WASHINGTON -- There's always grousing about the many people who don't bother to vote. But look at it the other way: An estimated 133 million Americans will cast ballots in Tuesday's election. Some will persevere despite long lines, pressing personal burdens or the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy. Why do they do it?
It's not because any one voter has much chance of deciding the super-tight contest between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.
A one-vote win is rare even in local or state races, which attract smaller turnout. The largest numbers of voters -- about 6 in 10 eligible adults -- come out for presidential years. Yet the presidency's never turned on just one vote, not even in the 2000 recount that flummoxed Florida.
It's so improbable that some economists and psychologists debate whether voting is a rational act.
"There is no question that from a simplistic rational view it doesn't make sense to vote,'' said Kevin Lanning, a political psychologist at Florida Atlantic University. "Even in Florida I'm more likely to be killed in an auto accident going to the polls than I am to cast the deciding vote in the presidential election.''
Still, Lanning is a voter.
"I think of it as an awesome responsibility,'' he said.
Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, was co-author of a study before the 2008 presidential election that found that, on average, a voter had a 1 in 60 million chance of deciding that race.
The Electoral College means the odds vary by state. This year's chances range from roughly 1 in a million (for a voter in the battleground state of Ohio) to essentially zero (in states such as vastly Republican Wyoming or deeply Democratic Vermont).
Gelman's numbers might seem to validate the inertia of the 4 in 10 eligible adults who don't bother to vote even in presidential years.
Yet, Gelman is a voter.
"Part of our role as citizens is to vote,'' he said.
And he says presidential voting can be a rational investment of time. That's partly because the outcome affects so many people. It's like entering a lottery that you almost certainly won't win, but if you do win, all 315 million Americans share your jackpot -- the president you believe will do more for the country.
And then there's the obvious: A democracy relies on its voters, working as a group, to make a decision.