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Where Everyone’s Vote Still Matters

Chen Zhao

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the electoral college system we use to elect our president is that we create these so-called “safe states” and “swing states.” Everyone knows that Kerry’s going to win New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and so on and so forth. Likewise, most of the South as well as those pesky middle-of-nowhere states (i.e. Wyoming, Montana etc.) can be counted on to vote for Bush. Then we have those all important commitment-phobic states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, and some others depending on who you believe.

The voters in that last group of states somehow become more important than the rest of us. The campaigns spend the vast majority of their money in those states, literally flooding them with ads, phone calls, mailings, etc. Although one could argue that seeing nothing but political ads on TV could become tedious, at least they are reminded that this is an election year. I remember living in Pacific Grove, California in 2000 and not seeing a single Bush or Gore ad on TV.

The undecided voters in the swing states take on this incredible stature of importance. They have no incentive to make up their minds because by staying undecided, they get all the attention. They’re the ones who get polled after the debates, are interviewed just so that they can say they’re leaning one way one day and another way the next, and they’re the ones who get to meet the candidates at rally after rally.

So, what about those of us who commit early on to one candidate or those of us who live in a state that is consistent in which party it backs. Do we not matter? If I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say that it doesn’t matter whether or not they vote because they’re from California and both California and Massachusetts will be in the Kerry column, I’d probably be rich enough to bribe the Supreme Court to lean towards the Democrats this time.

Using the “I’m a Democrat from Alabama” excuse when one’s really just too lazy to apply for an absentee ballot is ludicrous. There are more than two people running for office this year, and no, I’m not referring to Ralph Nader.

All 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election. A third of the Senate seats are up for contest. Eleven states are holding elections for governor this year and the number of local contests is innumerable. So, if you’re a Washingtonian (the state, that is), your vote might not make a significant difference in the presidential race, but don’t forget the hotly contested Governor’s race between Democrat Christine Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi after incumbent Gary Locke’s surprise retirement. If you’re not from Washington, you can still vote this year for who you think should represent you in Congress and maybe for your governor, senator, mayor, state representative, police chief, judges, school board members, etc.

Bush may be the one who gets to decide which weaponless country we get to invade next, but your representatives in Congress bring home the pork. Yes, I’m referring to all those seemingly endless construction projects that keep local would-be bums off the streets. Seriously though, your Congressmen are responsible for fighting for the interests of your district.

Some of the decisions and laws that most affect your life are made by local and state leaders, not the guy in the White House. Education, for instance, is almost entirely a local issue. One year, my high school’s budget got cut by a quarter, but my friend’s school in the next county over wasn’t. That meant they weren’t placed in our position of having to mail boxes of letters so that their school wouldn’t have to lay off a large percentage of teachers. Ever wonder why the roads become much smoother when you cross the line from California to Nevada, or why it’s legal to smoke marijuana (for medicinal purposes, of course) in Santa Cruz, but not Boston? Well, maybe not, but even if you’re not from California, traffic laws, road maintenance, and to a certain extent, drug laws are among the countless other decisions that states make for themselves. Also, you don’t just vote for people, you can vote directly on some issues in the form of propositions.

So, the moral of the story is vote, even if you’re just helping Kerry to win Massachusetts by thirty points rather than twenty nine, because those other boxes aren’t there for you to practice eeny-meeny-miney-moe. Get to know the positions of all those people who want to make decisions for your city, county, or state. Lots of people got mad when the legislature in Massachusetts didn’t vote to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but many of those same people don’t even know who’s their representatives are.