Gerrymandering Effects May be Seen 06/25 13:38
(AP) -- When voters cast ballots for state representatives last fall,
millions of Americans essentially had no choice: In 42 percent of all such
elections, candidates faced no major party opponents.
Political scientists say a major reason for the lack of choices is the way
districts are drawn --- gerrymandered, in some cases, to ensure as many
comfortable seats as possible for the majority party by creating other
districts overwhelmingly packed with voters for the minority party.
"With an increasing number of districts being drawn to deliberately favor
one party over another --- and with fewer voters indicating an interest in
crossover voting --- lots of potential candidates will look at those previous
results and come to a conclusion that it's too difficult to mount an election
campaign in a district where their party is the minority," said John McGlennon,
a longtime professor of government and public policy at the College of William
& Mary in Virginia who has tracked partisan competition in elections.
While the rate of uncontested races dipped slightly from 2014 to 2016, the
percentage of people living in legislative districts without electoral choices
has been generally rising over the past several decades.
About 4,700 state House and Assembly seats were up for election last year.
Of those, 998 Democrats and 963 Republicans won without any opposition from the
other major political party. In districts dominated by one party, election
battles are fought mostly in the primaries; the winner from the majority party
becomes a virtual shoo-in to win the general election.
Some states had a particularly high rate of uncompetitive races:
---In Georgia, just 31 of the 180 state House districts featured both
Republican and Democratic candidates, a nation-high uncontested rate of 83
percent. Republicans hold almost two-thirds of the seats in the Georgia House
---In Massachusetts, just 34 of the 160 state House districts had candidates
from both major parties, an uncontested rate of 79 percent. There, Democrats
hold four-fifths of the House seats.
---About 75 percent of the state House races in Arkansas and South Carolina
lacked either a Democratic or Republican candidate. Under an Arkansas law
passed this year, the names of unopposed candidates won't even have to be
listed on future ballots. Unchallenged candidates will automatically be
declared the winners.
Voting for unopposed candidates "just seems like an extra step in the
process that we could eliminate," said the sponsor of the Arkansas law, Rep.
Charlotte Douglas, who hasn't faced any opposition the past two elections.
She added: "You hate to say that it doesn't count, because any vote counts,
but it's unnecessary."
There are far fewer uncontested U.S. House races. Less than 15 percent of
the 435 districts lacked a Republican or Democratic candidate last year.
But some of the same states were atop that noncompetitive list: Five of
Massachusetts' nine U.S. House districts lacked Republican candidates. Three of
Arkansas' four districts lacked Democratic opponents. And in Georgia, which has
14 U.S. House districts, four Republicans and one Democrat ran unopposed by the
other major party.
There are reasons for unopposed elections aside from gerrymandering. Some
states, particularly in the South, have political cultures that place less
importance on partisan competition. Incumbency also poses a deterrent to
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said the
large number of uncompetitive districts in his home state may be due less to
gerrymandering than to naturally segregated demographics, with
Democratic-inclined black residents living in different areas than
Republican-leaning white voters.
Yet Georgia's Republican-led Legislature has continued to tinker with the
district lines they drew after the 2010 Census in what some Democrats contend
is an attempt to lessen competition.
A 2015 law, which was recently challenged in court , altered the boundaries
of 17 Georgia House districts, including two narrowly won by Republicans the
This year, Georgia Republicans again sought to change the boundaries of
several state House districts, including a couple won by Republicans by
single-digit margins last November. Some of the proposed shifts sought to move
heavily black precincts --- where voters overwhelmingly support Democrats ---
from Republican-held districts into ones occupied by Democrats. Although the
bill passed the House, it died in the Senate.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston has said lawmakers were merely
"trying to put communities of interest together." Democratic House Whip Carolyn
Hugley criticized it as gerrymandering intended to create safer Republican
"Every time our candidates get close to winning in these areas, then they
come in to readjust them. It's the same as moving the goal post further and
further back," Hugley said.
Several Democratic Georgia lawmakers teamed up with Republican state Sen.
Josh McKoon this year to propose a constitutional amendment creating a
bipartisan citizens' redistricting commission. But the measure never made it
beyond a House or Senate committee.
McKoon said Georgia's current redistricting process "is horribly broken" and
believes a commission could draw more logical boundaries.
"When you're drawing the districts with an eye to representing communities
of interest rather than partisan strength, you're going to have more
competitive districts," he said.