Why Your Vote Matters — Whether You Live in a Swing State or Not

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Like many young people, when I was growing up, I was told that my vote didn’t matter. When my entire class voted for Al Gore in the 2001 school election but George W. Bush won the electoral college, my teacher remarked that New York always votes for the Democrat but that it doesn’t always matter. When I cast my first vote in November 2012, I came into school excited only to be told by multiple teachers that New York always votes for Democrats and so my vote didn’t really matter. When I took the subway home from college to vote in November 2016 and missed a large campus event, I was told that I was wasting my time.

Today, I work in the New York state legislature, and can conclusively tell you: I was lied to. As it turns out, even if you live in a safe blue or red state, your vote is incredibly consequential, often in ways no one ever told you about. Working in local government during a time of pandemic, I am now all-too-familiar with all the various ways individual votes matter. Here’s what you should know:

  1. Local elections matter, and they can have more influence over your life than the flashy races at the top of the ticket. Your state legislature has influence over everything from education funding to what products have a sales tax. Currently, it is legal on a federal level to charge a “Pink Tax” where a product costs more when it is pink or marketed to women. Individual states can abolish that practice. Similarly, as the federal government continues to attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, New York already codified it on a state level ensuring that New Yorkers will have access to affordable healthcare regardless. And as the climate crisis worsens rapidly, states have the ability to ban harmful materials such as polystyrene and pass groundbreaking legislation such as New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act which commits to eliminate their net greenhouse gas emissions and move to carbon neutral energy sources.
  2. In state and local elections, the difference between winning and losing is sometimes just a few dozen votes — or less! In 2017, there was a state race in Virginia that ended in a tie — the winner was chosen by pulling a name out of a bowl. Seriously. Every vote in that election mattered. New York might never be the state that will tip the electoral college, but we can ensure that our state and local representatives shield and safeguard New Yorkers from harmful federal policies as much as possible, and make good policy locally.
  3. But even if you only care about the top of the ticket, you should still vote in things like party primaries. That’s because the number of people who vote in those actually determines how many delegates each district gets in the next presidential primary. The fewer people who show up to vote in New York’s primaries, the less influence individual New York voters have over who the major parties pick for president. In other words, if your district didn’t show up in 2016, they were given fewer delegates and had less impact in the 2020 primary.
  4. Another big way local elections matter for national politics: building support for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This legislation commits member states to awarding all of their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. The movement is gaining popularity, and if your statehouse joins the pact, eventually the electoral college will hold less power and our elections will be determined by the popular vote.
  5. Voter turnout and suppression has long been a strategy to win elections. The goal is to turnout your base and suppress the base of your opponent. The easiest way to suppress the vote is to make people think their vote doesn’t matter so it’s not worth their time. Don’t buy into it.

In a time where the highest ranking elected official in the country is attempting to cast doubt on the election process, even the popular vote matters. The popular vote determines the strength of the winner and the likelihood that their agenda will succeed. The larger the popular vote margin, the stronger the new president will be. An electoral college win with a popular vote deficit means they will start the term weak and less able to pass their agenda.

Your vote matters. It matters in state and local elections. It matters in primary elections. And it matters in national elections — even when your candidate loses. If someone tells you that your vote doesn’t matter, know that it does and that either they don’t know or they are trying to suppress your vote. Don’t let them.

Hudy Rosenberg works in New York State government and politics. Twitter: @hudyrosenebrg

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