The Alabama Election
Much has been said about the special election for a Senator in Alabama that rose due Jeff Session being appointed Attorney General, which has now been won by Democrat Doug Jones. Many say it was because Roy Moore was a poor candidate, yet if you look at the voting figures, people still voted for him despite all the sexual misconduct allegations. My question is, if a poor candidate and one tarred with scandal and being a judge being suspended from the bench then how can people still vote for him?
It appears that more people that may not have voted previously came out and voted because Alabama is one of the true red states, so maybe the GOP need to rethink what their voters want to hear. Are they are all far right, as the party direction is headed, or can it be halted before it gets too far?
This is mostly a problem in states that swing heavily right or left. But, since we are talking about Moore and Alabama, I will stick with that. On the right, there is a very large group of people who believe the myth that America was founded as a "Christian Nation", and believe that lefties, atheists, secularists, and minority religions have moved America away from God. Their extremist views will have them voting for the most morally and ethically challenged people if they believe that candidate is a Crusader and Christian Soldier, who will fight the Establishment and "return" America to God.
These people are the kind who will fight tooth and nail to have a monument to the 10 Commandments outside a courthouse but would lose their mind if there was a monument to the Tenets of Solon. While you will rarely hear them saying it outright, they believe that freedom of religion means freedom for them to impose their beliefs on others.
That said, the left has their own zealots and extremists who want to remake America in their own image. They will also vote for the vilest and most corrupt individuals if the candidates are perceived as effective champions of their orthodoxy. These are people who agree the old Soviet Union's constitution is how America should work, until they realize what you are talking about and that you just got them to admit being a Communist.
The brilliance of the American system is that extremists can never really hold power, at least not for very long. So, when people talk about getting rid of the Electorial Colege, I cringe. It is one of the fundamental systems put in place to ensure that no one group can take complete power. Ultimately, while the whole Alabama election was a bit scary, in the long term, it wouldn't have had much impact either way. The pendulum will always swing.
I think the Alabama elections have shown the world how different states really are in the USA. I've always been one to believe that one should vote for the best person possible, and I guess that's why many abstained in the last general election as they couldn't see a candidate worthy of voting for.
As for Moore, the fact he was suspended without the allegations of misconduct already signaled someone who didn't respect the law or the process of government. While you are talking of the Electoral College, I think if the EC was run how it was originally intended and without the imposition of pledged votes then it could work more effectively. Being threatened with fines or imprisonment for not voting for the popular vote is not ideal. In fact that is why the EC was created, so that if the popular vote was tainted in some way through bribery then the elected voter could rectify matters. The current system is flawed because it should be the same rules for each state to be fair, and each state has different rules.
There are a lot of things I wish ran like originally intended. Did you know there was a time when Senators were elected by their state's legislature? So, the House of Representatives was a direct vote from a district and the Senate was much more a representative of the state government. Personally, I think this creates a better situation. A Congressperson would represent the interests of their district, while the Senators would more represent the broader interests of the state. As it stands now, electing a Senator by popular vote empowers large metropolitan areas to run roughshod over the rest of the state.
Having Senators elected by the legislature could also potentially solve another problem, the lack of participation in "off-year" elections. As it stands now, the greatest voter turnout occurs every two years. Of course, the highest turn out is with the Presidential elections. And then the second highest turnout is two years later when elections are held for all Representatives and many Senators. But, state and local elections tend to have a far greater impact on a person's day to day life. Yet, few really pay attention to these elections except diehard partisans and political junkies, like myself. Also, turnout in more metropolitan areas tends to rely heavily on each party's turnout machine. The local bosses are told how many votes they are expected to produce, and they are given a list of their voters, their voting history, and tools to provide incentives for turnout. Not that any of that would change, but if Senators were elected by states legislators, those state races would get much more attention.
On the Electoral College, for the most part, states have the right to divide up their votes any way they choose. That has a lot to do with state sovereignty. That said, I dislike that most have a "winner takes all" system. It makes it easier for a candidate to reach the number of votes needed and does establish a clear winner, but it also disenfranchises many voters. California tends to be the best example of this, but the issue exists in Republican-dominated states as well. In California, Republican turnout is generally considered depressed because it is a foregone conclusion that the Democrat candidate will win the state. However, if Electoral votes were divided up that same as Congress, we would see a much more representative result. So, that would be 2 votes to the winner of the state's popular vote and the rest divided up by individual district. Not to pick on Cali, but they have so many electoral votes that they can potentially change the outcome of an election. And, Southern California should not have the power to elect a President. The American system was designed to intentionally defuse and limit the power of the majority. The closer we get to becoming a direct democracy, the more at risk we are of losing fundamental rights. If the majority had its way, America would have never abolished slavery; we would have never passed civil rights, and LGBTQ rights would not even be a thing.
And while we are on the subject of California and the Electoral College, there are those in Cali and other states who want to create a voting block, essentially guaranteeing that their Electorial vote will go to the winner of the nationwide popular vote regardless of how their state votes. If they really want to do this, I don't believe anyone could stop them. It is fundamentally a state's right issue. But, they really need to think long and hard about doing something like that. The 2000 and 2016 elections were atypical. They could very quickly be faced with a Republican winning the nationwide popular vote and a Democrat winning the state, and then having their electors voting against the will of their own people.
Sorry to ramble on, but that brings me to another issue... Hillary and the popular vote. Every single talking-head and political commentator who is out there spouting off that Hillary was the real winner are not only being disingenuous, they are being intentionally divisive, inflammatory, and inciteful. These are all smart, well-educated people. They all know how our system works, and why. The goal of a presidential election is not to win the nationwide popular vote, it is to win the popular vote of each individual state. If our elections were based on the nationwide popular vote, a candidate could literally spend all their time campaigning in New York and Los Angeles and screw the rest of the country. Moreover, the idea that if presidential elections were based on the nationwide popular vote, rather than the Electoral College, that Hillary would have won is pure speculation. Presidential campaigns are not designed to win the nationwide popular vote; they are designed to win individual states. If the system had been different, we would have seen very different strategies. Trump would not have spent a lot of time in places like Wisconson, Ohio, or many of the others. It is wishful thinking to believe that Hillary would have won if the system was different.
And, I think this brings us to your "Alabama elections have shown the world how different states really are in the USA" statement. I can see how people in other countries can be confused. I can't remember exactly where I heard this, but up until the American Civil War, the U.S. was talked about as these United States of America. After the Civil War, the language changed to the United States of America. Many people think the war was fought over slavery. It was not. Slavery was only the catalyst. The war was fought over the freedom and sovereignty of the states. Consequently, the Federal government ended up having far more power after the war than before. When the country was founded, people saw themselves as a Pennsylvanian, Virginian, or aligned to whatever state they resided first and an American second. Over the last 150 or so years, that has changed a good bit. Nevertheless, each state tends to be very unique and still very much independent, with their own laws, economy, and culture. E pluribus unum... one from many. I won't go into the whole idea of the multiplicity of the One, but suffice to say the independence and sovereignty of the states was intentional. The U.S. economy tends to do so well because it is not one economy, it is 50 individual economies that work in harmony. That is not to say that every state does well. But, there is a balance created as states compete with each other to attract businesses and grow.
All that said, the most glaring differences are when it comes to culture. Think about Europe and the differences between the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and all the others. Plus, the differences between nations on the Mediterranean and those in the north. And then, of course, there are the differences between east and west. Now, in the US, the differences don't seem so stark because we generally share a common language and other characteristics, but traveling to another state can almost feel like going to a completely different country.
Even very small things can be significant. For instance, I know I am talking to a native Pennsylvanian if they refer to the state as PA (Pee-A). People who are not from the state tend not to refer to their state by their postal abbreviation. And, every true Pennsylvanian knows that the Pennsylvania Dutch are not Dutch but are actually of German descent. As a result, when a person sneezes, you are equally as likely to hear "gesundheit" as you are "God bless you". Many Pennsylvanians don't even know the word's origin and think it is just another way to say "God bless you". But, we all do know what scrapple is made of and still eat it. All these things are completely foreign to most people from outside the state.
But, the differences can be much greater, including religious and political differences. Even our interpretation of the U.S. Consitution can be shaped by the state we come from. As an example, Pennsylvania was founded by the Quakers. So, freedom of religion was part of who we are going back to colonial days and you can see it in our laws. One instance that stands out is our marriage laws. Unlike other states, we have two different types of marriage licenses. The most common one allows a couple to get married by certain government officials (like a mayor or district justice) or by an officiant... and the law stipulates that a wedding officiant is authorized based on the specific traditions of the individual religion. There are some states that their marriage laws are written in such a way that it is difficult to have a religious ceremony if you are not Christian. Fortunately, that is not that case in Pennsylvania. However, even in the most extreme cases, we have a catch-all... a second type of marriage license called a "self-uniting license". This is almost unheard of in any other state. When push comes to shove, the self-uniting license allows a couple to have whatever ceremony they want or none at all. The only real condition is that they declare their commitment before witnesses. There are people in other states who would be outraged that the state allows people to get married without a "real" priest or minister officiating the ceremony.
There are cultural differences in all countries such as England where we have the north and south divide, and each county has its own traditions. We too have traditional Conservative areas and Labour ones, but they can swing depending on the candidate. On the whole the USA does have 50 states all with their own way of doing things, and some who like to fight federal laws whenever they can, mainly the southern states. I used to live in MA and studied there and in MI and there is a huge difference in the way of life and attitudes too. I lived close to the VT border and over there (I liked it) it had a different vibe as well. That's why it's hard to talk about the USA as a whole, because people are so very different and some people never even leave their own state I found.
I also feel people get confused with too many elections and in some places they have to pay for an ID card to register. I know my friend's husband had to do it as he never needed it really as he never left MA, and he claimed it wasn't worth it so she paid for it. There were hoops, he had to find his birth certificate (he had to pay for a copy), and then go to Boston to get it all certified, so you can see that some people would be deterred from registering to vote.
The original idea that Senators should be voted through the state legislature was better as it was intended that they could focus on the state issues, and avoid bribery and corruption. However, bribery and corruption can still sneak its way in and that's what the Framers had tried to avoid. I think politics on the whole will always be tainted sadly, and that's why some in Congress will be rethinking whether they will stand for election again. It's far better to leave on your own terms than to lose. Ryan is rumored to be quitting soon, or maybe he knows his time is up and would rather go out when he chooses rather than being pushed?
I hear the Moore is disputing the result now and won't concede and is asking for an investigation into fraud and won't back down until the result have been certified. I'm not sure this helps him personally or the GOP as they look like sore losers. Some Republicans are blaming Moore as a poor candidate, so they knew it would be close and aren't surprised that he lost.