Sunday, October 23, 2005

The limits of redistricting reform

Redistricting can only do so much to increase competitiveness in elections:
In any case, engineering districts for the benefit of incumbents or political parties seems easier to accomplish than creating more competition. Despite all the work on a new Arizona map done by the independent commission, nearly half of the State Senate seats weren't even contested in last year's election, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy, which promotes competitive elections. In Iowa, where an independent commission serves in an advisory role and is often cited as a reform model, the group found that Congressional incumbents have still won 98 percent of their re-election bids since 1982. In the end, the process had changed but the results were much the same.
A top priority of [California] Proposition 77 is to keep cities and counties whole. That would make it very difficult to create many competitive districts because Californians - and most Americans, for that matter - don't live in politically integrated communities. "It's not going to lead to a massive transformation, with 50 percent of the seats being competitive, because the state isn't laid out that way," Cain said of the measure. The institute's computer modeling shows, so far, that at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 Congressional districts could have competitive races.
To achieve districts with a political-party balance in California would require, in some instances, extending lines from the Pacific Ocean to the Nevada border - contortions that conflict with the goal of compactness.
I believe term limits would produce a lot more competitiveness than redistricting reform. In a district where one party dominates, the primary election becomes the de facto general election. More likely than not, a primary election for a national or statewide office will be competitive unless, of course, there's an incumbent running. (See here, Table 2 on page 28.) Moreover, even in districts where the two parties are evenly matched, the incumbent usually has the advantage.


Blogger Mike said...

Instead of term limits as are usually discussed, what do you think of disallowing politicians to serve two consecutive terms in the same legislative body?

That would mean that every race would involve two non-incumbents, and it would reduce the amount of time that politicians spend campaigning while in office. And, it could allow new candidates to conduct longer, less expensive campaigns and would make citizens pay more attention to the political landscape.

10/23/2005 11:23 AM  
Blogger Dave Milovich said...

I worry that if none of our legislators face a reelection campaign, then the decrease in their accountability might not be worth the increase in election competitiveness. With term limits of two terms, almost half of legislators will be worried about getting reelected. The downside of such term limits is that about half of elections will not be competitive. Speculating, this seems like a good compromise to me, but I'm open to data suggesting otherwise.

10/23/2005 5:46 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

If over 90% of incumbents are reelected, do we really think that congressmen are being held accountable now? I'm not sure I'd say that 90% of our elected officials are doing such a bang-up job that they shouldn't be subjected to competitive elections.

I will concede that 2 terms isn't a bad limit if we're thinking in terms of traditional term limits.

10/28/2005 10:02 PM  

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