After spending just a month on campus this fall, in the midst of a heated presidential election cycle, I have lost count of how many times those words have been shouted at me as I walk to and from my classes.
Voter registration groups have been prevalent on campus this past month, hoping to register many Penn students to vote before the close of voter registration in Pennsylvania today.
In what is perceived as a pivotal election year by both sides of the political spectrum, it makes sense to try to get out the vote; Pennsylvania is, after all, a swing state and voters there are more likely to be influential in the outcome of the presidential election than are voters in solid red or blue states such as Texas or New York.
It makes even more sense to try to get out the vote on campus, considering Penn students are overwhelmingly liberal and many of the groups involved in voter registration drives tend to be more left-leaning (despite some who portray themselves as ‘bipartisan’). Consider the hawkers out on Locust who encourage you to register while they sport Clinton-Kaine stickers, or the man who sets up a table on 34th and Walnut complete with a “Stronger Together” sign as he encourages passersby to change their address and register to vote in Pennsylvania. Today, there were two voter registration tables featuring pro-Clinton signs stating “Love trumps hate.” One of the tables even had a cardboard cutout of Clinton.
Recently, actress and Penn alum Elizabeth Banks (C ’96) was brought to campus for an event sponsored by Penn for Hillary. In addition to holding a rally, she also registered students to vote. One can’t help but wonder if the alluring chance to meet a celebrity (who happens to endorse a particular candidate) might not be a bit unethical when posed as a potential reward for registering.
The Daily Pennsylvanian ran an article yesterday explaining “why all those Clinton volunteers have been trying to switch your voter registration to Pennsylvania.” Their logic was that Pennsylvania will likely be a key state in the election. It also references the tight Senate race between Katie McGinty (D) and incumbent Pat Toomey (R), which could have an impact on the potential for the Democrats to regain Senate control this cycle. The article briefly qualifies at the end that “people should register to vote in whatever state where the election is most important to them, whether it’s federal, state or local,” before restating that it’s reasonable to switch registration to Pennsylvania if being a key decider in the presidential election is important to a voter.
The presidential election this year is hugely consequential, regardless of the candidate (or non-candidate) you support. That being said, when I returned home to Staten Island, New York this weekend, I was reminded that the presidential election isn’t everything — perhaps this is something more of us, including the registration volunteers, would do well to be reminded of and to remind others of.
Back home, I saw a number of posters for my district’s congressman, some even larger or more prominently displayed than campaign signs for either of the presidential candidates. With the focus of the media and of my peers on the presidential race, it had slipped my mind that my congressman was up for reelection.
While we often think of the presidential election as being the be-all-end-all for the direction of our nation for the next four to eight years, this is (thankfully) not the case. Our Constitution guarantees a federal system in which power is shared not only among the branches of the federal government, but also between the federal, state, and local levels.
As a Republican in New York, my vote might not matter a whole lot in choosing the President, but it certainly will matter in choosing the local officials who will serve my interests, as well as the Congress members who will fight for my community’s needs in Washington.
I was harangued by a registration volunteer on my way to class, and I explained that I am a registered Republican voting in New York and therefore would not be interested in changing my address. I was met with the usual argument that my vote ‘won’t count at home’ because Clinton will assuredly win the state, and when I explained that I will likely vote third-party anyway, the girl explained that she is a Clinton supporter and encouraged me to vote Clinton in Pennsylvania.
Wharton junior Samantha Shea, who identifies as a moderate Republican living in a red county within blue New Jersey, had a similar experience last week. She recalled a registration volunteer unsuccessfully trying to persuade her to change her address, and that when she explained to the volunteer that she “care[s] about [her] local and state politics,” she was told that her reasoning was stupid and that her vote will not count in New Jersey.
Some volunteers are pushing a misconception that the presidential election is the only thing that matters but this is simply not the case ― your votes do matter at home. This is something we ought to remember when we are tempted (or even pressured by persistent registration volunteers) to change our vote just to have a say in the presidential race.
It is also something to remember if we find ourselves frustrated with this year’s presidential election cycle. We have the two most unpopular candidates in our nation’s history, so if you’re like most Americans, it is likely that you won’t be satisfied with the outcome of that race anyway. As Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stated, “If there was ever a national election. This is it.” The Democratic Party needs to pick up as few as four seats (five, if Trump is elected) in order to regain control of the Senate. If this is something that worries or excites you, it is a compelling reason to vote as a resident of your home state. The same can be said for state, city, and local races.
Despite what the voter registration volunteers want you to believe, your voice does actually matter and you have a chance to vote for someone whose work may directly impact you far more than presidential actions may.