I live in Virginia. If there was any chance of me forgetting that at any other time of the year, it becomes starkly apparent in election season. I have stopped watching television and answering the phone at night. Apparently, through sheer force of repetition, I am supposed to now believe that Mitt Romney is not the right choice for women and Barack Obama will cost thousand of my neighbors who work in the defense contractor industry their jobs. These are apparently the two issues that my fellow north-Virginians care most about. Setting aside the slight distaste I have at being boiled down to a one issue voter (which I’m not), and setting aside the fact that the politicians have stolen the joy of television from me (which I will never forgive), it is kind of interesting to live in a swing state. Your vote matters. You can’t assume that the person you are talking to agrees with you. There is a kind of energy that is interesting and appeals to that patriotic American in me. This really is democracy in action.
I have not always lived in swing states.
In 1992, I was a freshman at BYU living in Deseret Towers. I grew up in Salt Lake, didn’t move my voter registration to Provo, and planned to return to Salt Lake in November to cast my ballot for Bill Clinton who had absolutely no chance of carrying Utah. I was a minority voter in the reddest state in America (before Tim Russert had officially assigned us colors and we were just Republicans and Democrats.) I don’t remember being too vocal about it, but I did watch the debates with my fellow dorm mates in the basement, and pretty much everyone knew I was a Democrat. On the day of the election, I got back from Salt Lake late, after the election had been called, and found a very artistically rendered drawing of a steaming pile of dog crap stuck to my door. Lovely.
In 1998, I moved to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law, and found myself in the opposite position. I was in the majority politically, but remained friends with the other LDS students, most of whom were Republicans. One of these friends was and still is Matt Evans of bloggernacle fame, who in a classic generous-hearted Matt Evans move, had memorized the pictures of all the students who grew up in the Mormon corridor, or went to school in the Mormon corridor so he could introduce himself. He found me a few days before class started at an outdoor lecture by Nelson Mandela. Matt and his wife officially became my first friends in my new life. One day I was talking to him in the commons area, where he was putting up signs saying “Smile, your mother chose life.” Frankly, I considered that to be about the most innocuous and friendly pro-life sentiment available, and couldn’t imagine much of a response from people. While we were still standing right there talking, a group of students walked by, jeered, and ripped down his sign. He politely asked them why they did that, and the kid who did it sneered and gave the eloquent verbal equivalent of “This is bull****.” Lovely.
So now, as a harassed swing state voter, I’m thinking that it’s actually a pretty sweet position to be in. Once again, I’m reminded that diversity forces a level of politeness on people–one that I prefer. Are you swing state or (shall we coin another phrase?) sedentary state? Have your experiences mirrored mine? Do you like to vote in the place that you live?