Don't get us wrong, we're not knocking voting. It feels great to walk out of a polling place with an "I voted" sticker on your chest and know that you helped select the next president/state senator/school board member. But could the true value of your vote be overrated?
First, there's the whole Electoral College thing. If you are a Republican and live in a state that's overwhelmingly blue, your single vote isn't worth much in a presidential election. If the U.S. elected its presidents by popular vote, then your vote would be added to the millions tallied in other states. But with the "winner takes all" system of electors, your vote is negated by your neighbors'.
Even in popular vote contests, the odds of a single vote determining the decision are highly unfavorable. In a study of 40,000 state legislative elections dating back to 1898, only seven were decided by a single vote. A 1910 election in Buffalo was the only congressional election of the century to be decided by a single vote [source: Mangu-Ward]. Your vote would have more of an impact in a primary or run-off but voters tend to skip those unless there's a hot-button issue on the ballot as well.
Sadly, if you really want your preferred candidate to get elected, your money is probably worth more than your vote. In a survey of congressional elections in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, the candidate who raised the most money won the contest between 73 and 94 percent of the time [source: Jacobson].