What's a Voter To Do?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

One person, one vote is the cornerstone of American democracy. We’d like to believe that each and every person gets an equal opportunity to influence electoral outcomes. But are all votes created equal? 

In this year’s contested Presidential primary election — particularly for the Republican party — that is simply not the case.

On June 7, California voters will cast their ballots for candidates in the Presidential primary as well as a slate of other candidates and propositions. Trump, who currently has a plurality of the delegate count, is on a narrow path to lockdown the Republican nomination.

California’s 172 delegates could go a long way to influencing the outcome of an election that’s already on a knife’s edge. What does that mean for San Francisco voters, most of whom aren’t registered Republicans?

Republican delegates are allocated by Congressional district with three delegates for each district. That means that San Francisco county gets the same number of delegates as a deeply Southern district like Harris County in Cruz’s home state of Texas where over 150,000 voters determined the outcome.

This inequality in the ratio of voters to delegates has already played out in other places in the primary. For example, a mere 636 voters gave Trump three delegates in New York’s 15th District, while Wisconsin’s 5th District had a whopping 113,522 votes for the same number of delegates.

While we won’t know the exact voter turnout until election day, in the 2012 Presidential Primary, 12,111 voters gave Mitt Romney the three delegates. That means that assuming a similar turnout, San Francisco Republicans have 10 times more voting power than highly populated red districts.

According to the data-driven forecasts put together at FiveThirtyEight, Cruz and Trump are within 8% points of each other. Assuming that San Francisco Congressional district ends up being similar to the statewide polling, around 1,000 votes could determine the delegate allotment from San Francisco.

As it turns out, Californians have until May 23 to register to vote, or switch party affiliations. If your goal as a voter is to maximize your influence on election outcomes, a vote in the Republican primary, especially in San Francisco, is likely going to have more influence.

I, as a rational and tactical voter, have considered switching party affiliations in order to maximize my vote influence. But, one vote probably wouldn’t be enough — at least 500 to 1,000 people would have to switch and vote against Trump in order to change the outcome.

Of course, switching party affiliations en masse in the primary would require collective decision making at an unprecedented level, and it’s unclear that San Francisco’s three delegates would ultimately make or break Trump’s path to 1,237. What’s a voter to do then?