I, like many other voting Americans, hate the Electoral College. One of its many problems is that it essentially renders presidential votes in most states useless. For instance, the vote of a Republican in my home state of Massachusetts will almost certainly be irrelevant, as President Obama is heavily favored to win the state. Likewise, the vote of a Democrat in a heavily conservative state like Utah will also be essentially meaningless, as Governor Romney is projected to win over 70% of the state’s votes.
One of the byproducts of this system is that it prioritizes the votes of citizens in certain “swing states”, such as Florida or Ohio, over other voters. Although this system unfairly values voters in different states, it has an interesting side effect for college students: they can choose to either vote at home, or where they attend college. I’ve heard many of my peers say, “I’m voting in Pennsylvania because it’s a swing state.” Although the sentiment behind this reasoning is valid, many voters fail to consider other potentially more important races.
I’m from Massachusetts, which is a much bluer state than Pennsylvania, but I have decided to keep my vote in Massachusetts. Why? We have a very important Senate race at home between Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Considering the polarization of Congress in the past four years, control of the House of Representatives and Senate is even more important than control of the White House. Yet, very few people think about close races at the congressional level, basing their decision solely on the weight of their vote at the presidential level.
Voting here in Swarthmore isn’t irrelevant to the electoral calculus, but Pennsylvania isn’t the swing state it used to be. Nate Silver, one of the best in the election forecasting business, gives President Obama a 92.3% chance of winning Pennsylvania. The most recent RealClearPolitics polling average in Pennsylvania gives President Obama a 7.7 point lead over Governor Romney. At the Senate level, incumbent Democrat Bob Casey has maintained an average lead of 14.5 points over Republican candidate Tom Smith. Finally, as of 2012, Swarthmore has been redistricted into the 1st Pennsylvania District, a district including major parts of Chester and Philadelphia, which has historically leaned Democrat by an average of 26 points.
Thus, I urge you to take a look at the close races at home. There are some very close Senate races in states that are not close at the presidential level, such as those in Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and Indiana on the Republican-leaning side, and Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Michigan on the Democratic-leaning side. There are also many tight races for the House of Representatives. Following the Republican wave in 2010, there ought to be some close re-election campaigns in the House, and I encourage you to check your local race. On top of these considerations, you should take a look at the composure of your state legislature and see whether you are in a swing district at the State House or State Senate level.
Shopping your vote to the state in which it will have the most impact might seem dishonorable. However, it is important for young voters to feel that they are voting in a way that matters, no matter their political affiliation, and the choice to vote either in their home state or in their school state is one that they won’t have later on in life.
In checking out the races in Swarthmore and at home, you may learn more about your congressional representatives, or you may find that a candidate from another party supports many of your own views and you may even decide that you want to vote for him or her instead of along party lines. In any case, political awareness is always a good thing, as a politically intelligent and engaged student body has much more power to bring about positive change in government and in society.