'I Moved Because Of The Election': Mass. Expats Relish Chance To Vote In Swing States

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Rohan Vahalia grew up in Natick and cast his first vote for president in Massachusetts. He now lives in Austin and voted early for Democrat Joe Biden in Texas, which is more competitive than his home state. (Courtesy of Carla Faustino via Rohan Vahalia)
Rohan Vahalia grew up in Natick and cast his first vote for president in Massachusetts. He now lives in Austin and voted early for Democrat Joe Biden in Texas, which is more competitive than his home state. (Courtesy of Carla Faustino via Rohan Vahalia)

Rohan Vahalia was job hunting in 2016 and, as a data scientist, he had two obvious location choices: Greater Boston, where he grew up, and Silicon Valley, where he worked at the time.

But when Donald Trump won, the progressive Vahalia took a pass on those deep blue tech hubs. He wanted to live, instead, in a place where his vote in 2020 would feel more impactful.

"I moved to Austin because of the 2016 election," he said. "The fact that the vote was pretty close in 2016 in Texas definitely convinced me that moving to Austin would be worth it."

On the eve of Election Day, polls suggest Massachusetts will side with the Democratic presidential candidate for the ninth straight time. It's been decades since the outcome here was in serious doubt.

For voters, it can be hard to escape the feeling that their ballots are part of a foregone conclusion. But some, like Vahalia, have found a way: They've moved.

Texas may seem a curious choice, since it is not a perennial battleground. But Trump's single-digit win showed the state may no longer be the Republican stronghold it once was. In the current campaign, the president leads Democrat Joe Biden there by just a few points, according to recent polls.

At 29, Vahalia sees himself contributing to a demographic shift in Texas that could change the electoral map.

"The place is just getting younger, and [there's] the constant influx of Latinx immigrants to the state," he said. "I mean, the tech cities — Austin and, kind of, Houston — are blowing up, and that's a lot of voters. So, I thought I'd be part of that."

For other voters, like Todd King, leaving Massachusetts means a chance to vote Republican and help keep a state red. King is from Dracut but now runs a trucking company in North Carolina.

"I was a little fed up with the politics and looking for a lower cost of living and a better climate, so we moved here," he said.

North Carolina has traditionally favored Republican presidential candidates, but Barack Obama won the state in 2008, and polls indicate Trump and Biden are in a dead heat.

King, 51, is glad to be voting in a state that, unlike his native Massachusetts, could help propel the president to a second term.

"I wish he would cancel his Twitter account," said King, "but other than the embarrassing tweets he sometimes gets himself into, I think he's done a great job."

In Florida, 68-year-old Dave Bedard is treating his vote like a precious secret; he claims even his wife doesn't know his choice.

Bedard has voted for presidential candidates in both major parties over the years but, living in the Worcester area all his life, he often felt like his vote didn't make much difference.

Then, a couple of years ago, he retired and moved south to a crucial battleground.

"It does feel like your vote matters," he said, "which magnifies the fact that it is an important state for whomever ends up winning it."

The election could hinge on whether Trump can hold on to states he flipped four years ago — places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Nancy Dos Santos, 31, moved from Boston to Philadelphia in September, which didn't leave much time to register at her new address. But she hustled and voted by mail for Biden.

Her ballot in Massachusetts might have simply padded her candidate's lead. In Pennsylvania, it could help tilt 20 electoral votes back to Democrats.

"It does feel better, in some ways, to know that my vote could contribute to a different outcome in the state," Dos Santos said.

Pennsylvania has added another Democratic voter in Swampscott native Griffin Wynne. While it's exciting to vote in a battleground state, the 25-year-old writer isn't in a fighting mood.

Wynne uses they/them pronouns and used to think of Massachusetts as a progressive haven, while taking a dim view of states that supported Trump. But after living in one of those states, "I have such a more nuanced understanding of, 'red states,' " Wynne said.

"The wool has kind of been pulled from my eyes," they continued, "and I don't see blue states as these evolved places where there's no problems for anyone and, so, that's really kind of made me look at red states differently, where I also don't see red states as a monolith."

Wynne badly wants the president to lose. But it turns out leaving Massachusetts isn't all about adding more impact to a vote. Moving also can add to a voter's appreciation of the whole country.

This segment aired on November 2, 2020.


Headshot of Callum Borchers

Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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