* board officer

Electoral Vote Fosters Neglect of Most States by Candidates

By John B. Anderson
Published February 12th 2006 in The Mercury News
In 1980 I ran for president, initially in the primaries as a Republican and then in the general election as an independent. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, traveling around the country talking with voters of every stripe and color -- from labor unions to business owners, single mothers to local rotaries. I was proud to visit every one of the lower 48 states, including California, on a whirlwind tour of our great country and its people.

Today, candidates for the presidency may feel they crisscross the nation in search of votes, but examining their schedule reveals their travels are quite constrained. A recent study by the organization I chair, FairVote, quantified this shift in presidential politics by focusing on campaign activity in the last five weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign. In 33 states, not one of the major party presidential and vice-presidential candidates visited. That lack of interest in the views of most Americans extended to every decision of the campaigns and their allies, from registering and mobilizing voters to airing TV ads. More money was spent on ads in Florida than 45 other states and the District of Columbia combined during the peak season of the 2004 campaign.

The system is so skewed that Matthew Dowd, a top campaign strategist for President Bush, admitted polling in only 18 states for the two years leading up to the 2004 election. The opinions and concerns of Americans in 32 states simply weren't registered with the president's campaign team. No wonder the Bush administration was slow responding to Hurricane Katrina. It didn't know the way, with not a single campaign visit to Louisiana during the fall of 2004, in contrast to 61 visits to Florida and 48 visits to Ohio.

The Electoral College system also creates unequal patterns of voter turnout that in each election grow more pronounced -- particularly among young voters. In 2004 voting was up from 2000 by almost 10 percent in swing states, but only 2 percent in safe states. When we look at voters under 30, voter turnout was nearly 20 percent lower in spectator states than the 10 tightest battlegrounds. More than half of potential young voters in safe states decided there was no point in voting.

This problem in unequal turnout creates a disturbing trend. Chances are the same states will be neglected in 2008 and this non-voting pattern will be locked in for young voters, as studies of turnout over time show is often the case. It's all too possible we'll never convince most of them to take part in America's democracy.

Imagine if campaigns for state office expected to win by focusing only on a quarter of the counties. Voters would be outraged, and rightly so. Ignoring huge sections of a state is no way to court voters and provides them without any means to hold their elected leaders accountable. It's insulting, and any candidate who tried would rightly be humiliated on Election Day.

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

We need not do so. 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 a national vote for president, under the golden principle of one person, one vote that dictates every election but one in this country. Indeed the House of Representatives in 1969 overwhelmingly supported it, backed by groups as diverse as the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce.

More recently, I've been working with a coalition of individuals and groups about strategies to achieve a national popular election. Stay tuned for publicity about our exciting plans later in February.

I think it's time more Americans got to participate in our presidential elections. Don't you?

JOHN B. ANDERSON was a Republican representative in Congress from Illinois 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. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.