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Election Day: Thoughts from a NJ Transplant

Written by: Lindsay Troyer

About a year ago I moved to beautiful Bucks County, Pennsylvania, having been a Jersey-girl all my life, and was super excited to vote in my new community’s elections.

I didn’t get there until the late afternoon/early evening when the sun had already gone down, and as I pulled into the dimly lit parking lot, I noticed crowds of people, loudly talking and waving signs right where you’re supposed to walk in. I pulled into a spot facing the crowd and my stomach dropped as I saw how many people were set up outside. “What the heck is all this? “ I wondered. An argument? A smaller, mildly-mannered riot?

I walked closer, my heart beating fast, worried I was about to walk right into the middle of a political rumble. I darted through the crowd, and although I kept my eyes on the sidewalk I noticed all the full tables and signs on each side, and the loud rhetoric taking place in between them. I moved fast, made zero eye contact, and slipped through the crowd into the front door.

Now truth be told, my polling place is literally at the police station… so I assumed that whatever was happening, I was totally safe. And I feel pretty confident in saying that us Jersey- folk can handle a crowd… Have you ever tried to get green bagels in NJ on St. Patricks day? But this experience shocked me. Outside the polling places in New Jersey, people spoke low, or made small talk about things OTHER THAN the election. And besides the small sign telling voters which way to go, there was no evidence of an election even taking place at the polls. No election signs, no tables, no crowds of people trying to persuade you the last moment you’re walking in. I just kept thinking while I waited my turn that, “this can’t be how things are done here … how is this legal?!”

Well it turns it out, it is! Technically.. It is called “electioneering”, something I’d only heard of by way of the “NO ELECTIONEERING” signs I saw in NJ ! (And also, it’s one of the best songs off OK Computer by Radiohead – but I digress…) But apparently electioneering is quite acceptable on Election Day, depending on where you live. And after some googling, I found that New Jersey imposes far more restrictions than Pennsylvania – which makes sense as to why I’d never experienced even a fraction of what I did voting for the first time in my new town.

In New Jersey, you can’t actively electioneer (set up tables with signs, bumper stickers, buttons, discussion, persuasive arguments, etc. ) within 100 FEET of the polling location. In Pennsylvania, it’s 10. TEN FREAKIN FEET. In NJ, you can’t even talk about the election at all, less it could be interpreted as attempting to sway a voters decision. In Pennsylvania, you have to duck and dodge the swinging of multiple sign holders arms like Mario cart. And say you have a bumper sticker of your chosen candidate on your car in New Jersey? Well if you’re parked within 100 feet for over 20 minutes, the board of elections will have you removed from the premises. It’s not just discouraged in NJ, its illegality is taken seriously, and the board of elections can and will pursue criminal charges if necessary.

So, now you can understand why this New Jersey-native was so surprised the first time at the polls! Besides it being a tad inconvenient, the whole thing just felt wrong!

And once I was done voting and my nervousness had slipped away, I thanked the lovely poll workers (please thank them or bring them snacks) and darted back through the crowd towards my car. I kept thinking about my previous voting experiences in NJ, and how annoying this new experience was going to be now. (I was grumpy.) But mostly, I kept thinking that this can’t possibly work, right? Don’t we all show up to the polls, already decided on who we want to see elected into office? Or if we’re unfamiliar with specific candidates, we’ll vote for the person or people who represent the political party we feel most aligned with. Either way, is there anything that a stranger could say in the 10 seconds before you walk through that door that would make you change your mind? There isn’t much data on whether or not these activities actually work to persuade voters, but that clearly doesn’t stop these folks from trying.

So, on this and all previous Election Days, I woke up proud and excited to exercise my right to vote. And I’m preparing myself for the commotion at the polls. (Ear plugs or screaming toddler should do the trick.) But I’m curious, how have your personal experiences been voting, and how does that affect your decision whether to vote, or not vote today? Do you agree with the practice of electioneering, or do you think we need more restrictions? And does it actually make a difference?

While you think about this, and consider these merits or missteps of state-by-state electioneering, I will leave you with this… whether or not you’ve grown tired of the vitriol and divisiveness of our political system, (like me) or you feel like maybe you shouldn’t bother paying any attention anymore because what I think doesn’t really matter… (Like me!) Still get out there and vote. It’s our collective voice that will bring change, and what we do now, right now, is going to directly affect our future. So I promise, I’ll go if you go, ok? Ok.

And maybe check out “Electioneering” by Radiohead on the way. You’ll be in good company, because I’m going to be blasting it. GO OUT AND VOTE!

Electioneering (Lyrics)

I will stop

I will stop at nothing

Say the right things

When electioneering

I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards, you go backwards

And somewhere we will meet

When I go forwards, you go backwards

And somewhere we will meet

Ha, ha, ha

Riot shields

Voodoo economics

It’s life, it’s life

It’s just business

Cattle prods and the I.M.F.

I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards, you go backwards

And somewhere we will meet

When I go forwards, you go backwards

And somewhere we will meet

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