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Does your vote matter? UW panel tackles the question

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During the Q&A section of a political science faculty panel held by the UW department of political science Wednesday night, a member of the audience asked a question many find themselves wondering as election night approaches:

“Does it matter to vote in non-competitive states?”

“Yes, absolutely. For one thing, president is not the only race on the ballot,” Mark Smith,  professor and chair of the political science department, said. “There are other statewide elections. There are initiatives and referenda. Voting is also expressive. It's about you indicating ... what you want to happen; you identifying with social groups or with a political party.”

The panel was the second of a three-part series, “Election 2020: A Turning Point?” hosted by the department. 

Smith’s portion of the panel covered polls and the Electoral College, hammering home the concept of the Electoral College advantage — the circumstances that allow a candidate who loses the popular vote to win the race nonetheless — and the importance of Pennsylvania as the likely tipping-point state in this year’s presidential election.

A “tipping-point state” is the state in the general election that pushes a candidate to victory. In three of the past six elections — 1996, 2012, and 2016 — this was Pennsylvania, and all signs point to this likely being the case again this year. In September, FiveThirtyEight gave Joe Biden a 96% chance of winning the election if he takes Pennsylvania. If President Donald Trump were to win the state, the analysis gave him an 84% chance of getting reelected.

Trump carried the state by 44,292 votes in 2016, but FiveThirtyEight’s forecast currently has Biden up by seven points in the state. 

Smith did end his speaking portion with a caveat.

“I haven't taken into account a bunch of things,” Smith said. “I'm assuming that people aren't systematically excluded from voting. I'm assuming here, in these calculations, no foreign or domestic manipulation of voting.”

James Long, an associate professor of political science, spoke next on what that interference could potentially look like in the upcoming election. 

“My fears all come with how the count will occur,” Long said. “First of all, you can manipulate the count by computer hacking into state and local administrative systems. We don't have a single  national election; we have 50 state elections that occur across more than 1,000 jurisdictions. And what we know is in 2016, foreign elements were able to infiltrate.“

Long ended his segment on an important note.

“Donald Trump will have the instinct and and the ability to make this as confusing and uncertain as possible,” Long said. “But that doesn't mean that the fundamentals of the election aren't solid. Your vote will matter if you vote, and so the best advice I can give … is that everybody should turn out and vote.”

The final panel in the series will take place Oct. 26 and will cover the impact of the 2020 election on our democracy.

Reach reporter Patric Haerle at Twitter: @patrichaerle

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