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COLUMN

Don’t Forget About the Rest of the Election!

Matt DeBergalis

Though the Electoral College has some advantages, its undeniable (and fatal, in my opinion) consequence is that those of us who vote in Massachusetts don’t have any impact whatsoever on this year’s presidential election. Massachusetts will clearly fall in Kerry’s column, whether you vote for him, Bush, or Curt Schilling. Kind of takes the joy out of voting.

It gets worse. The second race on your ballot will be for our representative in the U.S. Congress. Here, we have the ultra-competitive race featuring the Democratic incumbent Michael Capuano running against, well, nobody. There isn’t even a Republican on the ballot. It’s no better elsewhere in the state; neither of our senators are up for reelection this year, and of the ten Congressmen (all Dems), barely half even face a nominal opponent. Frankly, the chance of any one of them losing is too remote to describe.

But keep scanning down your ballot on Tuesday and you’ll find a couple things that do matter. One is a remarkable candidate for your state representative. The other is a chance to make these elections a lot more competitive in the future.

First, the candidate. Marty Walz is running to be the state representative for the 8th Suffolk District, which includes most of MIT, Central Square, and Back Bay. Marty won her Democratic primary back in September, and now faces the well-financed Republican Richard Babson. (Those of you who live in the western-most dorms will be voting for Byron Rushing, a fine incumbent. Surprise -- he’s running unopposed.)

I met Marty a few months ago, and was quite impressed with her passion and knowledge. We are very lucky to have her as a candidate. Let me mention just two of the many reasons I support her:

Marty will be an unparalleled leader in the push for equal marriage here in Massachusetts. This issue is incredibly important to me. Remember that there is a second vote next year on the proposed amendment banning gay marriage. It will be close. The previous representative from this district always played a crucial role in this debate, and having a leader like Marty will be essential if we are to prevail.

Also, Marty recognizes the housing challenge in Cambridge and has talked about intelligent solutions to preserving our diverse neighborhoods. She has a healthy attitude regarding MIT and Harvard, and hasn’t taken the easy path of demonizing them to gain voters’ support. She’s supportive of my own efforts to involve more young people in politics.

Second, the districts. You are also going to see a non-binding ballot question asking that Massachusetts adopt a non-partisan independent commission to draw up the state’s legislative districts. I urge you to vote Yes. Perhaps you’ve heard of gerrymandering -- the long-practiced art of drawing legislative districts in a way that protects incumbents and often sequesters minority voters, essentially conceding a handful of seats to minority representatives while preserving the majority’s control of the legislature. Decades ago this gave rise to congressional districts that were hundreds of miles long but only a few miles wide, carefully snaked through individual neighborhoods. Judges learned to recognize this technique for what it was, but advanced demographic software allows modern-day politicians to accomplish much the same without the obvious manipulating of borders. In a testament to the power of this strategy, barely two dozen of this year’s 400+ U.S. House races are competitive.

Independent commissions wrest away the power that incumbent leaders have in setting these boundaries. With such a commission, MIT and Cambridgeport would not have been broken up from the rest of Cambridge in 2000. I’m confident that Marty will look out for Cambridge, but we may not always be so lucky in the future.

Lastly, don’t forget that turnout matters. You can’t affect the Electoral College, but the popular vote matters too; imagine the consequence of Kerry squeaking out a narrow Electoral College victory without winning a popular majority. And recall that both Boston and Cambridge pay attention to who votes. Your strong turnout alone scared the wits out of Cambridge’s city councillors last year, and some good changes have already happened because of it. More good things happen if you make a pattern out of it.

I’ll be taking five minutes of my day to vote for John Kerry, Michael Capuano, Marty Walz, and for the ballot question. Please join me.

Matt DeBergalis is a member of the class of 2000.