely to win the lottery than to cast the tie-breaking vote in the presidential election. But, as the editors of National Review explain, “the more people believe their vote doesn’t count, the less true it becomes—and such a universalization would be fatal to democracy.”

Voting is an event. “The electorate comes together as a whole to make a decision at a particular moment in time.” It’s a key part of self-government: Through elections, citizens express consent for their representatives. Your vote counts—at the very least as a matter of self-government.

So don’t vote early or often. Do your civic duty on November 6 and understand that you’re contributing to a rich American tradition of republican (small r) government. We’ll see you there.