Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Hampered by the Electoral College

  The 2012 presidential contest has begun and is in full swing. President Barack Obama is running hard and raising tons of money. The GOP field is formulating and these aspirants are also out shaking the money tree.

  It cost a lot to run for president. These funds will be raised in all 50 states. Sadly, however, the campaign dollars will only be spent in about a dozen states. We in Alabama will not be part of the presidential election process. However, neither will the two largest states, California and New York.

  The antiquated system of electing our president through an electoral college has made most Americans’ votes for president irrelevant. This is sad and egregiously wrong. It is unconscionable that a country that calls itself the greatest democracy in the world does not elect its national president by a direct vote of the people in which the person who gets the most votes is elected president.

  This archaic system should have been shelved a century ago when we began electing our U.S. Senators directly. It is as outdated as not allowing women the right to vote. Under our current system the candidate who receives the most votes in each state gets all that state’s electoral votes. There is a distinct likelihood that a candidate can win the presidency without getting the most votes. It happened as late as 2000. On several occasions in our nation’s history this flawed electoral college system has caused the election of president to be thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives for a final decision on the presidency.

  Most voters now live in states that are predictably predisposed to vote for a certain party’s candidate. We in Alabama, along with our sister southern states of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, are reliably red Republican states. The more liberal and populous states of New York and California are safe blue Democratic states.

  Because of this winner take all electoral college presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise or pay attention to the concerns of voters in states like ours. In 2008 Obama and McCain did not come to Alabama to campaign. Neither of the parties nor any of the campaigns spent any money here in the general election.

  We were not alone. This was the case in most of the states in the Union, unlike our neighbor to the south, Florida, which is the ultimate swing state. In contrast, the central part of the Sunshine State along I-4 around Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando received 28 presidential campaign visits and over $50 million in television advertising.

  Indeed in 2008 the presidential candidates concentrated two thirds of their campaign visits and ad money in the November general election campaign in just six closely divided “battleground” states. In total 99% of all campaign dollars were spent in 16 states.

  The presidential race will be fun to watch from afar. Too bad we will not be a part of it.

  However, we had an Alabama candidate considering the race. Our own Roy Moore was poised to run for President of the United States but he is now eyeing a race for his old job as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore may be headed toward being the next Shorty Price of Alabama politics. He finished a weak fourth in our Republican primary for governor last year. However, this has not deterred his ambition.

  Judge Moore’s once promising political future has fallen on hard times in Alabama. It is a proven fact that in Alabama politics there is a strong friends and neighbors political theory. That means that to win statewide you need to do well in your own neck of the woods. One of the worst things that can be said about you is that you were not able to carry your home county. In last year’s Republican primary, Robert Bentley, Tim James and Bradley Byrne all ran extremely well in their home and surrounding counties. That was not the case with the fourth place finisher Moore. He lost his native Etowah and surrounding counties to Dr. Bentley in the first primary and failed to make the runoff.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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