Menning: This November, Vote at Home

Local connections should guide where Dartmouth students vote, not national politics.

by Isaiah Menning | 10/20/22 4:00am

Every other fall, in the months leading up to a general election, student political activism at Dartmouth reaches its peak. From tabling by Novack Cafe to pro-voting sidewalk chalk outside Foco to official housing community emails reminding students about local voter registration, election cycles at Dartmouth bring the same message: Students should vote, and they should consider voting in Hanover. 

Most students at Dartmouth are faced with two legal voting choices: They can either vote in their home state, or they can vote in New Hampshire if they are domiciled on this side of the river. That said, most of the campus messaging ignores this genuine binary. The argument is largely as follows: If you are from a deep red or a deep blue state, you should vote in purple New Hampshire to secure your voice in federal elections. True, Dartmouth students may hold major electoral sway: In 2016, Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., beat incumbent U.S. senator Kelly Ayotte by a mere 1,017 votes. The undergraduate population at Dartmouth is more than four times larger than this margin of victory. This year, Hassan is being challenged by Don Bolduc, and if the patterns are at all similar to 2016, Dartmouth students may decide who wins that race — and, by extension, who controls the U.S. Senate. 

Why would any Dartmouth student from a federally non-competitive state forgo voting in New Hampshire? Two years ago, Spencer Allen ’23 argued that prioritizing Hanover voting for the sake of federal elections overemphasizes the importance of a New Hamphsire vote and ignores important down-ballot races. I argue that if given a choice, Dartmouth students have a duty to vote where their expertise and investment is greatest. Students who vote at home can secure long-term national political influence while realizing more particularized policy priorities.

Many Dartmouth students have greater connections to their hometown than to New Hampshire. For the vast majority of undergraduates, we will irregularly live in Hanover over 10 week spurts for less than four years, often returning home in between. Despite our deep affection for Dartmouth, when my peers are asked “Where are you from?” they answer “Arkansas,” “Colorado,” “North Carolina” and, yes, “just outside of Boston” prior to mentioning anything about Hanover. This is telling. Even for students who moved during their childhood, many have lived more continuously in their home state than New Hampshire. For voting, continuous residency is important: Living in a place for extended periods of time makes one more prone to make choices in the long-term interest of the place and the people who live there. 

When students consider whether to vote in New Hampshire or Nebraska (or Massachusetts or Colorado or Oregon), we should honestly ask ourselves which place we are more knowledgeable about and invested in. We should vote in the place of our permanent dwelling, where we would vote even if on an off-term. We should vote where home is. 

Some might argue that using the concept of “home” as a test for where to vote is a quaint idea that might be better suited for 18th-century New England than the modern American republic. However, even if a student seeks to maximize their national sway, they should recognize the immense importance of local- and state-level elections in determining control of Congress for years to come. This was a lesson that, for better or worse, Democrats missed in 2010 while a Republican project called REDMAP secured major districting advantages through investment in state-level politics. The strategy was to fund gubernatorial and state legislature candidates in vulnerable 2010 races. From a political perspective, it was a stunning success. After breaking modern records of state legislative gains and flipping major governorships, Republicans secured control over key institutions involved in redistricting. Because they deemphasized the importance of state and local races, Democrats lost major electoral advantages on the federal level. Dartmouth students of any political persuasion should not make the same mistake in 2022. 

Regardless of where “home” is or what long-term advantages might be gained from focusing on state and local politics, perhaps the federal issues of 2022 are too important to forgo a New Hampshire vote. Let’s consider one of the major issues that might energize Dartmouth students this cycle: the operation of elections themselves. The aftermath of the 2020 presidential election looms large over this next cycle, and who gets elected to state offices could majorly affect the proceedings of the next. The importance of the vice president and the U.S. Senate in the certification of the Electoral College vote was made clear to the nation on Jan. 6, 2021. Thankfully, the constitutional process prevailed. Since then, bipartisan legislation with the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been introduced to clarify the ceremonial role of the vice president in counting the Electoral College’s votes. While the role of the vice president and Senate in opening and counting electoral votes may have broad-based agreement among U.S. senators, the result of the Electoral College itself is determined by state legislatures and governors. While some states have protections, there are no Constitutional provisions that hold state legislatures to appoint electors that reflect the popular vote of the state. The process of running elections and submitting slates of electors is determined by state legislatures and governors, and how each state’s process will proceed in 2024 may be decided in 2022. State-level election operation is one of many issues of public policy over which state-level politics hold relatively large sway –– economic policy, climate adaptation and even immigration are all areas in which citizens voting in local elections can register their preference with direct policy outcomes. 

At first glance, voting in New Hampshire might appear to be a no-brainer for most Dartmouth students. However, the expertise and investment of most students is more robust in their home state, not Hanover. Allowing local connections to guide voting decisions can yield impacts in the future of national-level elections and a higher chance to realize particularized state-level policy. This November, students should vote in races at home.

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