For a state that considers itself the birthplace of the United States, Pennsylvania’s attitude towards democracy is decidedly blasé. Pennsylvanians just do not like to vote. Or, more precisely, they just do not like to vote in elections where they have a greatest chance of affecting the outcome.
A solitary vote matters incredibly little in presidential elections, both because millions of other people are casting their ballots simultaneously and because the Electoral College ultimately decides the outcome. Yet these are the elections that have the highest voter turnout numbers.
In contrast, state and local elections – which have a much smaller voting base and, arguably, a much larger impact on a citizen’s everyday life – are determined by a small minority of voters.
Consider this: in 2009, only 21 percent of registered Pennsylvanians cast their ballots. The majority of those select few chose Republican candidate Joan Orie Melvin as the next justice of the PA Supreme Court, solidifying a 4-3 Republican majority on the bench.
This year, as in the past, the Supreme Court was called upon to choose the tie-breaking member of the commission that redraws the legislative districts in the state every decade. The resulting map was a patchwork of gerrymandering and political protection submitted on a party-line vote in the Republicans’ favor. By carefully designating which group of voters elects which representative, this map will likely dictate the outcome of Pennsylvania’s elections for years.
So if you’re thinking about skipping the polls this Tuesday, reconsider. Off-year elections are neither trivial nor meaningless. To the contrary, they have far-reaching consequences that will directly affect your life and your community for years to come.