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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Politics of Redistricting

As we explain in our chapter on elections and campaigns, redistricting has a significant impact on elections for the U.S. House and state legislatures. Redistricting in America is a new resource from the Rose Institute providing comprehensive information and news updates on the topic.

At The Washington Post, Professor Toni-Michelle C. Travis of George Mason University explains why redistricting ought to foster competition:

Our democracy is based on the power of the vote. As a society, we set our compass by the preferences of citizens who are actively engaged in selecting the leaders of our state and nation, and one need only look at voter turnout in last year's Virginia elections to see what a difference contested races make.

In 2010, highly contested congressional races generated voter turnout of greater than 43 percent - the same percentage that came out to pick a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general the year before. In contrast, voter turnout fell lowest in the 6th Congressional District, where Rep. Robert Goodlatte had no major-party opposition. In 1998, the last time Virginia held congressional elections without a presidential or U.S. Senate contest to boost turnout, only one-third of Virginia's registered voters cast ballots. That year, only three of the 11 seats featured real competition.

Like it or not, the public doesn't care about one-sided races. Creating districts that ensure incumbent domination leads to greater voter apathy and less-responsive government, while drawing lines to create greater parity between the parties can do the opposite. Competition is not only good for business, commerce and capitalism. It's essential for democracy. And democracy will always be more important than politics as usual.