Democracy requires competitive elections. If you have an election, and there is no competition, it doesn’t really matter whether you vote or not — and so people don’t.
And when people’s votes don’t matter, that means there is little accountability. Elections are the time when our representatives reapply for their jobs. They provide citizens an opportunity to stand in judgment of the way they have been governed. When incumbents run unopposed, there is no way for voters to hold them accountable because they will get reelected no matter what.
Right now in this country, we have a Congress that does not represent the will of the people. We know that from comparing public opinion polls — what people say they want — to what Congress works for. Check it out. There is little connection.
And not much can be done. We can’t vote them out of office because they drew the lines to protect their seats. So we face a perverse situation where politicians pick the voters, not vice versa. Partisan Gerrymandering is a real problem.
In Delaware, we only have one Congressional district, but when it comes to state House and Senate districts, the General Assembly controls the redistricting process, which means incumbents in the majority party draw the lines — and in 2011 the new district map passed on a party line vote.*
So how competitive are elections in Delaware? While I have not yet conducted a full analysis, let’s take 2014 as an example.
While there were 41 House races in 2014, only 22% were competitive (defined as races where the winner gets less than 60%) — and 44% of them had no competition at all! Of the 18 uncontested races, 13 had no Republican opponent, and 6 had no Democratic opponent.
Moreover, out of 10 Senate races, only 30% were competitive, and another 30% had no competition at all. Two races had no Republican opponent, and one had no Democratic opponent.
How accountable is an elected official who runs unopposed? And is it any surprise voter turn-out was only 37% in 2014?
Moreover, how representative is a General Assembly that faces so little competition? When it comes to gender, not very. Only 24.2% of our legislative seats are held by women, and only 3.2% are held by women of color.
I know we can do better, and I believe that independent redistricting reform — by taking the redistricting process out of the hands of majority party incumbents — would help make Delaware elections more competitive. And when elections are more competitive, we will get more new faces in office and more accountability of our elected officials to the people.
What do you think? Do you know of any examples of how our lack of independent redistricting has hindered the democratic process in Delaware? If so, please contact me. I want to hear your story!
*”The criteria for determining district boundaries is in Section 804 of Title 29, Chapter 8 of the Delaware Code. It states that all districts must, as much as possible, meet the following four criteria: Be formed of contiguous territory; Be nearly equal in population; Be bounded by major roads, streams or other natural boundaries; and Not be created so as to unduly favor any person or political party.”
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections