New York Times

Other People's Elections
By Gail Collins 
June 16, 2000 

It's hard to feel unloved in the middle of a  big election year. Al Gore wants your vote so badly he'll come to your house and spend the afternoon telling you about the Industrial Revolution -- if you'll only ask. George W. Bush has probably already memorized your kids' ages, and given you a nickname. 

This is all presuming, of course, that you live 
in Pennsylvania or Ohio. 

Have you noticed, people, that some voters are way more equal than others? The presidential candidates are running ads already, trying to win the hearts of Americans in some state other than yours. Campaign committees in Washington are planning to pour millions of dollars into a handful of Congressional races in districts where you don't live. The speaker of the House has already told Republican incumbents to raise money for those candidates or risk being transferred to the Subcommittee on Toxic Waste next fall. Your representative, who was supposed to be devoting his or her time to licking your local-voter boots, has been re-assigned to collect cash for the wooing of people in San Pedro, Calif., or northeast Oklahoma. 

First they gerrymander us into one-party fiefs. Then they tell us they only care about the swing districts. Then they complain about voter apathy. 

There are dozens of Congressional districts in which the election has already been called due to lack of interest. Louisiana may not have a single contested race in its seven-member delegation. "I don't know if people mind or not," said Trey Our so, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic State Committee. 

Given my neighborhood's electoral history, I've resigned myself to having Jerrold Nadler as my Congressman until one of us dies. (In Mr. Nadler's case even that might not work, since the district has been known to keep voting for the incumbent after he has moved on to that great Public Works hearing in the sky.) Still, the local Republicans try. They almost always put a name on the ballot, even if it's just a tourist who happened to wander by the party headquarters while looking for Grant's tomb. 

Local politicians don't actually care much about who gets elected to Congress, a place that provides very little patronage compared with something really important, like, say, the State Senate. 

Still, the rest of us tend to see Congress as a big deal, and we like to be able to pretend we have some say over who goes there. Michael Moore, star of "The Awful Truth" on the Bravo Network, has begun to protest uncontested elections by running ficus plants against shoo-in candidates. "If no human beings will run, we're going for another species," he said,after his ficus was booted out of the New Jersey primaries by the Board of Elections. 

If there was ever a community in need of a maverick potted plant it's Chelsea, Mass., a seaside municipality that is represented by a congressman, state senator and state representatives all of whom are entirely unopposed for re-election. 

Except for the occasional fund-raiser, Massachusetts has already been deposited by both parties in Al Gore's column, and crossed off their list of concerns. Even if the polls start to show that Mr. Gore's hold on the state is looking shaky, the vice president will not come by to shore up his support, because he will be too busy remaining under the bed in a fetal position. 

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is trying to knock the Republican Senate candidate off the ballot so Ted Kennedy will be just one Libertarian shy of automatic re-election. The party executive director, Mark White, said his staff performs this kind of service on its own whenever the opposition looks like an easy target for a legal challenge. So far, nobody has ever called to say he'd rather take his chances with the voters. 

"For the candidates, there are other things they can be doing  with their time than campaigning," Mr. White added.