Confessions of a Swing State Voter

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?


  1. I’m really down on the whole “federalism” and “U.S. Constitution” things right now. Part of my dissatisfaction stems from having issues with both major candidates (one more than the other, but that’s beside the point), but also because I live in Idaho where my presidential vote is valueless. Why bother casting it? I think I’m done with symbolic votes solely to make me feel better, and until I’m in a situation where my vote matters I may not vote again. I’ll just satisfy my political needs with satirical blog posts.

  2. Even though I’m in California at the moment, I will be voting in my home state of Ohio which, according to the 538 Blog, has around a 45% chance of casting the determining vote in the presidential race. The present election, combined with my residence in a swing state, has thus caused me considerable mental angst. There are things I significantly like and things I significantly dislike about either candidate (and their parties) – it’s a much more ambiguous race than the past few have been for me, and my vote actually counts for something. (Not in anything but the presidential and US Senatorial elections, though. My home county, as red as Utah County, has only one office that a non-Republican is contesting, and the Ohio Senate race is contested between -get this- a Republican and a Libertarian.)

    I have to disagree, though, that “diversity forces a level of politeness on people.” In my opinion, what’s more likely than politeness is a more rigorous sorting of relationships: people are removed from Facebook friend lists, people with whom you disagree are avoided, and all but intimate friendships where there’s a high degree of trust or respect can be hurt.

    I’m just really glad I’m not being bombarded with the political advertising to which Ohio is being subjected…

  3. Casey, perhaps a compelling reason to vote–no matter how valued you perceive your vote to be–is that voting gives you more credibility when it comes to owning your voice politically. I think you’ll certainly have more credibility than if you choose not to cast your vote. Just a thought. May you have a great day.

  4. Central Standard says:

    My condolences having to endure the presidential political commercials. I am not in a swing state. Having to sit through congressional ads is bad enough (we are not electing a senator or governor this round.) I give thanks for the DVR.

    I consider voting as my right to gripe.

    I can explain the logic behind the infield fly rule, but can’t explain the logic of the electoral college.

  5. If I understand the electoral college correctly, it was meant to ensure low population areas were not avoided by politicians running for president. If the vote was a popular vote, politicians would focus mostly where the voters were, the bigger cities. Personally I prefer the vote be of the people, not of the 538 people. But then again, I am a big city person, so attention would be on me and those around me.

  6. But Daniel, don’t you think if the electoral college was abolished and we had popular voting, candidates would spend MORE time in highly “red” or highly “blue” states trying to build a stronger minority in the state since all the minority votes would count? I think both Utah and Massachusetts would get more attention in that scenario.

  7. If I’m not mistaken, the Electoral College was designed to be an expression of the United States being a federal republic: united States. To have a direct popular vote would mean that the nation was electing the president; to respect the union of the /states/, the Electoral College allows for the states themselves to select the president.

  8. Personally, I think electoral votes should probably be divvied up proportionally. Then the Democrats in Texas and the Republicans in California would actually matter, haha.

  9. @Greg – appreciate that perspective, but I feel my being a citizen who lives and shops and listens to the news in the U.S. establishes sufficient credibility for me, and my not voting is a responsible political action in its own right. Others are free to differ :)

    @Daniel: the EC does compel politicians to spend more time in (a narrow subset of ) less populated areas, but aside from whether that’s fair in its own right I’m not sure it was intentional. When the Constitution was drafted the idea that anyone would debase the office by (gasp) campaigning for it would have horrified many of the framers. Though it’s dangerous to ascribe to them a unified voice, they most likely saw the EC as a nominating body that would send the most qualified regional candidates to the House for final approval (the House being the most representative body according the political theory of the day, moreso than states or the people themselves). And it was also a punt to avoid further bickering at the convention, because everybody knew Washington was going to be President until he died anyway. In practice, things obviously turned out differently. So whatever the virtues of the EC it’s helpful to remember that the whole thing is basically a historical accident aided by inertia.

  10. Some can remember when Utah was a swing state.

  11. @Casey, please vote, if nothing else it bugs the majority to think that the other guy got as many votes as he did. Don’t ever let them think they are in total control.

  12. wreddyornot says:

    Yeah, swing or be shot.

  13. “…I’m reminded that diversity forces a level of politeness on people–one that I prefer.” Oh I like this!! It’s much better than my abject frustration with being inundated with calls, fliers, and people knocking on my door. (I live right up the highway from Karen H; I know of which she speaks.)

  14. @haycockm #8–it’s up to states to decide how to allocate their electoral college votes. Most are winner-take-all, but Nebraska and Maine allocate proportionally:

    I’ve never lived in a swing state, and maybe for that reason I’ve always been a lot more interested in local races than the presidential race. It’s easier to feel like my vote matters in these races. Also, the outcomes of those races seem to impact me personally in more immediate ways, especially since I work in state government. (My coworkers and I did a metaphorical little jig when the last governor left office. My work life has been so much better since then, which really says something, considering that as a staff-level scientist at one of the agencies I’m fairly insulated from political wranglings.)

  15. Wait. is that a State that swings both ways? Or is it a state that is into swinging? I’m just confused.

  16. marginalizedmormon says:

    not sure; I don’t think it affects me either way; I am not sure which man will do the most damage: Obama or Romney–

  17. Even if you don’t live in a swing state, there’s bound to be something on the ballot where your vote will make a difference. Those in Idaho, for example, will have a chance to vote for or against some major changes in education.

  18. Monogamous state?

    My vote gets cast in MA this year. While my presidential vote is meaningless except to demonstrate that the state Mitt now loves to cite as being a pile of awesomeness is so largely because it is really blue and not because he governed it, I do get to cast an important vote for Senate. Were that Scott Brown running in any other state. We need more moderate Republican’s like him. Anyway, I second the notion that for those of us in non-swing state’s for president it is beyond important to show up and vote down ballot – for congress and state offices. There are lots of competitive races in the monogamous states. Also, I am a big fan of forcing yourself not to vote straight ticket. Find one other person you can support from the other party. Just looking for someone forces me to pay enough attention to the local races to be informed and is a good reminder that just because people have your preferred letter by their name it doesn’t mean you should vote for them.

  19. Please define for me why a moderate is better than any other candidate of either side? Is it not compromising that got the U.S. where it is now, as well as Europe and the rest of the free world? Socialism loves compromise. Wouldn’t you rather someone was hot or cold on a particular issue? I would guess that the fewer the laws that were passed the better the governance?
    I am pretty much fed up with people getting into office around the world thinking that they need to pass more laws to be effective.

  20. Yes, Larry, it’s all the compromising socialists that ruined everything for everyone everywhere always.

  21. janeannechovy says:

    I live in one of the bluest of blue states, and someone still stole the Obama magnet off my car. Maybe they stole it just to put on their own car. :)

  22. You got it. It was the compromising with Clinton on CRA that allowed legislators to introduce laws that allowed TBTF pigs at the trough to compromise principles and get into the action and eventually cause the collapse of everything in 2008. Bush and the Repubs were just as guilty as the Dems, but it was all about compromising. Of course there are some who would argue it was all Bush, but then there are those who won’t let facts get in the way of their politics.

  23. #14 – Except that Maine and Nebraska don’t split up their vote proportionally at all. All they do is subdivide the electoral vote /by district/, meaning whoever wins a certain US House district gets the electoral vote it represents and whoever wins the state gets the senatorial electoral votes. A truly proportional system would have the electoral votes distributed at least on the basis of proportion of voters. For example, in Texas 40% of the electoral votes would go to the Democrats.

    Perhaps a better idea would be to say that the second place candidate in each state gets /at most/ one third of the electoral votes, and for any percentage lower, they get the corresponding proportion of electoral votes rounded down. This would favor the overall winner of the state while acknowledging the minority party.

    And Larry – because we all know that effectiveness is based on how many laws you veto and oppose.

    And that all those compromisers, like the Founding Fathers that wrote the Constitution, were useless, evil socialists.

  24. 23 black dogs says:

    Oh how I wish I lived in a swing state! I’m managing a local campaign right now and am so enjoying all the mailers and calls (robo calls from Romney at 8:37 pm?!) on the national levels. I know I’m in the minority in this level of interest and excitement every time the phone rings/a mailing comes, but we all have our quirks, no? Someday I’ll live in a swing state…

  25. Expat. I can only vote for president in Illinois. Can’t vote for any lower offices. The online registration system no longer remembers me, so I may have to sit this one out.

  26. “there are those who won’t let facts get in the way of their politics.”

    Couldn’t have written a better response. Durned socialists, socializing too big to fail and other angry right wing buzzwords. Rrrrrr anger!

  27. It is very unfortunate that anyone would “rip down his sign”. Clearly, they do not believe in freedom of speech. That is what dictators like Hitler did. John Stuart Mill, in his famous essay “On Liberty”, said that we show our belief in freedom of speech when we defend the rights of those with whom we totally disagree. Those are the same kind of people who killed Joseph Smith and others with whom they disagree. They do not belong at Harvard College, which is cosidered the “bastion of free speech”.

  28. I love being a swing state voter. Especially when I park my car in the church parking lot close to the side door so the OBAMA-BIDEN sticker is visible. It raises eyebrows among white LDS members. We are a poor ward in income and a neighborhood in transition on the downward slope.

    Our comparitively wealthy Bishop was just released and moved to the outlying suburbs where the wards are republican utah type voters.He will fit right in after telling the sunday school class he leans “right”. I am amazed at the faithful who are voting ROMNEY just because he is LDS. The less affluent in our ward, those who are underemployed, without work, caught in the jaws of poverty, may not vote at all because they are focused on finding work food and work.

    Our state, NEVADA, is deluged with election ads. Not just a lot, but overwhelmed with ads especially from those unidentified groups that have the nastiest ads. Cant wait for the vote in November.

  29. I think I might appreciate the virtues of living in a swing state (yay Virginia!) that you outline here, Karen, if I had also spent time in a solidly blue state. I’ve lived most of my life in solidly red states, and that was pretty miserable as a left-leaning independent. Right now, living in Massachusetts during election season sounds pretty nice.

  30. I think it is important that we not assume how folks will vote. I was leaving the public library one day when a pollster standing there asked me how I was voting. When I told him, he was shocked. “Really?” It turned out that he was a young person from the student ward in town, he knew that my husband had been a bishop, and thus expected that we would vote Republican.

    It will be nice to have this over.

  31. #28 “I am amazed at the faithful who are voting ROMNEY just because he is LDS.” I am equally amazed at the number of blacks who did, and will again, vote for Obama simply because he is black. Bias surpasses race and religion.

  32. J. Stapley says:

    I am just stoked that there are only two weeks or so left. Can’t wait to get this over with.

  33. It’s estimated that JFK had a net gain of 22 electoral votes because he was Catholic – 80% of Americans Catholics voted for him. It’s not surprising that people will join up with a member of their group, especially when that group will be breaking a cultural barrier of sorts.

  34. 23 black dogs says:

    Karim — Massachusetts is being inundated with ads for Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. They’re advertising on the radio, online, sending vicious mailers, with phone calls and canvassers for both sides. It’s not as quiet as the usual presidential election.

  35. Living in a sedentary state (Washington) as far as the presidential election is concerned, so we have not been inundated with those ads like the swing states. However, we have an open governor’s race that is closely contested, and an open congressional district (the congressman resigned to run for governor), and we are being inundated with outside SuperPAC ads and robocalls for governor, attorney general, and congressional district. Those of us in the “motionless” states on the west coast are doubly ignored, because the likely swing state votes will have determined the election hours before our polls close. As Stapley said, who lives in my neck of the woods, I will be glad when it is over. Some of the state office ads have been ridiculously misleading, prompting much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “Citizens United” supreme court decision.

    I will vote, due to the state and local races, but I am considering a third party candidate vote for president as a meaningless but otherwise personally satisfying protest. I am nominally a moderate democrat, but my vote will be all over the ballot this year.

  36. Last Lemming says:

    the Ohio Senate race is contested between -get this- a Republican and a Libertarian.

    I’m missing something. Is Sherrod Brown supposed to be the Republican or the Libertarian?

  37. I’m not in a swing state, but have enough local elections happening that I could fill a large recyle bin with the mailers. But I am a little challenged by Handbook Two’s admonition to vote for the individual “whom [we] believe will act with integrity and sound judgment.” As has been mentioned in the comments, sometimes it feels like you’re throwing your vote away if you vote for a candidate that has no real chance of winning. Are you better off voting for the lesser of two known evils, or vote your conscience and go for the third candidate whose only going to draw a small percentage of voters? Maybe we’re encouraged to do that as there might be an accounting of our actions one day, and at least we’ll be able to say with a clear conscience that we tried to get the best candidate into office. I think the church wants us to vote for individuals and not party platforms.

  38. 36 – Not speaking of the US Senate race, but the Ohio Senate race – state, not federal, level ;)

  39. I am not in a contested state for Pres, so I’m debating between Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — so that the Libertarians or Greens have a better chance of keeping thier place on the ballot. That way there’s a slight chance that my vote for Pres will actually matter.

    I like the idea of following Maine and Nebraska and having electors allocated by congressional district. That would dramaticlaly change campaigns. My state overall would nto be competitive, but some of the congressional districts might be. That might lead candidates who would write off the state as a whole to come and campaign in particular areas.

  40. wonderdog says:

    Actually “before Tim Russert had officially assigned us colors” they used to switch back and forth. But then I guess they didn’t want the Dems given a red color. The association might be too telling for voters.

  41. juliamtaylor says:

    Oregon was maybe going to be a swing state, back when it was assumed that the 20+% LDS would all vote for Romney. I was glad when we got put in the almost surely blue category, and we got taken out of the tons of ads. We also have all vote by mail. The sooner you get your ballot turned in, the sooner you stop getting political mail and calls. Registering non-affiliated also keeps the mailings down.

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