Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Voters without choices

By Bill Kraus

There are 16 state senate elections scheduled this year. Five of them have only one candidate and are already settled. In another 6 races there is an unopposed Democrat and an unopposed Republican. That leaves 5 where it may be worth voting for one of the candidates in the party of your choice in hopes of having that candidate on the ballot in November with a qualifier. Due to artful gerrymandering over the decades only one of these 5 districts is considered competitive enough so either a Republican or Democrat has a chance of winning in November.

There's more action in the Assembly, but not much. All 99 representatives will be elected. Except for the 15 who are elected because they have no opposition in either the August primary or the November general election. Another 45 seats are not really contested in August because there is only one candidate from each party in the field. All 90 of them will be on the November ballot. There are, finally, 39 districts where there are multiple candidates for a place on either the Democratic or Republican fall ballot, maybe both. This number is illusory as well. After the primary if candidates from both parties contend or survive, only one of them will have a realistic chance of winning in 17 of these districts thanks again to decade of gerrymandering deals by both parties.

All of you who thought the redistricting battle was just fun and games among the politicians might want to reassess that conclusion.

There are going to be, at the most, 18 meaningful races for state legislative seats in November out of a possible 115.

Our tendency to live among people we like who like us and whose values and political preferences we largely share is strong enough to assure several candidates of a free ride in or on the way to the finals.

But 84% of them?

That seems a little high. This is pretty serious virtual disenfranchisement.

Various proposals have been made in Wisconsin and enacted elsewhere to make contests out of more elections to the state legislature. All of them have one thing in common. They have moved the power to draw the lines of the districts out of the hands of the people who are trying to be elected to those districts. All of them, to put it bluntly, remove the foxes from the henhouse.

The possibility that the incumbents who are fighting to stay that way will vote for any districting system that they don't have a hand in, that some dispassionate mapmaker is designing to meet whatever criteria the courts have put in place, who doesn't care where the lines are drawn, where the incumbents live, where the voters sentiments lie, where more districts might be more competitive [including theirs] is minimal.

But even these advantage seekers if they were asked to change the system in hopes of reversing gerrymandering where it exists and accepting competitiveness if, as, and when it is still possible might buy into it for the incumbents who will be in office in 2021 or 2022.

If they conclude that they are unlikely to have a dog in that faraway fight, they could safely support the constitutional amendment to take the next redistricting out of the hands of that future legislature. Such a proposal is in the works.

If you think more than 16% of the voters should have a choice when they go into the voting booth in the next decade, you might ask whatever candidate is seeking your vote this year, if he or she will vote for the constitutional amendment if given a chance to do so.

Do it.

Follow Bill Kraus on:

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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