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Should I Vote?

David Cowles

Jan 15, 2024

“What if there was an election where everyone was eager to vote…but nobody cared who won? It’s happened!”

Today (1/15/2024) marks the official ‘opening’ of the 2024 Presidential Election season. It’s the night of the Iowa Caucuses! If you are a US citizen, even if you don’t live in Iowa, sometime in the next few months you will be called upon to make a decision: “Should I vote in my state’s Presidential Primary or Caucus?” Well, why would you? 

  • To demonstrate your support for democracy?

  • To ensure that the best (or better) candidate is elected?

  • To advocate for a particular set of public policies?

Heck no! These all ‘sound’ like good reasons to vote…but none of them makes any sense!

  • Dictatorships hold elections too. In some countries, folks are required by law to vote in elections. It confers an aura of legitimacy (often where none is deserved) while simultaneously ensuring that the votes of any one person or group are maximally diluted. Saddam Hussein ‘eked out’ a win…with just 99% of the vote. 

  • You’re told, “Every vote counts!” But pro-democracy propaganda notwithstanding, no one vote (your vote) ever elected anyone! Sure, very occasionally, the ‘official’ tally may reflect a difference of a single vote, but long before we get down to that one ballot, the process has become judicial rather than political. Just ask Al Gore! At some point, the counting of ballots has to stop (e.g., on 12/12/2000) so that judges can take over. A two-word summary of Bush v. Gore: “Stop counting!” You’ve been told that every vote counts; in fact, no vote counts!

  • Voting is one way to communicate a political position – but the signal is usually drowned out by the noise. You don’t get to explain your vote. Maybe you voted for candidate A because she is a staunch defender of personal liberty, or maybe you voted for her because she is a racist. No one will ever know which message you meant to send.  

“To…to…to,” is it precisely that purposefulness that can make voting meaningless? What if there was an election where everyone was eager to vote…but nobody cared who won? It’s happened!

“This is a book about…people who have come to believe that voting is meaningless and useless because politicians or those who influence politicians are corrupt, selfish, and beyond popular control.” – Murray Levin, The Alienated Voter.

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No, Professor Levin’s book is not about the current national political landscape…though it certainly could be. Rather, it’s an analysis of a local election that took place 65 years ago, in Boston!

Boston is famous for many things, baked beans, cod, and crème pie, for example. Not to mention Ted Williams, Larry Bird, and the GOAT (Tom Brady). But these Boston icons fade compared to a certain Massacre (1770), Tea Party (1773), and Midnight Ride (1775). After all, Boston was home to the Shot Heard ‘round the World…twice as it turns out, once in 1775 and then again in 1959! 

If you were a fan of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, perhaps you owe their success to ‘the strange events’ that happened in Boston in 1959. The self-proclaimed ‘Hub of the Universe’ heralded the start of a multi-generational political epoch in the US and beyond. This is what Professor Levin chronicled in his 1960 book. 

Let’s set the scene. Boston’s popular incumbent mayor (John B. Hynes) is not running for reelection. The runner-up in the previous mayoral race, State Senator John E. Powers, has been designated ‘mayor presumptive’ by the Boston media. Nevertheless, five candidates have entered the non-partisan primary. Perhaps the least well-known is the Registrar of Deeds, John Collins. 

As expected, Powers won the primary easily, with more than a third of the votes cast. Surprisingly, Collins finished second, but with less than a quarter of the total vote. Powers scored 50% more primary votes than Collins – an insuperable gap to close in just six weeks. 

Accordingly and appropriately, the Boston media promptly declared the election over and promoted Powers from ‘mayor presumptive’ to ‘mayor elect’…but someone forgot to tell Collins. Still, the outcome of the final election was never in doubt. Every poll, every pundit, told the same tale: “Powers Landslide!” until about 8:45 PM on the evening of November 3. 

The media pundits had been right all along. The election was not going to be close, not even close to close. Only one problem: the ‘wrong’ candidate had won! Final tally: Collins 56%, Powers 44%. Let’s put this in perspective:

FDR averaged 56% of the vote in his four election victories; Eisenhower averaged 56% of the vote in his two campaigns against Stevenson. No US presidential candidate has won 56% of the vote in 40 years - not since Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in 1984. 

What’s that you say? “So an underdog won a race: big deal; upsets happen all the time!” No, they don’t! Not like this one. 

Both candidates received more votes in the final election than they had in the preliminary. Powers doubled his primary vote total, and Collins quadrupled his. The Primary voters split 3 to 2 for Powers; the ‘new votes’ split 2 to 1 for Collins. Powers received 50% more votes than Collins in the preliminary…and 20% fewer votes than the same man just 6 weeks later. A stunning turnaround!

Most astonishingly, 10% of those who voted for Collins in the final had voted for Powers in the preliminary. Expressed another way, one of every six of Powers’ primary voters switched to Collins sometime during the six weeks leading up to the general election. 

What had happened to cause such a shift? Nothing! No scandal, no gaff, no new policy proposals, just politics as usual. The verdict of Boston’s voters was loud and clear: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore. Power elite, take us for granted at your peril.” 

A few pundits predicted Brexit’s 2016 victory in the UK and a handful predicted Trump’s election, but nobody predicted Collins victory in 1959, not even this overly precocious pro-Collins 12-year-old. Nobody!

Sidebar: My father was away on business. He called me from the road. “Who won?” Collins…in a landslide. “No, seriously, tell me the truth.” Collins. “Boy, you are in big trouble when I get home.” I told the truth…but the truth was unthinkable. 

On the weekend after the election, Professor Levin and his team interviewed 500 Boston voters, drawn from all across the city. Levin’s study showed that religion, income, and ethnicity played no significant role in the election’s results. Collins won the votes of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, high and low-income residents, Irish, Italian, Yankee, and African American voters. 

Somehow, a consensus emerged without anyone (not even Collins) calling for it. It happened under the radar, at bus stops and in barrooms, and it cut across the city’s fiercely independent neighborhoods. Today, Boston is Yuppie Paradise, and neighborhood identity has by and large vanished, but in 1959, things were very different.

At that time, East Boston High (Italians) played South Boston High (Irish) in an annual Thanksgiving Day football game that always ended in a West Side Story rumble. People walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods were routinely assaulted, only to be told that it was their own fault for ‘playing away from home’. These were just the facts of life in Boston in 1959.

It turned out that Boston voters had something in common that was strong enough to overcome their past and future animosities, rooted as they are in religion, class, ethnicity and race. According to Murray Levin, that mysterious X factor was ‘political alienation’.

May I ask you a question? The last time you voted in an election, did you think your preferred candidate would do a better job in office than their opponent? Not necessarily a ‘good’ job, but at least a ‘better job than the alternative’. Of course, you did…unless the last time you voted was in Boston in 1959.

Professor Levin’s most astonishing finding was that the majority of voters in Boston’s Mayoral election that year did not think their chosen candidate would be a better mayor than his opponent. This tendency was especially prominent among Collins voters! 

And so, ‘wave voting’ was born…in Boston, the Cradle of Liberty! Folks voted for Collins, not because they believed he’d be a better mayor, but because they refused to be taken for granted. Voters didn’t care who won the election; they cared about sending a message. “This is our chance to poke the power elite in the eye.” And so they did!

Where does that leave you? Are you going to tonight’s caucuses…or not? Voting is an existential act. It’s the moral equivalent of a ‘tush push’ or a ‘goal line stand’ in football. It’s not about electing a certain candidate; it’s not even about advancing a certain policy proposal. It’s about drawing a line in the sand: “No Mas! This far and no farther!”

Voting is a matter of taking a stand. It’s about joining a crusade, putting your shoulder to the wheel, ‘taking your place on the great mandala’, (and apparently) compiling an encyclopedia of clichés. R U Blue…or Grey? R U Collins…or Powers? How you answer defines who you are. That’s why you might choose to vote, not just to elect the lesser of two losers! 

If you decide to vote, don’t do it with your head down; do it waving your arms in the air! (Is that why they call it ‘wave voting’?) And if you decide not to vote, make sure everyone knows why!


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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