Could You Determine the Outcome of the Election Like in the 2008 Kevin Costner Film Swing Vote?

It’s everyone’s fantasy. But could it become your reality?

Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll in Swing Vote.
Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll in Swing Vote.

Touchstone Pictures

As America heads to the polls Tuesday to choose our next president, people all over the country are asking one question: How can I be sure my vote is the only one that matters? No one likes wasting his or her time, and with lines around the block this year thanks to helpful Republican voting reforms, it’s more important than ever to be sure that your vote is the only one that determines the outcome. Slate’s Andrew Gelman took a look at the odds an individual vote would be the decisive one, and the results were not reassuring. Gelman makes a case that voting is still “rational” and “important for the general good,” but if this country were run on the principles of rationality and the general good, we’d be living in Sweden. No thank you!

The good news is that Gelman’s calculations assume you won’t take active steps to improve your odds—and we’re a nation of self-starters! There are a few obvious ways to ensure your vote determines the presidency—steal all the ballots, poison every other American citizen, embark on a decadeslong plan of gerrymandering and voter suppression on the basis of race, and so on—but most would result in public disapprobation, assuming there was a public left to disapprobate. Is there a way to choose the president and still come out a hero?

In search of answers, I took a look at the 2008 Kevin Costner vehicle Swing Vote, in which Costner plays an alcoholic deadbeat who blunders his way into living the American dream: casting the deciding vote in a presidential election. It’s not a very good movie; Slate’s Dana Stevens called it “a formless, pasty blob,” a comparison that’s unfair to beignets. But how does Swing Vote stand up as a blueprint to become America’s kingmaker? Here’s a step-by-step look at the Kevin Costner plan for effective voting:

1. Live in a small town in a toss-up state with a feisty tween daughter who is clearly much smarter than you.

2. Drink a lot. A whole lot. Enough that your daughter ends up running the household.

3. Show little to no interest in politics, down to claiming that you’re not planning to vote. (Don’t worry! This is a ruse!)

4. On Election Day, promise your daughter you will meet her at the local polling place after work.

5. Leave work early after being fired for gross incompetence.

6. Now you have plenty of time before anyone will expect you at the polling place! Spend it getting totally shitfaced.

7. Realize you’ve forgotten about the time when your daughter appears on the television at the bar reading a school essay about good citizenship. No, seriously: Get the local news to film her—for this plan to work, your daughter has to appear on TV to remind you you’re a bad citizen.

8. Run out of the bar and immediately hit your head on a wooden sign that says, “VOTE TODAY.”

9. Pass out for a while.

10. Pull yourself into your truck and pass out for a while longer.

11. This is part where your feisty daughter and a cleaning lady have to help you out, but it’s not that complicated. Have your daughter, furious at your failures as a father and human being, sneak into the empty polling place, sign your name in the registry while an elderly poll worker snoozes, take a ballot and put it into the voting machine.

12. Get a cleaning lady to knock the voting machine’s plug out with her vacuum cleaner. This will startle your voter fraud–loving daughter and send her out of the polling place without casting a vote.

13. Make sure—and this part is very important—that the Electoral College results are so close that whoever wins your state will become president. Also make sure the election in your state comes out to a perfect tie, not counting you.

14. Wait for the attorney general (Duck from Mad Men) to show up to tell you that because of the voting machine malfunction, you are entitled to revote in 10 days.

15. Spend the next 10 days being courted by both presidential candidates while you learn valuable lessons about civics.

16. Give a speech about how disengaged you’ve been with the process that starts off noticeably better-written than anything else in the movie. Be humble! You still get to determine the presidency!

17. Cast a vote that really matters.

As you can see, this is a foolproof way to make sure your vote counts and has the advantage of including plenty of drinking. But it also involves raising children, giving speeches, enduring head trauma, and learning about civics as though you’re in a Frank Capra movie, but not a good Capra movie, you know? There’s got to be a better way!

It turns out there is. After minutes of carefully Googling things like “is the plan outlined in Swing Vote the only way to be sure my vote counts,” I discovered something startling: The plan outlined in Swing Vote is not the only way to be sure my vote counts. Here’s a simpler alternative:

1. First, make sure that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump win 269 electoral votes, one shy of the 270 needed to win. This may seem difficult to achieve, but it’s much more likely than the Costner plan, which requires a tie vote. Here, for example, is one not-completely-impossible scenario you could set as a goal:

2. Over a period of many years (starting many years ago) become really powerful in the party apparatus of the person you don’t want to win, in a state he or she has won—but only in a state that doesn’t punish electors who change their votes.

3. Cross-referencing the voting outcome above against the list of states that have laws binding electors, that means if you want Clinton to win, you should become a powerful Republican bigwig in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, or West Virginia. Choose whichever is most convenient for you!

4. If you want Trump to win, do your own goddamned homework about which states meet these criteria.

5. Get appointed one of Trump’s electors in the state you’ve chosen.

6. This plan will only work if you are the only faithless elector voting, so meet as many electors as possible and say things like, “I sure am looking forward to voting for the exact candidate everyone expects me to. Aren’t you?” Stare at them intimidatingly while you do this.

7. On Dec. 19, the electors will meet for what should be a pro-forma vote, resulting in a tie and throwing the election into the House of Representatives. But now it’s your time to shine! Switch your vote to Clinton. She’ll get 270 votes—assuming no one else tried the same plan.

8. Bask in the glory of being America’s best citizen.

No daughter, no cleaning lady, no head injury. And you can drink the entire time, not just on Election Day! In fact, it’s simple enough that two Democratic electors in Washington seem to be following it. To them, to you, and to all of America, I have one thing to say: Dibs.

Bonus Explainer: How likely is it that my vote will cause me to roam the wastelands after “the Doomwar,” wearing a tattered postman’s uniform that is the only surviving memory of the United States, like in the 1997 Kevin Costner vehicle The Postman?

Well, it sort of depends who you vote for.