No Wonder Nobody Votes

As if we didn’t know.

The Washington Post recently ran an article documenting what virtually every sentient American knows: thanks to gerrymandering and residential “sorting,” elections at every level are increasingly uncompetitive–when they are contested at all.

Here’s the lede

Fewer state legislative elections were hotly contested between Democrats and Republicans in 2014 than at any time in the last 40 years, according to a new study that offered more evidence of a historically polarized electorate.

The analysis of election results from last year found less than 5 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state House or state Senate district where the two leading candidates finished within 5 percentage points of each other.

At the same time, the number of races that don’t even draw competition is on the rise. Nearly a third of voters lived in state Senate districts in which only one candidate ran, while more than 40 percent lived in state House districts with only one option. Those numbers are far higher than four decades ago, when less than a quarter of residents lived in one-candidate districts.

The question, of course, is: what do we do about it?

There are no “good guys” here–both parties aggressively seek advantage, and when in a position to call the shots, both can be counted on to draw a map as favorable as computing power can devise.

It’s common–even fashionable–to berate citizens who don’t vote. But let’s be fair: why take time out of your day to visit a polling place if there are no contests?

It won’t solve the whole problem, but the first step to re-engaging voters must be to remove redistricting from the partisan political process. Here in Indiana, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters are devoting themselves to getting that done. (They are holding a forum at the Indiana Historical Society on June 6th, devoted to the issue.)

It’s an uphill battle, but it’s one we all need to join.

19 thoughts on “No Wonder Nobody Votes

  1. This hits the nail on the head. I am going to check out Common Cause and the League of Women Voters today to see if there is anything that I can do to help them.

  2. I understand gerrymandering and understand it needs to be STOPPED! An area, is an area, is an area; the lines need to be drawn and maintained rather than changed more often than diapers on well cared for babies. I vote for the candidatates provided by this ever-changing BS; voting will possibly not improve your “area” but voters in other “areas” can bring about changes in their “areas” which can make a difference city-wide and state-wide. I have never understood how gerrymandering can possibly be a legal action; my neighbor’s home and improvements are better than mine but I’m not allowed to gerrymander it into my “area”. Sounds silly; doesn’t it? But what is the difference in the broader scope of things? Columbus seems to have gerrymandered this country from the Native Americans and Americans later gerrymandered Texas from Mexico. Gerrymandering is the same action without loss of lives; but does bring about loss of quality of life. If I’m making no sense this morning it is because I am overburned, burned out, fed up and tired of all the political nonsense. Maybe that Republican (I didn’t bother getting his name) on Facebook who stated, “Rape results in beautiful babies.” has pushed me over the edge.

  3. Of course the real question is, can democracy work in the post modern era?Can candidates with differing solutions fairly compete for jobs in our governmental institutions?

    It’s related IMO to questions concerning economic markets. Is the advantage of money to buy advertising an overwhelming one?

    Most people that I know, as an example, seem to prefer local one off businesses like restaurants and hardware stores. But it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say there are none left. They’ve been driven off by chain big box retailing.

    In the recent past here we kicked around climate change, advertising, politics and big banks and seem to be stumbling over the problems of our era and changes that need to be made to have a viable future. A common theme is local. Is that nostalgia or insight? Many of us have seen that vision alive and well working in Europe. Having experience both I will have to say that I personally prefer their way.

    As usual the questions are of transition. Can we get from here to there without the things we have first collapsing than rebuilding for the future. Can capitalism and politics adapt to the new reality or are they only capable of evolving in one direction, bigger. If so than chaos is a necessary step towards tomorrow and we are notoriously bad at that. We are addicted to orderly predictable lives because we are dependant on others for almost every aspect of survival. We’ve been overwhelmed by systems and systems require order.

    Beyond there be dragons.

  4. Three items may help but I have little hope of these items being implemented.
    1.) Campaign Finance Reform. Limit campaign donations from human beings only. No more PACs, etc, and a limitation on the amounts, that can be donated to an individual candidate, and in total by one human being. Define Human Being as a Registered Voter. Campaign donations is the entry drug to corruption.

    2.) Use computer programs to map on districts with the goal to improve competitiveness.

    3.) Term Limits at the Local, State, and Federal Level.

  5. I like Louie’s points, but I am against term limits unless gerrymandering makes it impossible to vote poor legislators out of office. I would rather be able to leave good people like Richard Lugar in office than push them out in favor of a poorer choice.

  6. I agree that term limits are anti democratic. I like Louie’s idea of computer driven re-districting based on competitiveness though. Never thought of it before.

  7. Gerrymandering is another way voters are disenfranchised by the elected officials, like voter IDs. Once the party in control smells blood it’s hard to stop them. It will be very hard/impossible to stop gerrymandering now that it has become so firmly entrenched. Those elected officials prove time after time that they’re not worthy of our trust and not capable of controlling their lust for control.

  8. I will add my agreement to Louie’s first two points and say that I remember “term limits” as the battle cry of Republicans.I recall an editorial in the Chicago Tribune by a Republican Congreesswoman who had taken the two-term pledge stating “I was wrong”, as she ran for her third term.

    Here is the wrinkle that needs to be ironed out. Residential “self-sorting” concentrates Democrats and makes it difficult to create a proper mix of districts. As long as we require keeping “communities” undivided, we will have a difficult time getting a large number of competitive districts. Perhaps it would be better to have three or four districts divide up Indianapolis, but also include suburbs and even rural areas. Just a thought, but it is difficult to maintain communities, and dare I add “majority-minority” communities and not lump all of the Democrats into just a few districts. I remember when I was in San Diego and they moved from all at-large to districts, I did a rough calculation that the Latino community was giving up a potential of three or four seats for the guarantee of one seat in the newly crated district. I wish I had a better answer here, but I don’t. Just more food for thought.

  9. I think you’re missing the mark here. First of all, there’s no competition between the Ds and Rs because they’re owned by the same people. Second, there is no procedural fix for bad decision making – if voters don’t own up to both their power and accountability, then God won’t help us. Third, the private clubs self-named, “major parties” have violated both constitutional and statutory law in granting themselves special powers and exemptions by “law.”
    Only Ds and Rs are even allowed to have Precinct Committeemen, for example. Only Ds and Rs can be on various election and vote-counting-related commissions. Only Ds and Rs get the taxpayer-funded advertising we call “Primary Elections.”
    If you’re looking for something to fix, fix that. End the duopoly. End the corruption.
    I’ve spoken out on gerrymandering a lot in the past. But it really isn’t very much of our problem.

  10. I think low turn out in the primary is one of the problems. Voters do not want to identify or be label to either party and have the choice to vote across party lines.

  11. Andy , “there’s no competition between the Ds and Rs because they’re owned by the same people”. Hmmm. Doesn’t seem so to me because they act so differently. They achieve such different results. They are aimed in such different directions. They “serve” such different constituencies.

  12. Gerrymandered or not the U.S. House of Representatives is still an oligarchy.
    We have the highest ratio of citizens per representative on the planet.
    Did you know the subject of first proposed amendment to the constitution was actually congressional reapportionment?
    In the last hundred years the population has tripled and the number of house members has remained constant.
    Gerrymandering is only the symptom, the house is too small, it needs to be increased by a factor of five, at a minimum.

  13. Term limits are pointless.
    Only the faces would change.
    You would still have to choose from the same pool of the politically connected, the financially obligated and the ethically challenged.
    If you think congress does nothing now, wait until they only have 10 or 12 years to amass their boodle instead of 25 or 30.

  14. Also we need to repeal the XVII amendment.
    Time for an Article V convention of the states.
    The effort is being led by Indiana lawmaker David Long.

  15. M TUFFELMEIR; I read your posts with interest and, because the last one contained no specifics, I had to pick up my copy of the Constitution and Amendments. I cringe at the thought of agreeing with David Long but…I have long (no pun intended) believed that being limited to 2 Senators per state is self-defeating due to representation of the differing levels of population of each state. One Democrat and one Republican results in pro/con votes on issues canceling one another out in today’s strict partisan governing system. It is also unfair to expect one Senator to represent a few million constituents when another Senator represents several million constituents. Two Senators cannot get as much accomplished and the constituents are NOT well represented by their elected officials of either party in the Senate.

    Congress is much more interested in who is sleeping with who (or whom), medical decisions made by women regarding their very personal health care and trying a record breaking number of times to repeal or defund the ACA for the entire nation…which includes millions of Republicans losing health care coverage:) Priorities have taken a back seat along with our civil and human rights as Americans; unless and until this changes, we are doomed to continue the current downhill slide – which is not the same as “trickle down” system regarding benefits we will never see.

  16. The house represents the people, the senate was supposed to represent the state governments in our federal system.
    Prior to the enactment of the XVII amendment the state legislatures decided who served in the senate.
    As it stands now senators are nothing more than at large representatives and the state governments no longer have a voice, all the communication with Washington D.C. is one way.
    It wasn’t supposed to be like that.
    Personally,assuming the 17th amendment were repealed, I would favor adding a third senator so any newly convened biennial legislature would immediately have senate representation, it also avoids the deadlocked senate delegation issue.
    It’s also important to remember that any proposed amendment, which might result from an Article V convention, still needs 3/4 of the states to vote in favor of its adoption, the same as if the amendment were passed out of congress.
    I’d like an amendment to eliminate lame duck congressional sessions, establish uniform rules for primary elections (either make them totally open or mandate proof of party affiliation) and some kind of line item veto.
    Our constitutional republic is rotting from within, we’d best start looking for some answers.

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