- Once again, Pennsylvania played a critical role in the presidential race, as it did in 2016.
- Pennsylvania’s role in deciding this election is like déjà vu for the state’s residents. My county even had a book written about its role in the 2016 election.
- In a fair and logical election process, no state or person should carry more weight than any other.
- Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer and an economic justice fellow at Community Change.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Over the past few weeks, as political pundits analyzed polls and made their predictions for how this election would shake out, I just kept repeating one plea to the universe: “Please don’t let it come down to Pennsylvania again.”
Four years ago, my state was thrust into the national spotlight when it became one of the key swing states that showed President Donald Trump would achieve a victory by the slimmest of margins. And it wasn’t just the state that got a lot of attention. My county (Luzerne) specifically was singled out, as Trump won in this county by nearly 20 points – a surprising feat, considering it had long been a Democratic stronghold.
Situated in Pennsylvania’s coal region, it is filled with those notorious “white working-class voters” that Trump targeted to form the core of his base. In fact, an entire book was written about my county’s role in that election.
We’ve had to live with the weight of the blame (or the credit, depending on your viewpoint) ever since.
What it’s like to bear the weight of an election
Trump supporters seemed to claim the legacy with pride, wearing it almost like a “Biggest Fan” ribbon. I would occasionally hear one of his local supporters boast that they had helped put him in the White House, as if they were personally responsible.
For those of us who have watched in horror and sadness at the damage Trump inflicted on our country and despaired about our loved ones’ rights and protections being obliterated, there were other emotions.
We felt remorseful, wishing we had done more to encourage voter enthusiasm and participation on behalf of Hillary Clinton or tried harder to help those who had become enamored by Trump during that first campaign to see how destructive his presidency could be.
Throughout the past four years, we’ve also felt like we’ve been deemed “guilty by association” by our fellow state residents’ actions, constantly compelled to clarify that we weren’t among the Pennsylvanians responsible for putting him in the White House.
In 2020, my county was the center of election coverage
Flash forward to this current election cycle. After four divisive and turbulent years with Trump in the White House, I was hopeful that we could soon restore some sense of calm and maturity to the country’s leadership with a new administration.
Although leery of polls after the 2016 experience, I was cautiously optimistic when all forecasts seemed to indicate the odds were good of a strong Democratic showing. I started to grow more nervous, though, as Trump began an obvious campaign to sow seeds of distrust in the voting process – particularly the mail-in voting process – especially when coupled with the major issues happening with the postal service.
In the months and weeks leading up to this election, major news outlets once again arrived in droves in my county, doing live dispatches on a daily basis. At least one news outlet proclaimed that this region “holds the keys to Trump’s fate.”
Both candidates made multiple stops in Pennsylvania – including in my county – in the final days of the campaign. Joe Biden brought Jon Bon Jovi along to perform, while Trump held an event at our local airport the day before the election.
Meanwhile, as the attention on our part of the state increased, I began to feel an increasing sense of dread. I fervently wished for an overwhelming outcome (in Biden’s favor) for many reasons, but partly so that no single state would make the difference and bear that weight.
As we now know, that didn’t happen.
With Pennsylvania pushing Biden over the finish line, my state is once again the election’s deciding factor
For those of us in this state – and in some areas of it in particular – the wounds of that battle four years ago are still raw. We’ve felt the weight of being held responsible for the outcome ever since. I really did not want to repeat that experience. And yet, here we are.
As of yesterday morning, according to Insider and Decision Desk HQ, Pennsylvania indeed became the deciding factor that determined the election’s outcome, giving Joe Biden the boost he needed to push him over the 270 electoral vote threshold required to seal a victory. In Luzerne County, Trump won again, but by less of a margin this time. Biden gained about 5,000 votes compared to 2016 (some mail-in votes are still being counted so exact figures aren’t yet available), and local Democratic leaders consider that a positive step.
That milestone culminates an anxious and stressful week that for Pennsylvania residents has been like reliving 2016 all over again.
For the past several days, almost every election update on every news outlet has mentioned Pennsylvania, with news outlets hanging on every update on the latest vote tallies from Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities.
It’s been a painful sense of déjà vu.
For his part, Trump immediately took legal actions to try and block the Pennsylvania vote-counting process, making me worry that my vote or those of family members could be discounted. (Those suits were dismissed, but it’s likely he will initiate more legal action in a desperate attempt to stem what appears to be an inevitable loss in the state.)
If any state had to be the deciding factor in this election, I was rooting for it to be Georgia. The powerful symbolism of a momentous and shocking flip deciding the election – one I doubt anyone could have predicted – would be karmic justice, in honor of civil rights leader John Lewis, who passed away this summer. It would also be testament to the fierce determination of Stacey Abrams, who deserves a huge amount of the credit for galvanizing voter registration and enthusiasm in her state. Yet it wasn’t Georgia that decided the election, and with Georgia’s vote headed to a recount, we won’t know whether the state will flip for a while.
Looking down the road, I hope for a major push to overhaul the election system, ultimately working towards abolishing the Electoral College, an unfair and outdated system with racist origins that should have been eradicated long ago.
If we truly want to strive towards a position of equality in this country, no American’s vote should matter more than any other. I truly hope this is the last time my state – or any state – holds the fate of the country in its hands.