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Data Snack: The Mysteries of Undervote and Single Shot

Sometimes skipping a vote is the right strategy.

Undervote is a measure of how many votes were not cast in a particular contest. If 100 people voted in an election, 50 for Candidate A and 40 for Candidate B, there was an undervote of 10.

Undervotes represent votes left behind. Assessing their impact is easy in a single candidate contest like Governor or Mayor.

What about “twofers” like State House of Representatives, or positions with three openings like some School Boards? We frequently tell people to “only vote for 2” even when you can choose 3. We are asking them to Undervote, to throw a vote away, and that’s a good thing. Here’s some simplified math.

In areas where the voters are especially well informed and/or cohesive, a single shot strategy can work well. Talk to anyone from an old Chicago union neighborhood, or Boston or Philly. Other times the strategy can be hit or miss. It’s complicated to explain to ourselves let alone to the voter base.

Ranked Choice voting is a logical and fairer alternative but that’s a subject for another time.

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