Uncontested Elections: Another Downside to Redistricting

Good news for democracy: the electoral process has been made so efficient that you don’t even need to vote anymore! In a surprisingly large number of state lawmaker “races” across the country, you can either vote for one candidate or… well, there’s not even a second option, actually.

In Texas, for example, nearly one-third of the 150 Texas House seats will face no challenger in 2014. Now that the filing deadline has passed, that’s a total of 43 state representatives that will hold office until 2016 with essentially no say-so from their constituents. If democracy is about offering citizens a choice on who governs them, this system is not democratic.

Why are unopposed races becoming so common? Look no further than redistricting. If you’re not already familiar with why redistricting (or gerrymandering) is such a problem, try reading “Redistricting: The Easiest Way to Steal an Election.” Here’s the gist, though: after each Census, lawmakers are tasked with redrawing their own district lines to reflect population change. Unfortunately, the politicians generally use the opportunity to draw district borders along partisan lines (taking into account the party affiliation of the residents) to carve out secure seats for themselves and their friends.

As a result, many newly created districts have a disproportionate number of Republican or Democrat voters. Given that one party has given itself an intentional advantage in an area, it should come as little surprise when opposing parties don’t even bother to run a candidate in a race they were designed to lose.

Following redistricting in Illinois at the turn of the decade, elections were practically a joke by 2012. Just over half of the state senators ran uncontested, leaving voters no choice when they went to the polls. While one of the effected state senators, Dan Harmon, assured the media that he was still “campaigning” despite facing no opposition, he admitted, “There are only two ways to run for election – unopposed or scared.” So nice of his party to gerrymander his district to ensure his race was the former.

Illinois wasn’t alone that election cycle – a study by the College of William & Mary found that 40% of state races did not have a candidate from both major parties. Georgia and South Carolina were the worst examples of this phenomenon, with nearly 80% of its respected state legislators on the ballot running unopposed. Unsurprisingly, the college points to earlier redistricting as a primary reason that so many politicians cruised to victory.

Some may wonder why no one opposes these legislators just for democracy’s sake. For starters, campaigns are expensive. People don’t want to dump a bunch of money into a campaign they don’t believe is feasible to win. Additionally, politics is a game about winning. Office-seekers don’t want to intentionally tie themselves to a losing campaign so that they’ll still be considered viable for future opportunities.

In some of these races, third-party candidates or write-ins emerge late to offer some kind of alternative to the de facto winner, but they generally lack the resources to mount an effective opposition or convince voters that they’re serious contenders.

We’ve all seen the polls: Americans are wildly unhappy with their political leaders, yet incumbents manage to win back their seats about 90% of the time. With redistricting, it’s no wonder how this contradiction occurs. In many cases, voters couldn’t even vote out a disappointing candidate if they wanted to.

61 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for the article.

Stanley J.
Stanley J.2 years ago

most of this is republican and it comes from that nut job gingrich who said the following

BTW hitler was a madman who not only killed 6 million Jews abut about 50000 gays partially because because they didnt produce more soldiers for his "endless war"

As for Fox News, here is info on the Koch brothers, and how they connect to the repub spin machine etc eg Fox films in the early 1930s etc BTW hitler also murdered the 24000 blacks in germany - he was primarily a racist protecting the "aryan race". He also killed about 500000 gypsies - they weren't 'white also, Jewish people of course are semites

While most very wealthy people give large amounts of $ to good causes, eg most of Bill Gates fortune has gone to fight AIDs in Africa

Here is some horrifying info on the repub Koch brothers. My wife btw is Jewish and her parents lost relatives in the holocaust, and were terrified of the John Birch society started by the Koch brothers father

Sure the Kochs have tried to cover their butt by eg $100 mil fo the Lincoln center in NYC - adrop in the bucket compared to their $50-60 billion net worth

Another piece of this situation is that the repubs largest solid voting block is the bible belt south of slavery and segregation etc Having lived there about 10 s in the 1990s there are still tens of millions who believe the wrongg swide won the civil war, eg Hatred is passed down father to son at the dinner table (some famous person, forgot the name)

Here is the link Be

Geoff Lye
Geoff Lye2 years ago

http://www.elections.org.nz/voting-system/new-zealands-system-government

and here

http://www.elections.org.nz/voting-system/mmp-voting-system

I suggest you americans start a campgain to change the voting system

Linda Tonner
Linda Tonner2 years ago

@ Elizabeth L. Not only does your form of government sound fair and balanced, but your minimum wage of $13.00 or so is SO fair that your country was the only 'western-style' one that didn't go into recession. Congratulations! If my daughter were not an American citizen, I might consider moving there. (Especially since I'm the only person I know who is always happy when it's hot!)

Gayle J.
Gayle, J.2 years ago

Redistricting is the reason the US House is still full of useless republiCONs who do absolutely nothing and are hell bent on destroying the middle class, not creating jobs and destroying our social safety nets. Most redistricting favors the CONs, since they can't win on their do- nothing agenda without it. Our democracy is long gone.

John chapman
John chapman2 years ago

Our state elections have become a bad joke, & the joke's on us.

Christopher Fidoe
Christopher F.2 years ago

more total corruption

Carl O.
Carl O.2 years ago

Regarding uncontested elections is no choice a choice?

Joe Langer
Joe Langer2 years ago

A Republic is a form of Democracy so long as the representatives are elected by the people. Our system is more democratic than it used to be, but there are clearly forces fighting against that. Fair redistricting, without any party's influence, is a way to move Democracy forward.

Joe Langer
Joe Langer2 years ago

For the purpose of presidential races I favor getting rid of the electoral congress, and going to majority rule. That doesn't work for House of Representative elections. But the districts should never be determined by one party alone. In fact, neither party should have a say in the matter. That's the problem with the party system, one which our Founding Fathers were against, BTW. We need a law that straightens the lines. Their should be no oddly shaped districts. In this day and age, it's really not hard to create a program that draws a line across the state which can be moved until the area to one side of it equals a certain fraction of the state population, and do that again until you have a district for each seat. That way you would have straight line districts without regard to party affiliation.