First and foremost, your vote matters WHEREVER you are. Even if you are not in a swing state, there are other crucial races on the ballot this November. Real change in America often comes from our state and local officials rather than the President; these are the people that decide how our police officers are trained and which municipal projects get funded. We don’t vote on every bill or law that gets passed, so it is imperative that we vote for candidates at all levels of government that we believe will vote with our best interests at heart. That being said, the value of your vote at the federal level varies depending on your residence for two main reasons: gerrymandering and electoral-college driven inequality. Learn more below!
Gerrymandering is the process of using electoral district lines to influence the outcome of an election. The most common goals of gerrymandering are to secure an advantage for one political party, suppress the power of different racial groups, or protect incumbents from competition. Although racial gerrymandering has been deemed unconstitutional, partisan gerrymandering has not been prohibited by the supreme court on the grounds that it raises nonjusticiable political questions and there is so reasonable standard for fairness that is enforceable by the court.
Gerrymandering is possible because in most states, partisan state legislators are in charge of drawing districts for both federal and state level races. This manipulation is accomplished by “cracking” and “packing” voters. Cracking refers to when a district boundary splits a population center into two to dilute its power and packing is when many voters of the same party or racial group are packed together into one district won in a landslide, resulting in many surplus votes that are wasted.
Gerrymandering is problematic for two main reasons. First, having districts designed to elect a particular party enables the popular vote and political representation to diverge, making electoral outcomes insensitive to swings in public opinion. For instance, in Pennsylvania, after the 2010 redistricting cycle, Democrats received on average over 50% of the vote yet only controlled 5 out of 18 of the congressional seats in the following years. Second, by creating mostly politically safe districts, the only threats to incumbents are from the extreme flank of their party. This incentivizes political antagonism rather than bipartisanship, and has led to unprecedented gridlock in Washington.
The president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens; they’re chosen by “electors” through a process called the Electoral College. Each state gets as many electors as it has members of the House and Senate. Washington, D.C. has three electors, and there are currently 538 electors in all. To win the presidential election, a candidate must win the vote of over half the electors (at least 270). The expected presidential winner is announced during the night of the election in November, however the actual winner is not announced until mid- December when the Electoral College votes. Today, 48 states (all except Maine and Nebraska) have a so-called “winner-take-all” law that awards all of a state’s electors to the presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes inside each separate state. For example, back in 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 1.2% of the total vote in Florida and got all 29 of the state's electors while Clinton got none. He was also able to flip Pennsylvania, a historically democratic state, by only 0.7% of the popular vote.
This is a huge issue during presidential election years; it disincentivizes politicians from putting effort into campaigning in states where their party historically wins the presidential, or historically loses the presidential. For example, in 2012, campaign events were only held in 12 states, where the polling was 3% above or below the national polling average. In fact, two-thirds of campaign events were held in only four states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa. Special interests in swing states go beyond the election as well, swing states typically get special treatments from presidents, including 7% more presidentially-controlled grants, in an effort to garner favor in those states. Effectively, the electoral college makes those who live outside of swing states have virtually meaningless votes, especially if you do not vote with the party that typically wins your state.