Voting Is Like Pressing a Button on a Remote Control with No Batteries

The other day I wrote a post questioning why very few young people attended the District 9 supervisor debate on Tuesday. A reader by the name of Concerned published a retort:

Has it occurred to you that the odds of any young person’s vote affecting the outcome of an election are on par with the odds that the large hadron collider will suck the earth into a black hole? (”So you’re saying it could happen!”) Electoral politics are a wasteland, voting is like pressing a button on a remote control with no batteries. I can understand why some old person might devote their time to that type of symbolic gesture, but compared to other youth passtimes (having sex with other youths, sangria), it is a poor investment.

That had occurred to me, and even if it’s true, and voting is just a symbolic gesture, why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to partake? Symbolic gestures can be fun!

28 Responses to “Voting Is Like Pressing a Button on a Remote Control with No Batteries”

  1. Alex Barkett says:

    Voting is not a symbolic gesture. That’s absurd.

  2. jimbeam says:

    Voting against prop 8 will have a very real effect. It’s close right now and every vote will be needed.

    Also, voting is definitely symbolic in some circumstances. When the Iraqis first voted after Saddam, that was definitely symbolic because each vote stood for something besides the act of each person voting.

  3. whir says:

    Obviously nobody in San Francisco has the least impact on the presidential election, but in an election for a district supervisor your vote has a lot more weight because only you and the other district residents will be voting. And yeah, Prop 8′s poll numbers currently have it too close to call, but with more Californians supporting it than opposing it. Ask your queer friends whether they want the right to marry before you write the election off altogether.

  4. zinzin says:

    um, this is really offensive to me. voting isn’t a luxury, or even a right. it’s a fucking responsibility.

    debating whether or not anyone’s vote (ESPECIALLY A YOUNG PERSON’S VOTE) has “any impact” is probably the most asinine thing i’ve seen on this blog. more asinine than “i’d rather have shit on the ground than yuppies on my block”.

    you want to fight to change they system, be my guest. i am there with you. but to sit there all smug and apathetic, saying i’d rather fuck and drink than vote is ignorant and offensive and frankly – completely full of shit. ugh. the fucking insulated, self-righteous arrogance is appalling. i can just see the Gauloise cigarette and the tattered copy of Marx or Mao. it’s a fucking parody of itself. it’s a joke.

    if you’re eligible to vote, and you cognitively choose not to vote, SHUT THE FUCK UP. you’re not entitled to a voice, you lazy, self-entitled drone.

    to the original poster here…Concerned…my espanol is not great, but the first part of your original post has some interesting parts…please let me know if i’m getting it wrong or out of context..

    “I’m going to say what most people on this blog are afraid to say, that we don’t give a fuck what these pretenders are saying, and we laugh at their intellectual and progressive pretensions (it’s worth mentioning that in the web page, there’s a call to explore strategies to ‘retake our city’.)”

    who are the pretenders?
    and who is trying to “retake” the city….from whom?

  5. Katie Ann says:

    Now that I think of it, the concerns of the candidates regarding District 9 are not real concerns for young people living in the Mission (I’m going to define young person as someone who is around 23-25 and is very liberal and seems passionate about politics). The major issues in the debate were children, cleaning up the streets of poop, and low-income housing — something that young people might not have any interest in because it doesn’t really apply to them.

    Which is a little sad because even if they don’t care, they all have fresh outlooks on politics, which could help with choosing the best candidate, because they can look at them objectively.

  6. zinzin says:

    Katie Ann….what are their concerns?

    i think one reason this group sometimes gets shut out of discussions is that many of them just “stp over” in the hood, then move on. for folks that stay (and age), those issues become important.

    that said, again, what are the important things to that group?

  7. jimbeam says:

    I think low income housing definitely should be a concern of the young people, who I’d place more like 20-27.

    But I think you’re right, Zinzin, in that a lot of these people are fairly transient and haven’t lived in the Mission a long time or are planning on moving on soon or just sort of accept their environment as it is. I also think you’re right to a point in your characterization of the stereotype. I don’t see a lot of people reading Marx (and even fewer reading Mao), but I think people (read white middle class people in their late teens and 20s) attribute a certain romanticism to what other people identify as disgusting.

    If they were going to ban drinking in Dolores Park, then I think you’d see a lot of younger activism. If I were a D9 candidate, I might use prop 8 as a way to get out the young vote, sort of how Rove used similar issues to drive up evangelical votes.

  8. zinzin says:

    jimbeam all good points.

    i think i was just reacting to Concerned’s post by mentioning Marx & Mao. you know how i get. hyperbole.

    that said, i’d like to hear from OP. i am not getting the impression s/he’s part of the (typical mission hipster) demographic you mention, and given such a confident, activist, “romantic” stance….

    it sure would be super to hear more details regarding how the fuck one can justify both complaining AND not voting…as well as how one can post on a blog and (seemingly, in Spanish) indict it’s entire readership as poseurs.

    but then again, i amy not be the best translator.

  9. KC says:

    there’s a reason we “old folks” vote. we’ve lived long enough and suffered under lousy governments long enough that we know how important it is. someday, grasshopper, you too will have this wisdom. hopefully, you won’t have to endure the likes of Nixon, Ford, … Reagan, Bush, … Bush, Bush

    tell ya what, if you agree to vote, i’ll agree to have more sex, OK?

  10. KC says:

    OBTW, odd of LHC eathing the earth: 10-25%

    Odds of some ballot measure decided by a handful of votes? >> 10-25%

  11. Josh says:

    Holy shit I agree with ZinZin.

    Frankly I think we’re forgetting that the turnout at these debates ≠ the electorate in Nov.

    The people who go to these debates are people who can, people who haven’t made up their mind, or maybe people with no internet connection . Many people choose to read about the debate the next day. many value other sources of information about a candidate. :-/

  12. zinzin says:

    Holy shit, Josh. put er there, brother. i knew it would happen sooner or later.

    now, about those driveways….kidding. let’s just savor this moment, shall we?

  13. Allan Hough says:

    You see that, Israel and Palestine? It CAN be done.

  14. Steve says:

    Perhaps a more accurate analogy than the remote control one is that voting is like participating in a tug o’ war. No one person pulling on either side is going to win it, but if enough people on either side give up and let go, then they pretty much hand it over.

  15. zinzin says:

    so, EVERY vote counts, right?

  16. jimbeam says:

    I think he/she called us pseudo-intellectuals whose words mean nothing. But it was cooler because the insult was in Spanish.

  17. zinzin says:

    yeah that’s what i was thinking too. i also think there’s a racial overtone.

    Concerned…please set us straight!

  18. Adam says:

    Voting legitimizes the state. or the county. or the city. or the whatever. I don’t approve of all this ‘voting to rule over the losers’ business. I vehemently disapprove, but I’m not going to get a gang of my friends to vote that _you_ shouldn’t approve of it either.

    I don’t vote because I’m not willing to back up my disapproval of another’s non-violent choices by killing(or fining or jailing) her, whether it is telling a police force to do it or doing it myself.

    So I respectfully disagree with the “vote or STFU” argument.

  19. zinzin says:

    Adam, I personally don’t understand what you are saying. therefore i wont spout my usual “this is bullshit storybook rhetoric” line. really… i don’t get it.

    how would you ever hope to change this system, with which you obviously have fundamental issues, without participating in the avenues we have…regardless of how flawed?

    i mean really, what can you do other than emigrate or go off the grid? (i’m not saying “vote or get out”…but given the alienation you feel, you must want to…no?)

    and believe me, i don’t like the system either, but it’s the one we got. and the one that’s ours to change if we have the stamina.

    i’m just seeking to understand. really, no critiqes of something i dont get.

  20. Concerned says:

    Zinzin, I wasn’t saying anything in Spanish about the general readership, other than that they are too polite to say how they feel about the frequent sanctimoniousness of groups like PODER (which I was joking was an acronymic malapropism). It is complicated because it is possible to sympathize with them (hence the politeness), and be annoyed at the same time. In particular there seems to be a bright line distinction in their minds between kids who come from Ohio and kids who come from Guatemala, which I am not sure is particularly useful.

    RE the voting, I used to get annoyed by people using the word “offensive” in general, but when I got married and was told what things were expected to cost for the first time I truly understood the meaning of the expression. People would say, “that will cost x,” and I would feel the precise emotion that leads people to firebomb bookstores. So I sympathize. My point about the voting is just that it is a terrible thing to do if your goal is to “change” something. As pointed out above, it can be an act of group solidarity, a way of expressing disgust for national Republicans, a legitimization of the state, a responsibility — lots of things. What it isn’t, though, is a way of changing anything — and for the math part I will make two drastic concessions: one is that you are voting in the mother of all cliffhanger, evenly-split elections, and the other that victory for one candidate actually represents something of significance vs victory for the other. I just wrote a little program for simulating elections that assumes everyone entering the booth is equally likely to vote for either of the candidates, where ‘changed’ means you cast a tie-breaking vote. Here is what it looks like in an SF supervisorial race with 10000 votes cast:

    >>> simulate_multiple_elections(1000, 10000)
    {‘changed’: 10, ‘did_not_change’: 990}
    >>> simulate_multiple_elections(1000, 10000)
    {‘changed’: 9, ‘did_not_change’: 991}
    >>> simulate_multiple_elections(1000, 10000)
    {‘changed’: 11, ‘did_not_change’: 989}
    >>> simulate_multiple_elections(1000, 10000)
    {‘changed’: 5, ‘did_not_change’: 995}
    >>> simulate_multiple_elections(1000, 10000)
    {‘changed’: 4, ‘did_not_change’: 996}

    So in an environment of purely tight elections in tiny districts your vote is likely to matter about once every 400-1000 years, except that elections aren’t tight, and districts aren’t tiny, and one supervisor does not translate into anything politically unless you stipulate lots of other factors. Where there are millions of votes the odds of a vote actually changing anything are essentially zero, and yet voting is advocated by people who sneer at playing the lottery, which it actually is possible to win.

    None of which matters in SF, though, because we have a rock-solid progressive consensus around a few key ideas: The same people should live in the same places, and work in the same jobs, and pay the same rent, in the permanently same neighborhoods, and if a building burns down or a new one goes up, its replacement should have the same bay windows, and the same bums should live in the same hotels forever, ruled by the same political party, who will administer the same vast amounts of money to the same unions, whose failure to do anything to improve their little fiefdoms will be laid at the feet of the same ‘root causes’ (not enough progressivism), which causes will also make an appearance at the funerals and rallies for the exact same people killed on the same corners on the same day of the week, week after week, and all of this will go on forever and ever and ever, because we are so fucking enlightened.

  21. William says:

    Whether or not your personal vote is the one that tips things over the line is an idiotic criterion to use when deciding to vote.

    First, the margin of victory matters. The larger the margin, the more people accept the decision and the more political capital the victor has, so every vote counts. Imagine the mess if Obama wins by one vote. And then imagine him beating McCain in every state but Arizona, like Reagan did with Mondale, gaining a nationwide mandate. Utterly different!

    Second, participation matters. Democracy is government by the people, and if the people don’t govern, somebody else will step in. They are stepping in. By not voting and not being engaged, you are inviting them to.

    Third, eight years ago George Bush was elected by by margins less than 1% in 5 different states. In Florida, the margin was under 600 votes. Individual votes matter! I guarantee you that there were at least 600 idiots out of Florida’s 11 million registered voters that failed to vote for exactly this dumb reason, it-doesn’t-matter reason.

    Which brings me to the fourth reason: ideas matter. Deciding not to vote doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You know you when don’t vote. Your friends know when you don’t vote. You tell people, they tell people. And pretty soon, half the country doesn’t vote. Just like we’ve got today.

    Being an apathetic freeloader on everybody else’s hard work in deciding who should run things isn’t some sort of smart, hip pose. It’s lazy, self-serving bullshit, the same sort of clever excuse-making you hear from two-pack-a-day cigarette smokers and raging alcoholics.

    If you want to say that you don’t give a fuck what happens to you or the place where you live, fab. Say it. But otherwise, show up and vote. And drag your friends.

  22. Concerned says:

    No, William, there were 600 engaged voters who did the right thing and went to the polls! And elected W! Your counterfactual is interesting, but the only place I can think of where 600 people move as one would be something like a pentecostal church. Too bad there are so many apathetic freeloaders who almost let the 2nd amendment slip through their fingers, by God! If it weren’t for their participation there might be hormonesexuals marrying in the White House chapel!

    But seriously, the first time I got depressed about the line of reasoning you are pushing was a podcast of some progressive types who were co-mourning in 2005 or so about how impossible it was going to be to ever do anything progressive again. And at some point I just broke down, like, you live in Oakland and you can’t think of anything to do for the next 3 years that might make somebody’s life better?!? There is a really distorted view of what actually matters among the politically minded, which is a big part of the problem with SF, something I am not apathetic about but hostile to. It is not just a supermarket next to the panhandle, it is a battle in the political arena, which happens to give your life meaning. It is not a proposal to put up some building in the old parking lot in a former lard factory in SOMA, it is a great opportunity to revive your cobwebbed political illusions.

    And it gets worse: a lot of decisions are made by voting that shouldn’t be. You ask where the young people are? They are scattered to the four winds, look for them in Oregon and Brooklyn and North Carolina. A bunch of hyper-entitled boomers decided, thanks, we like this Northern California place just like it is, no new people, no new buildings, no new industries. They will go down in history as the first generation to exile their own children. When you get together to vote on how much you like the character of your neighborhood and want to keep it that way, where are their ballots? I am typing this from the 9th floor of a building in Mexico City and it is devastatingly tragic to look out the window and imagine what a big and dynamic and truly urban SF might have looked like. The fact that you voted for a stunted museum city doesn’t make me respect you, or feel guilty about my apathy, quite the opposite, actually.

    And now, off to a backyard party!

  23. zinzin says:

    concerned, i don’t agree with your disdain for voting (i do think it’s a way to change things), and i’m don;t get the whole computer simulation thing…

    but this part i agree with:

    “None of which matters in SF, though, because we have a rock-solid progressive consensus around a few key ideas: The same people should live in the same places, and work in the same jobs, and pay the same rent, in the permanently same neighborhoods, and if a building burns down or a new one goes up, its replacement should have the same bay windows, and the same bums should live in the same hotels forever, ruled by the same political party, who will administer the same vast amounts of money to the same unions, whose failure to do anything to improve their little fiefdoms will be laid at the feet of the same ‘root causes’ (not enough progressivism), which causes will also make an appearance at the funerals and rallies for the exact same people killed on the same corners on the same day of the week, week after week, and all of this will go on forever and ever and ever, because we are so fucking enlightened.”

    a bit nihilist in tone – a bit resigned – but well said & accurate.

  24. Adam says:

    First, emigration or going off the grid aren’t things I’m particularly interested in, though I have considered moving to a place which is more free or at least a place that is becoming more free instead of becoming more totalitarian(walgreen’s cigarette sales come to mind). I like my friends(even the ones that vote). I like San Francisco.

    What I am saying is that voting, if it can ever be justifiable, is only valid if its goal is to delegitimize the state, but voting is something that inherently _legitimizes_ the state. Government insists they rule by the consent of the governed, but I do not remember government official ever asking me(or my neighbors) if I would agree to the outcome of a vote regardless of _my_ vote. The only way to then enforce such votes are through acts of aggression. The natural order of government is to kill those who disagree because an individual’s non-violent noncompliance delegitimizes the state. That is not to say you see government going around murdering tax evaders everyday, but that is simply because the alternative of not paying taxes is much, much worse than forking over a percentage of one’s income. I voluntarily give my money to a mugger, but that is only because the alternative is getting stabbed, shot, or beaten. Of course, the government has an incentive to be as polite as possible in coercing its citizenry because they need the taxpayer’s cooperation more than they need headaches caused by a disobedient individual. But if simply being stubborn led to the state leaving the offender alone then no one would listen to the state’s dictates in the first place. Government must eventually resort to murder.

    I’m all for a vote initiated by consenting parties, but then if everyone consented to the outcome of the voting that wouldn’t really be government then, would it? So maybe we ought to have a pre-vote where we ask everyone involved if they would agree to the outcome of a vote before putting the original issue to a vote. I am saying this sarcastically, of course. The only logical conclusion that I can see is a society based on voluntary interactions between individuals.

    In all things I would prefer to be non-violent. By this principle I would never want to vote on something that would lead to acts of aggression against peaceful non-compliers either directly or by proxy(police).

  25. Concerned says:


    Since you were curious about the translation, here it is (also to the sublime Allan, if there is ever a wordpress plugin for GMail’s new late-night drunkenness goggles, I would be the first to thank you for it, even if it demolishes my contributions here. By way of background, I have been half-time in Mexico City for the last year, except for when I am in the US to do things like meet with clients and vote in the primary for Barack Obama, to express my solidarity with all thinking people, and disgust with national Republicans.)


    As we say in those exotic places that seem to fascinate you (as they do all your fellow Americans), tone it down a bit, plz. What’s wrong with some kid leaving her little home town for a city she likes, in her own country? And if you insist on bringing up the the halfwits at POWWER (who are as bad at spelling as they are at politics) — let me summarize what the authors of this site are too polite to clarify for you — we don’t give a fuck about what they say, and we laugh at their intellectual and progressive pretensions. (Suffice it to note that on their home page they issue a call for strategies to “retake are (sic) city.”

    Also re the program, it just simulates 1,000 close elections with 10,000 voters participating, each time it is run, so the above examples represent 5000 elections, out of which 29 are decided by one vote. In the above example, out of about 20,000 years of voting, in conditions of pure competitiveness and small electorates, an election will be “changed” by a given voter about once every 680 years. Some people seem to be annoyed by this fact, and prefer to focus on how one can change an election without changing who wins.

  26. zinzin says:

    thanks Adam for the explanation. i have to admit i still don’t get a lot of it, but it’s clear you’ve thought it through for yourself, and i respect that.

    one part i thought was interesting…your comment on the whole walgreen’s / smoking / ban thing is an example of the city becoming more “totalitarian”.

    this bit of genius was sparked – correct me if i’m wrong – by our city’s most “progressive” crusader, Chris Daly.

    interesting how a guy like Adam – obviously someone who values real Progressive thought (and note the capital P) – sees this bullshit “progressive” gesture as what it is: hollow grandstanding by a do-nothing career politico.

    yet another example. it never fucking ends.

    i hope you’ll all be happy when you’ve got your Campos, or your Quezada, or your Sanchez up on the board supporting this kind of crap while saying the words “low cost housing” over and over again like a fucking meaningless “progressive” RainMan mantra….continuing their charade at the expense of the D9 community, ignoring most of us, lying to those of us who need them most…as they seek their next elected office.

    maybe i’m wrong. in the case of Quezada i may be. i hope i am.

    history, however, says i’m not.

    maybe off the grid isn’t such a bad idea after all. does Zante deliver to off the grid?

  27. jimbeam says:

    Here’s the thing- low cost housing is better than opening the zoning gates and allowing the neighborhood to be developed into the next SoMA.

  28. zinzin says:

    i definitely agree.

    alls i’m saying is…these yahoos using “low cost housing” as their call to action, and rarely if ever delivering any actual value on the issue, past saying it again & again & again…

    is the same as “opening the zoning gates” in the end, because the “gentrifyers” will win anyways…

    and morally bereft all at the same time, because it’s another example of empty “progressive” promises.