voting is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.

I had a back-and-forth with Dave Stroup yesterday about how to best use one’s vote in the upcoming At-Large DC election. Of course it seems like he’s currently in a position where he’ll tend to make arguments that lead people to vote for Bryan Weaver. But beyond that I think he touched on an interest facet to the whole issue of whether to strategically vote.

Voting is a public exercise of civic responsibility and power, not a form of self-actualization or idealistic expression. Ergo, you should vote in such a way that creates the best possible outcome. So if I were a voting Floridian in the year 2000 I would have voted for Al Gore rather than Ralph Nader even if I preferred Nader’s issue platform (and clearly arguments that losing their left flank would force Democrats to move to the left in response have not been borne out by events). But the assumption underpinning that decision is that my impact is knowable – I would have a pretty high degree of certainty that only Gore or Bush would have been president come Jan 20 2001; that the election was close enough that it would depend on the preferences of a handful of swings states; and that one of those swing states was Florida. And that’s because polling, in the aggregate, is pretty good at predicting electoral outcomes, esepcially as Election Day nears.

But in the upcoming election here in DC there is a vast amount of uncertainty. Polls have been few and far between, and their reliability is very uncertain as this election is probably going to have low turnout and the electorate is pretty hard to model. With a small group of high-information voters, endorsements (like WaPo’s endorsement of Patrick Mara) could have outsized impact. And this electorate is small to begin with – in last year’s very heated and closely contested Mayoral Democratic Primary, fewer than 135,000 votes were cast. In the only past special election I could find (May 2007), fewer than 15,000 voters showed up in each of the two wards that were up for grabs, meaning there could be well under 100,000 ballots cast on April 26th. So in this case it seem like strategic voting could be a lot harder to do, increasing the utility of simply voting for your preferred candidate unless a clear choice comes into sharper relief as election day nears.

As for the issues in the campaign itself, I think by far the most important determiner of which candidate to prefer for any voter ought to be how they would fill DC’s $300 million budget gap. And as someone who thinks the situation calls for even more progressive revenue increases than the mayor proposed, it seems from debates that Weaver is the best candidate on that score, though he doesn’t lay that out explicitly on his website.