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January 23, 2001

Editorial

Let the People Vote!

What Century is This Anyway?

Yes, we are talking about the Electoral College once more. In the last issue, we learned that the Electoral College, which produced last fall's bungled presidential election, is little more than an artifact of colonial-era politics. The Constitution, which reflects concerns of those days, achieved unity with a patchwork of compromises among the original thirteen states and their divergent interests. The protection of liberty and property was another concern. The authors of the document feared not only individual tyrants, like King George, but also the potential political power of the unpropertied majority. The American Revolution featured memorable rhetoric about freedom and equality of mankind, but historians have found little evidence that these high-minded ideals reflected the realities of early America. Only a handful of white male property owners were truly free and able to participate in the political process. Most early Americans were either slaves, indentured servants, Indians, women, or working men who had no standing in society or civil rights as we know them.

Can We Trust our Nation's Citizens?

That was then, and this is now. The time has come to trust the American citizens with the right of choosing their national government. We trust voters to elect governors and local executives, so why not the president? The contrived process of pledging state electors to the top candidates within states was an awkward attempt to democratize the system while keeping the Electoral College alive. It preserved the now-archaic image of states as homogeneous and autonomous entities. We are not suggesting the abolition of the states; they have the legitimate function of managing their own affairs. However, modern presidents are responsive to national issues, and should be elected by the national constituency.

Doing What's Right

Now What? The simple and just resolution would require the abolition of the Electoral College, not just tinkering with the selection process of electors once more. The best alternative might be a runoff system that we now use to select most other political officials, and which has worked well for the presidency of the Fifth French Republic. There are potentially two rounds of balloting. If no majority winner emerges after the first round, a runoff election is held between the two leading candidates. This has the advantage of producing a winner with a clear majority. What about third-party candidates? This two-stage process gives a voice to third-party or protest candidates in the first round, while granting their supporters some leverage over the top two vote-getters prior to the final balloting. In this way, candidates such as Ross Perot or Ralph Nader can get their message out without having to play the role of stealth spoilers for the front runners.

Amending the Constitution is a long and painful process. But after the events of November and December 2000, do we really have a choice?


Life Forms by Dan Silver - Revisited

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

On the eve of Mobile, Alabama's 300th Anniversary celebration, a public forum will be held on Tuesday, January 23 at the Mobile Public Library's Bernheim Hall on the subject of the city's founding in 2002 as the first capital of French Louisiana.

Tuesday night's forum, sponsored by the Founders of Old Mobile Society, an organization of descendents of Mobile's founders with members in 27 states, is the second of a three-part series to begin at 7 p.m.

Titled "Old Mobile: Past Present and Future," the second program will feature Dr. Greg Waselkov, Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of South Alabama; Mrs. Garan Grow, President of the Colonial Dames of the XVII Century; Jim Long, of the President St. Stephens Historical Commission; and Ben Midgett, President of Friends of Old Mobile.

The third and final session will be addressed by Ben Harris, Mobile attorney; Greg Spies, Archaeologist; Lee Warner, Director of the Alabama Historical Commission; and Ed Besch, Preservation advocate and military historian.

The general public is invited to attend and questions from the audience will be entertained.

The question of Old Mobile, first capital of French Louisiana, has been a source of continual controversy since the 124-acre site was place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Series archaeological excavation began in 1989, supported by over half a million dollars in public and private funds and resulting in the discovery of over fifty structures and thousands of artifacts. Not yet located, however are Fort Louis and the graveyard wherein are buried at least four members of the famous La Salle expedition of 1682.

The controversy is certain to heat up in the coming months due to the upcoming Tricentennial celebration, during which time many of the family groups of descendants are planning to return to Mobile.

Local sentiment, as well as national sentiment, is apparently strong for the plan of creating an Old Mobile Historical Park, but industries owning the land have not yet agreed to donate any of the property, either to the City, County, or State. The Library of Congress recently recognized the importance of Old Mobile and numerous national publications have written about it.

Elizabeth Mayrose
President
The Founders of Old Mobile Society


Dear Editor,

I am writing in regard to the Christmas Boxes ordered for inmates at Holman Prison and other prisons throughout the State of Alabama.

Until the Christmas of 1999, families of inmates were allowed to purchase the items included in an inmate's Christmas Box. Not only did this assure the inmates of receiving the items that they needed but the quantity and quality would not be in question. The families were allowed to shop the various discount stores and send the best their money could buy at an economical price.

Of course, one of the perks to the families was the ability to purchase these items and feel they were doing something personally for the inmate at Christmas. Being permitted to shop for the inmates is something not allowed at any other time and provided us great pleasure. I realize that giving the families pleasure may seem insignificant but it is a rare commodity and we savor every opportunity thrown our way to participate in their lives.

We were very disappointed when they took this privilege from us and we tried to change the policy. With no luck in changing their new policy we had to accept the decision and try to make the best of it. The DOC (Department of Correction)/prison had chosen a company and we had to order items sight unseen and knowing nothing about the company. The items were priced higher than could be purchased by us and not the quality. The only positive aspect was the fact the inmates would be receiving a Christmas box.

We still tried to change the mind of the DOC and prison officials but they were adamant about having the Christmas boxes come through a company THEY select. Why? You canít help but wonder why they choose companies with such high prices and allow them to make such a profit from the families of the inmates.

They chose another company to furnish boxes for Christmas 2000. The prices were even more exorbitant and the quality of the items was worse than the year before. To make a bad situation worse, the company they selected did not get all of the boxes to the prison before the deadline stipulated by the prison officials. According to prison officials, the prison sent the boxes back to that company, stating they would have to refund our money. We have not received any word from the company and I sincerely doubt we will. Even if we do receive the refund, the fact still remains that the inmates did not receive the items they needed.

The latest memo from the administration at Holman states that the boxes will arrive this week. The company ran out of the necessary items to supply the boxes to all the inmates. So, we are still waiting for Christmas boxes days after New Years. What happened and why were they not received for Christmas? Were they really sent back? Did a company actually run out of the items they proposed on their list as available items for order?

These boxes do not just contain candy, they also provide the necessary toiletry items and clothing that the inmates need daily, especially in winter when it is so cold and no heat inside the prison.

When we see that the boxes are sub-standard and yet the cost is still outrageous, you begin to question why/how this company was chosen and why are we being penalized by having to pay more? Also, many other questions arise and there are no answers. Since there is such a healthy profit made on these boxes, who receive the benefit of this profit?

There are no assurance of the quality of these boxes nor that they will even be received. Why canít we resume purchasing the items for the Christmas boxes as had been done in the previous years. Who profit from the current Christmas box purchases to continue with this policy? The inmates canít be benefiting by receiving fewer items or none at all. The families of the inmates are spending more money but not receiving more items. Should there be an investigation to find out the answers to these questions? There is a problem and the inmates and their families are looking for solutions and answers.

Families of inmates are a specific group of citizens, the population of which is in the many thousands. This group is the only group of citizens in Alabama openly targeted for gouging by State officials. DOC officials say that the higher prices are necessary, but newspaper reports indicate that the State has taken in $90,000.00 on the Christmas boxes this year in commissions, otherwise known as kickbacks. In one breath, prison officials say the kickbacks go into the prison fund, and in another breath prison officials say the higher prices are necessary because they lack sufficient staff to open the boxes for inspection. Still in a third breath, prison officials say some families have smuggled in contraband, to which they translate that all families in the State of Alabama should suffer price gouging. The answers officials give depends on who is asking the question. Again, there is a problem and this special group of citizens seeks solutions.

Sherry Swiney
Alabaster, AL
205-621-7699


Dear citizens of Alabama,

I am writing to request your support of Senator Sanders' bill calling for a three-year moratorium on executions. A growing public awareness of basic flaws in the death penalty process in the US and in Alabama is leading to a call for a moratorium. A moratorium would allow the legislature to review the fairness and impartiality of the death penalty and assure that those charged with a capital offense would have equal access to a just procedure.

Alabama's judicial system is fundamentally flawed:

Alabama has the fastest growing death row population per capita in the United States, exceeding even that of Texas. As the number of death row inmates increases, the possibility for errors resulting in wrongful convictions multiplies and the potential for injustice escalates.

Far too often people are given the death penalty not for committing the worst crimes, but for having the worst legal representation. This problem has been ignored for years. Instead of establishing an independent body to assure that everyone facing a death sentence is adequately represented, all too many legislatures are concentrating on ways to shorten appeals, expand the death penalty and limit access to the group of attorneys best qualified to represent them.

As long as the system is based on bias, prejudice and human error, executions cannot now be justified, even in the name of the victims. Alabama should place a moratorium on all executions until an assessment of the system can be completed and alternatives to unfair sentencing can be found.

For these reasons, I urge you to support the moratorium on executions in the name of justice for the citizens of Alabama.

Sincerely yours,
Gianni Quarta
Rome, Italy
g.quarta@amnesty.it


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