In my various social media feeds, now that the nominees are clearly determined, I’m seeing a version of the following statement: “I live in [insert Republican/Democratic leaning state name here], so it won’t matter that I don’t vote because I don’t like either Donald or Hillary.”
This angers me more than anything else I’m seeing about this election.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, 84.3% of those of us who were eligible to vote, registered to vote. Of that number, only 53.6% chose to cast a ballot in that Presidential election. That means that not only did 16% of American citizens not even bother to register, but also 43.4% actively stayed home. Nearly half stayed home!
Now we all know about the Electoral College and how it works, so I hear you when you say “but the popular vote doesn’t matter.” But that’s not exactly true.
However! Electors are designated based on the outcome of the states’ popular votes. Win the state, win the Electors; win the Electors, win the Presidency. (Yes, Nebraska and Maine do it differently, I know…)
In 2012, at the state level, the state with the highest levels of voter turnout (according to the Washington Post, who was citing statistics from Nonprofit Vote) was Minnesota, who saw a turnout of 76.1% of eligible voters. So the state where nearly a quarter of the people stayed home on election day was the best performing. Minnesota’s electors were distributed based on what 39% or more of the registered voters of Minnesota wanted. Minnesota voted for Obama 53% to 45% (according to NBC News). So would those 23.9% of votes that stayed home have mattered to the outcome of the election? O you betcha!
In my home state of Massachusetts, the popular conception is that it is a Democratic stronghold when it comes to Presidential elections. 66.6% of the state turned out to vote in 2012. So one third of those who could vote, did not vote. Obama took Massachusetts 61% to 38%. But throw the 33.4% of people who stayed home into the mix, and you have a possibly very different outcome; if they were Republicans who stayed home because “their vote doesn’t matter in MA,” they cost their candidate 11 Electoral Votes. On an even more local level, in the town where I work, the split was Obama 52% to Romney 46% with 13,204 people voting out of the 14,295 who could vote, according to the US Census. So those 1,091 people who didn’t vote could have swung the town’s vote.
We can play this game with every state in the union and for both parties. The worst turnouts in 2012 were in Arizona (53%), Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Hawaii (44%). The best were in Minnesota (76.1%), Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, and Virginia (66.9%). No state should feel good about its numbers. In both lists, there are “red” and “blue” states that are critical to the Electoral College, and in all cases, the outcome of the last election could have been different if those who didn’t vote actually did cast a ballot!
So if you are saying “I don’t matter, so I won’t vote in the fall,” Please re-think it! You do matter, your choice matters, your vote matters! It may not feel like it does, but we each can add our voices to the collective whole and in that way be heard.
We, as a country, get more divided through apathy. Disagree with each other, support who you like, argue about it, but in the end get out and vote! This 2016 election is going to come down to how many people actually get to the polls to vote. States are making this more and more difficult to do, which is shameful and deserves our immediate attention. But the only way it gets attention, the only way our country gets better, the only way we can shape our future is for all of us to take that one day a year every four years and exercise our one responsibility as citizens.
So boo, cheer, post, tweet, all of that and more, but above all, in November: VOTE!