Posted by Patrick McWhortor on July 21, 2015 at 6:50 PM
Where did all the competition go?
Recently, the Rothenberg Gonzales Political Report estimated that out of 435 districts in the U.S. House of Representatives, currently a sum total of 10 look like real toss-ups in 2016.
That wasn’t a typo. It wasn’t supposed to be one hundred. That is TEN. One. Zero.
Every other district is either solid Republican, solid Democratic, or leans one way or the other.
With districts drawn roughly equal in population, that means that in the entire country, with a population of nearly 320 million, possible only 7 million people will get a real choice when electing someone to represent them in Congress.
In case 7 million sounds like a lot to you, let’s be clear: that is 2.3 percent. Fill a small room with 100 American voters, pick two of them, then ask the rest to leave the room, because they do not get a choice. Maybe ask one to be available as an alternate.
The number of Americans who get to participate in a competitive election in the largest democracy in the world is roughly equivalent to a rounding error in the nightly network TV ratings.
Yes, participatory democracy in 2016 is reduced to a rounding error.
By the way, things aren’t much better in Arizona. Out of 90 members of the state legislature, you can expect about 9 of them to have competitive elections next year. That is a hefty 10 percent that face competition. That’s pretty good, compared to Congress, right? But really? That means 90 percent of us in Arizona get no real choice.
What happened to competitive elections? What happened to a lively democracy? What happened to the system that Americans throughout history fought for and died to participate in?
The answer is that political parties, increasingly controlled by a narrow and unrepresentative band of special interests, wrested control of that democracy from the people.
For decades, the two major political parties have been rigging the rules to eliminate competition and protect their base of power. They have created elections that place their partisan interests ahead of the people’s interests. And decades of steady progress on that agenda have led us to the shocking statistic that only 2.3 percent of the American people get to participate in a meaningful democratic decision.
How can a democracy stand in the face of this assault?
As in the case of every movement for democratic reform throughout our history, it requires the people to stand up and take back their rights. The Constitution, beginning with the words “We the People,” implores every generation to renew our commitment to the republic built for us. The Founders speak to us from the past: Benjamin Franklin, asked whether the Constitutional Convention created a monarchy or a republic, answered “A republic, if we can keep it.”
And his equally wise companions could see the future: they issued caution about the perils of letting party and factionalism supersede a common public interest. George Washington considered this issue so important that he included a warning about it in his Farewell Address:
“The common mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
Our movement for election reform in Arizona is inspired by this time-honored wisdom. We heed the advice of our Founders and aim to bring the will of the people back into the system. We challenge the partisan norms that define our politics today. We seek an open, honest and fair system that treats all voters with respect.
We believe that in such a system, we can begin to return life to our democracy. We will begin to see more competition in all elections. That competition will be motivated by the incentive that all candidates will have to listen and speak to ALL voters, not just a shrinking base of supporters in their political parties.
Sure, we cannot promise that election reform in Arizona will turn around the national data reported by Roll Call. And we cannot promise that lively competition will return to every election in Arizona overnight.
But we can promise that the people will put the politicians on notice that this democracy belongs to us.
We believe that real democracy has a fighting chance if the system creates a level playing field, ends subsidies to political parties, and puts the will of the people ahead of the selfish interests of political parties.
And we are going to fight for that chance in 2016.