Why should you vote if you don’t live in a swing district? If you live in Boston or San Francisco, it can be hard to find the motivation to get to the polls (or request an absentee ballot) because you know the vote will swing overwhelmingly one way. But no matter the color your district votes, voting is a fundamental civic duty of every American.
Swing districts, sometimes also referred to as purple districts, are those regions throughout the country where elections do not consistently go to one party or the other. The heterogeneous constituent population of these districts often cause split state senate and state house seats. These states are the ones that make national news andt get the most attention when elections come around. Much the same way that presidential candidates spend a large portion of their campaigning time in Michigan, Ohio and Florida, parties and party money flow into the districts where there is a perceptible fight taking place. Thus, districts where a Democratic or Republican candidate has a strong hold can fall out of the public eye. If you live in one of these, it can be difficult to feel that personal motivation to make your voice heard.
Take Massachusetts: this state is overwhelmingly blue, and yet voting could not be more important for Democrats. Republican Charlie Baker, the incumbent governor up for re-election is predicted to win by a large margin. It is still important for Democrats to shrink that margin as much as possible to show that our state’s Democrats’ voices need to be represented in the governor’s office. When the margin of victory is very high, it emboldens the elected official and discourages compromise. Why compromise with your political opponents when your constituents have shown that they support you?
Massachusetts is just one example of how important gubernatorial races can be. North Carolina is another. In a state that often has tight races but usually ends up Republican, it is out of character that Democrat Roy Cooper sits in the governor’s seat today. Cooper won a tight race in 2016 because even people who did not vote in the presidential election showed up to the polls to vote then governor Pat McCrory out. McCrory faced intense backlash after passing House Bill No. 2, the first state bill to prevent transgender people from using the bathroom of their chosen gender identity. Centrist Democrats and Republicans showed up on election day because they saw a politician exploiting the red majority in a way that did not represent their beliefs. So, even though the race was between an incumbent Republican in a red state and a new Democrat — a race that by all indications should bleed red — Cooper was able to narrowly capture the victory thanks to voter turnout.
Ballot questions are also an important part of midterm voting, and these questions often do not fall along party lines. In Massachusetts, Ballot Question 1 asks voters to decide whether the state should create limits on the number of patients a nurse can take care of at any given moment. The debate on this question has become quite contentious, and it will likely be a close call. As a voter, if you have an opinion of this question, it is vital to vote and express that opinion in the polls. In this case, you cannot rely on the other members of your political party to vote for you; like many ballot questions, the vote will not fall along party lines.
Another Massachusetts ballot question, Question 3, concerns the protection of transgender people in public accomodations, namely public bathrooms in venues such as schools. In 2016, the state legislature passed a law protecting the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom a of their chosen gender identity. This ballot question puts the law up to the people, asking whether they would like to repeal or keep it. Though the question is expected to pass in favor of the law, if you believe in the protection of trans rights, it is important that the law passes by a large margin so the debate can be settled, once and for all.
More fundamentally, our vote represents our voice. Once politicians are in office, they represent all of their constituents — not just the people who voted for them. This is where the margins of victory become important. If all of the Republicans in a largely Democratic district actually show up to the polls, the Democrat who is elected will know that they have to cooperate with these Republican constituents, particularly if they want to get reelected. When voter turnout is high, the elected government has a stronger mandate to govern, and is therefore more responsible to its constituents — not just to the select few who decided to vote. Your voice matters, even if you don’t agree with your elected officials!
Request your absentee ballot. Get in the habit of voting. Let your voice be heard.