Is Voting Dangerous for Your Health?
A couple years ago, we wrote a column called “Why Vote?” It didn’t advocate for people to not vote; it just argued that, because of the way the world works, there’s very little value in a single person’s voting.
But according to Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, voting might actually be dangerous to your health.
In a research letter just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (gated), Redelmeier describes the research conducted by himself and a co-author, Robert J. Tibshirani:
We hypothesized that mobilizing approximately 50 percent to 55 percent of the population, along with U.S. reliance on motor-vehicle travel, might result in an increased number of fatal motor-vehicle crashes during U.S. presidential elections.
Here are some numbers:
A total of 3,417 individuals were involved in fatal crashes during the hours of polling on the 8 election Tuesdays and 16 comparison Tuesdays. The modal person was a young adult driving in a southern state (demographic characteristics generally stable over time). The 8 election days accounted for 1,265 individuals, equivalent to 158 per day, or 13 per hour. The 16 control days accounted for 2,152 individuals, equivalent to 134 per day or 11 per hour. This yielded a relative risk of 1.18 on election days (95 percent CI, 1.10-1.26; P< .001), equivalent to an absolute increase of 189 individuals over the study interval (95 percent CI, 104-280). The net increase in risk was about 24 individuals per election and was fairly stable across decades of time.
In a nutshell: A lot of people are out doing a lot of extra driving on Election Day — which, according to R. and T.’s research, produces extra motor-vehicle deaths. They offer some specific mechanisms:
… distraction (driver inattention), rerouting (unfamiliar pathways), enforcement (decreased police presence), and demographics (mobilizing unfit drivers).
Redelmeier wrote to tell us that our voting column helped inspire his research on Election Day fatalities. Furthermore, as he put it: “Behold! Chance of dying exceeds chance of casting a pivotal vote!”
If it’s really true that extra people die on Election Day because they’re in a hurry to get back to work from the polling place or whatnot, this is perhaps the most compelling reason yet to make Election Day a national holiday; or at least to switch to mail-in ballots.