Presidential elections all but ignore Illinois

By John B. Anderson
Published January 1st 2006 in Chicago Tribune
Some of you might remember that I served Illinois as a Republican in Congress and then in 1980 I ran for president as an independent. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, traveling around the nation speaking with voters of every stripe and color--from labor unions to business owners, single mothers to local Rotaries.

Today candidates for the presidency may feel that they crisscross the nation, but a careful study of their actual schedules reveals a much smaller itinerary. In the last five weeks of the 2004 election, 33 states were left without a visit from any of the major party presidential and vice presidential candidates. Nor did they run television ads for every voter to see; more was spent on ads in Florida alone than in 45 states and the District of Columbia combined.

A recent study by the organization I chair, FairVote, quantified the presidential campaign. In terms of campaign visits by the candidates on the national ticket and dollars spent in television markets for campaign ads, Illinois tied with Texas for dead last with a zero for both measures.

This means that the 12 million people in Illinois were not important enough to warrant any significant effort from presidential candidates and the votes of Illinois were simply written off.

Safe states like Illinois are literally left off the political map as the candidates battled in only a few lucky states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Hampshire.

The system is so skewed that Matthew Dowd, a campaign strategist for President Bush, admitted they only polled in 18 states for the two years leading up to the 2004 presidential election.

The opinions and concerns of Americans in 32 states simply were not considered by the president's campaign team.

What if the upcoming gubernatorial campaign in Illinois occurred in just 10 counties--if the people in the other 92 counties, including most of the biggest, never saw a candidate, received a single piece of campaign literature in the mail or had a knock on the door from a campaign volunteer?

If the campaign worked that way, I think most of us would agree the system was broken and in need of serious improvement.

So why do we elect the president of the United States this way?

A presidential election should leave every voter with a sense of our nationhood--i.e. we are not voting as states each with its own parochial interest but expressing the fact that in electing a president we are speaking with one voice as a nation.

When I was in Congress, I was proud to be joined by Democrats and Republicans alike, including Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, in calling for presidential elections under the golden principle of one-person, one-vote that dictates every election but one in this country. My Illinois colleagues were particularly strong in making this case for a national presidential election. I trust my home state again can lead the way on this vital reform to our republic.


John B. Anderson was a Republican representative in Congress from Rockford from 1961 to 1981. In 1980 he ran for president as an independent and currently chairs the board of FairVote--a non-partisan, non-profit election reform group based in Takoma Park, Md.