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Jay Paterno: The Consent of the Governed (But Only Those Who Vote)

by on August 30, 2012 6:28 AM

Now that school has begun at Penn State, the student energy invigorates us all. The town’s pulse quickens. Reports are that Monday Night Karaoke at Rotelli has heated up again as talented students returned to sing “Call Me Maybe” and “Sweet Caroline.”

For students celebrating syllabus week, getting set for classes, meeting new friends or reuniting with old friends, add one item to your checklist. Register and make plans to vote, because elections matter. Use your voice no matter where you stand.

This being 2012, a presidential election year, there is a lot of talk about the national polls. In the United States, a country with no national elections, national polls are essentially meaningless. Despite the presidential race being national in scope, the Electoral College system makes it in reality a series of unique state elections.

When it comes to the presidency and Congress the most important elections are for the state offices. The state legislature, along with the governor, set the boundaries for our congressional districts and set the laws governing elections in each state.

Pennsylvania Democrats and college students that turned out in 2008 to vote for Barack Obama did not turn out in the same numbers in 2010, which saw an increased turnout among G.O.P. voters. That will have a noticeable impact on the 2012 election.

In 2010 Republicans understood census year elections matter in a big way. The last time Pennsylvania went to the G.O.P presidential candidate was 1988, yet twelve of Pennsylvania’s nineteen congressional districts are represented by Republicans.

Those districts were drawn in 2001 with Republican Gov. Tom Ridge leading a G.O.P.-controlled state legislature. All those congressional candidates still had to win the elections, but many of them started out with well-designed numerical advantages.

With data that can be broken down by precinct, street and even by house it is easier than ever to design congressional districts that are safe for one party or the other. G.O.P. strategist Karl Rove not only understood the technology but realized its’ value. He envisioned building a long-term Republican majority. There was nothing illegal; it was all well within the rules of the United States Constitution.

Rove understood that the secret to control of Congress is waged by the state governments in all fifty states. Winning state elections in the census years enables the state party apparatus to draw districts. House by house and block by block they design a map to insure they win a majority of their state’s congressional elections.

The 2010 example in Pennsylvania is just such a case. Pennsylvania is losing a congressional seat so the pressure is intensified. Any time you are getting less of a resource, in this case Congressional power, the fight for a more limited resource heightens.

To be fair, it is a two-way street. Both parties do all they can to control redistricting. The desire to grab power is not limited to one party or the other. It just so happens that the G.O.P. in Pennsylvania beat the Democrats to the punch in the last two census cycles.

Winning elections also enables a party to re-shape the rules of the game. In states all over the country, states have created tough new voter eligibility standards with new voter I.D. laws. The elaborate mazes of regulations vary from state to state. Both Presidential campaigns are now competing in multiple elections with different rules in each state.

In Pennsylvania, some were skeptical of the motives behind this sudden new push for voter I.D. One G.O.P. state legislator admitted to me voter fraud was not a problem and it would cost significant state tax dollars for voter education and enforcement of the law.

Any trust between the two parties as it related to the new law was blown up when Republican State House Majority leader Mike Turzai said publicly “Voter I.D. which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — Done!”

Whatever the motive it was an unfortunate choice of words and added to the distrust many have for party politics.

But elections matter. The 2010 election put Gov. Tom Corbett in position to sign the Voter I.D. Law. It put a state legislature in place to draw the map that determines the make-up of our congressional delegation. If you were one of the voters who chose to sit out the “off-year/non-presidential” election you have no one to blame if you’re unhappy.

For the new and returning students, there’s time to register and to get a valid I.D. to vote in November. The rules of the game are the rules imposed by those elected to represent us. You want to change it, take that step and get eligible. Then look to get your friends in the boat too.

Regardless of party, politicians listen to those who vote. They serve only with the consent of the governed, but only seek the consent of the governed who vote.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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