How do I explain the difference between mathematical elimination and disenfranchisement?

A common complaint I have heard (mostly in US primary elections but in other places as well) is that because some states conduct their elections sooner than others, the outcome can be a foregone conclusion before all the elections have been conducted, and thus the results of those later elections are not going to matter. So far, I understand.

But the complaint goes farther and alleges that all the votes in those later elections don't count, because a winner has already been decided before their vote was counted, and thus that those votes didn't count.

This feels off. If it were true, it would imply that the only way not to disenfranchise anyone would be for the election to be decided by one vote (the very last vote), and that changing who was disenfranchised would be as simple as shuffling the ballots - not remarking them, not changing the total at all, just the order in which they're scored.

How do I explain that being mathematically eliminated like this does not necessarily mean being disenfranchised?

• Disenfranchised means not allowed to vote, it has nothing to do with how important a vote is. A homerun hit while your team is way up is still a homerun. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 0:37
• It should be clear to people that if stopping your vote being counted is important to someone, then by golly your vote is very important indeed. Vote - always - many people in many places don't even get that right ! Cherish it. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 1:14
• Some states like to have their primaries late so as to (sarcastically!) keep the riffraff out. Some view a low primary turnout, e.g., 10%, as a good thing rather than a bad thing. Others disagree ... Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 1:30

1 Answer

This feels off. If it were true, it would imply that the only way not to disenfranchise anyone would be for the election to be decided by one vote (the very last vote), and that changing who was disenfranchised would be as simple as shuffling the ballots - not remarking them, not changing the total at all, just the order in which they're scored.

Where this analogy fails is in the serial nature of the American primary system. We do not conduct the primaries all at once, and then gradually release the results one state at a time. We conduct the Iowa Caucus and then the New Hampshire Primary and then each of the remaining states, one at a time. Candidates and voters observe the results of each race, and factor it into their behavior in subsequent races. A weak candidate may drop out before even reaching Super Tuesday, which (effectively) prevents* their supporters in later states from casting the vote they want to cast. Similarly, a strong candidate who performs poorly in early states may be unable to continue campaigning; donations will dry up and other members of their party will begin encouraging them to withdraw for the sake of party unity. So in effect, early-voting states may exert greater leverage over the overall outcome than their literal delegate numbers would otherwise suggest. This is the point that the "disenfranchisement" argument is trying to make, and this is the point which you need to refute.

* Supporters can usually vote for a withdrawn candidate, but only if they're content to waste their votes on someone who isn't even trying to win.