[EM] Redistricting Op-Ed from LA Times (fwd)

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Mon Mar 18 12:31:56 PST 2002

The article below points out that with single-party districts elections
have all but been abolished.  Even if we implement Approval or some other
reform for Congressional and state legislative races, the districts may be
so heavily stacked that the extra freedom of choice inherent in such a
reform will make no difference.  Who needs a third party if 60% of the
district already likes one of the two parties just fine?

Here in CA all districts were drawn to protect incumbents, especially
Democrats.  The only real contests in much of CA are the Democratic
primaries (or GOP primaries in select places).  The only contested race was
Gary Condit's primary, and his district was essentially wiped off the map
to punish him for being an embarassment.

All of this makes me wonder if some form of PR isn't more worth pursuing
than Approval....


Here it is:

Why Your Vote Often Means So Little

By ROSS K. BAKER, Ross K. Baker is a political science professor at Rutgers

There was once a region of the country known as the "Solid South," a vast
quadrant that stretched roughly from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, in
which Republican members of Congress were as scarce as polar bears.

The legacy of the Civil War and the residual loathing of Republicans who
were the party of the victorious North produced elections in which the real
contests took place in the primaries, and Democratic incumbents were
reelected with monotonous regularity.

So reliably safe were Democratic seats in Congress that the party's
Southern incumbents amassed the years of seniority that conferred on them
the powerful committee chairmanships. Now incumbency has become so
entrenched in the two major parties and in all quarters of the country that
many voters lack any real say in who represents them. Democratic and
Republican House incumbents alike share a semi- perpetual easement on their
seats that more nearly resembles hereditary entitlement than the
competitive politics we associate with a democracy.

How did this happen? Blame redistricting, the process by which politicians
carve up territory in response to the rise, fall or redistribution of their
population as reported by the census.

And don't expect any changes with the current redistricting, which is
almost complete. By some estimates, fewer than 10% of the 435 House seats
will end up fostering competitive elections.

In each of the 50 states, elected politicians can be trusted to put
themselves first. In census after census, roughly 90% of all House seats
end up so strongly Democratic or Republican that any challenge from the
opposing party is largely futile.

For example, this year in California, a state with 53 House seats, only one-
-the seat now occupied by Rep. Gary Condit, who lost the Democratic primary-
-is deemed competitive. The influential Cook Political Report, which tracks
congressional races, estimates that nationally only 55 House seats are in
play, a number the report says will almost certainly decrease by election

This anemic level of party competition does not stop incumbent House
members from furiously raking in campaign contributions. The combination of
favorable redistricting for those currently holding seats in the House and
their nonstop fund-raising contributes to what has come to be known as "the
incumbent advantage."

That is quite some understatement.

I have nothing against incumbents. Among them are some of the ablest and
most admirable individuals in public life.

But deprived of occasional challenge and competition, even those who walk
in the footsteps of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster can come to view their
jobs as an inalienable birthright.

The hyper-empowerment of incumbents renders the candidates who challenge
them among the most pitiable figures in American politics, unless they are
possessed of unlimited personal wealth or incredible luck.

Even those attributes may be insufficient to dislodge well-entrenched
incumbents whose party claims the lion's share of a district's voters.

This year, because both parties are so evenly divided--Republicans in the
House outnumber Democrats by only 11--the fall elections promise to produce
a stalemate.

Both political parties will pour vast sums of money into the tiny minority
of House races in which there is a real contest, and the 2002 congressional
elections will come to resemble the bloody battle on the Western Front in
World War I, where hundreds of thousands of troops slugged it out in the
trenches with a net gain of territory measured in yards.

Yet the squandering of treasure on these few competitive seats is the least
of the unfortunate results of the redistricting.

The severest toll is taken by the political system itself. In a district
where the incumbent is endowed with a hefty partisan majority, a
substantial number of voters of the other party are effectively

The rotation in office that Andrew Jackson defined as a central element in
a democracy should come about through elections.

That so many of those elections have become mere formalities does us little
credit and promotes a passive and apathetic citizenry.

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