Volume 1, Number
Welcome to the Fair Elections
Digest of the Center for Voting Democracy. In these digests we
provide short clips of current news and opinion regarding politics,
representative democracy, and reform. This edition was written
primarily by Steven Hill (email@example.com), senior analyst and
author of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take
Quote of the Day
"We are in the business of
rigging elections." State Senator Mark McDaniel, North Carolina,
commenting on redistricting
Growth of Women
A new study reveals that the
expansion of women's representation in American legislatures appears
to be losing ground, ten years after the Year of the Woman. The
report "Gender, Redistricting, and Other Aspects of Election 2002"
by Beloit College political scientist Georgia Duerst-Lahti (www.apsanet.net/~elections/duerstlahti.html)
concludes that "the most prominent facet of gender and election 2002
is the fact that when it is over, men will still overwhelmingly
The report finds that when
considering female winners in state legislative races for each
decade, the growth of 1992 washes out, and reveals a troubling
pattern. The rate of growth in the number of female legislators has
decreased, with increases by decade as follows: 1971-81, 564 more
women legislators; 1981-91, 460 more women; and 1991-2001, 298 more
"In other words," says
Duerst-Lahti, "the rate of growth is slowing dramatically, and with
it gains in the pace of growth of sheer number of elected state
legislative women. The gains of 1992 certainly were not sustained."
Moreover, the total number of female candidates for the U.S. House
this cycle was 186, substantially less than the record of 217 set in
1996 (however, a record number of 124 have won their primary
elections, up from 122 in 2000). So women's representation
apparently is starting to plateau while still at a mere 14% of
Compare that to Germany, where in
their recent national elections women won 32 percent of seats in the
Bundestag, their national legislature. The number of female members
has risen in Germany for the seventh time in a row. Sweden also saw
an increase in the number of women elected to its national
legislature, to 44 percent.
Is it because the U.S. is a less
"liberated" or women-positive nation? Hardly. Even Ireland, no
feminist paragon, has more women elected to its national legislature
than we do in the United States. What these other nations have that
we do not is systems of __proportional representation__ (what we
often call full representation in the United States). Women
candidates in the United States are struggling in our 18th-century
"winner take all" political system, which is notorious all over the
world for under-representing the "51 percent minority."
Nancy Pelosi and
One woman who does get elected
year after year is Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Party
House minority whip. The Associated Press reports that Pelosi has
gotten in some hot water with campaign finance experts who say that
she may have illegally raised and distributed tens of thousands of
additional dollars to congressional candidates using a practice that
skirts federal limits. A leading advocate of campaign finance
reform, Pelosi raised and spent the money through two political
action committees, known as leadership PACs. But under federal law,
you only are permitted one bite at the apple -- i.e. PACs under your
control -- not two.
But what is perhaps most
interesting -- and unfortunately most overlooked -- about this
episode is that Pelosi is one of the safest of incumbents who does
not need to spend a dime on reelection next week. Hailing from
liberal San Francisco, Pelosi regularly wins with 80 percent of the
vote because her district is packed during redistricting with so
many Democrats that it is impossible for her to lose. In fact, most
Democratic House incumbents in California paid $20,000 apiece to the
consultant preparing the state's redistricting plan in order to have
"designer districts" drawn in which they could not lose.
So this begs the question -- why
does Congresswoman Pelosi raise all that money? The answer to that
question reveals something important and often overlooked about our
winner- take-all political system. Because most district races are
safe for one political party or the other, party leaders can
strategize over the political map like military generals, figuring
out which will be the close races and where to sprinkle the most
resources. Party leaders disproportionately pour big money into the
handful of close races that will determine which side will win a
majority of House seats. So Democratic leaders like Pelosi and
Republicans like majority leader Tom DeLay dispense money to
colleagues in tight races -- to help their party gain control, yes,
but also to earn recipients' support when their party's caucus votes
for leadership positions.
While both parties regularly
engage in such shenanigans, House Republicans in 1999 raised the bar
and further debased politics by publicly and unapologetically
hinging these fund-raising efforts to the awarding of leadership
positions and committee chairs. The single-seat district terrain of
winner-take-all allows safe-seat politicians to raise money far
beyond their own needs, and then dole it out in such a way as to
create their own political machines. Consequently, donors often are
placing their bets with candidates they know will win, because
winner-take- all districts have been drawn to produce that result.
Donors buy access and influence to legislative leaders, and in some
cases a chance to actually author important legislation.
All of these dynamics are
encouraged by the geographic-based, single-seat district,
winner-take-all nature of our political system. The preponderance of
redistricted safe seats leaves the handful of close races as the
small postage stamp of political real estate where political war is
waged. In a nation so closely divided, whichever side wins more of
these skirmishes for the swing districts will win the big prize --
majority control of the various Legislatures, control over
committees and subcommittees, and control over redistricting in
Will GOP Control Senate
for 2 Months?
While the tragedy of Sen. Paul
Wellstone's tragic death has dominated media discussion about Senate
elections this past week, Jean Carnahan's run to stay in office in
Missouri has more potential to detonate the balance in the Senate.
That race actually is a special election to fill a vacancy; Sen.
Carnahan is an appointed placeholder for her husband, who died in a
plane crash shortly before defeating John Ashcroft in November 2000.
Because it's a special election,
the winner immediately fills the position and does not wait until
late January when all other Senators are sworn in. The Carnahan race
is extremely close, with momentum seesawing with her Republican
challenger Jim Talent. If Talent wins, the Republicans will have 50
seats until January no matter what happens in other Senate races.
And a tie goes to the Republicans, as Vice President Dick Cheney
gets to break the tie.
What's not clear is how much a
Republican Senate might do in its two months of potential control,
given the Senate's peculiar rules such as the filibuster and cloture
that allow the minority party to stall major initiatives. Still, one
can't help reflect on the fragility of our political system. With
the sides so evenly divided, eyeball to eyeball in the foxholes, it
doesn't take much to upend the apple cart.
Runoff Controversy in
That's not all. The battle for
control of the U.S. Senate in the next Congress may not be decided
until December. In Louisiana congressional elections, a runoff is
held if no candidate earns a majority of the November vote. If Sen.
Mary Landrieu (D) earns less than 50% of the vote against three
Republican challengers, a runoff will be held. To find the majority
winner in one day instead of two, Louisiana should extend its
current use of instant runoff voting for overseas absentee ballots
to all voters.
US House No "Mirror of
John Adams once wrote about
Congress that "This representative assembly should be in miniature
an exact portrait of the people at large." Adams' sentiments were
fairly common among the Framers and Founders, as expressed at the
Constitutional Convention by James Wilson when stating that "the
legislature ought to be the most exact transcript of the whole
society, the faithful echo of the voices of the people."
This view of "mirror
representation" was pervasive among Members of Congress in the
19th-century as well. During the 1842 debates over whether Congress
should mandate single-seat districts over winner-take-all, at-large
elections, several Congressmen borrowed Adams' portrait analogy to
support their theories of what Congress should look like.
Rep. John Reynolds of Illinois
thought that the House of Representatives was meant to be a "kind of
facsimile and mirror of the [public]" since it was "the direct
offspring of the people, and nearer the people than any other
assembly of men." [1842 Congressional Globe, pp. 345-346] Sen. Jacob
Miller from New Jersey argued that the House should be "what the
Framers of the Constitution intended it should be, a bright and
honest mirror, reflecting all the lights and shades of the
multifarious interests of this mighty people, as they lie spread out
over this broad land."[p. 790]
So let's hold up the mirror now
to our Congress, and what do we see? While the U.S. population is
over 50 percent female, the U.S. House and Senate are only 14
percent female. The U.S. population is approximately 72 percent
white and 28 percent racial minority, but the U.S. House is only 14
percent minority. The U.S. Senate is only three percent minority,
with not a single Latino or African-American. In the wake of the
controversy over no women being allowed at the club that runs the
Masters golf tournament, one wonders if Tiger Woods will soon be
asked to pressure the U.S Senate to be less exclusive.
The House and Senate are also
disproportionately populated with lawyers, real estate developers
and millionaires. Particularly for young people, there is hardly
anyone sitting in the halls of power who looks, talks, or thinks
like them. Thus, when we hold up the mirror, the image beaming back
is distorted and not particularly flattering.
The appearance of representatives
is what political scientists typically call "descriptive
representation." Descriptive representation is academic jargon for
what some would label a kind of "political correctness," an
apparently radical notion that the People's representatives should
mirror the demographics of the people they seek to represent, at
least within some reasonable parameters.
Like other matters PC,
descriptive representation is not very popular today. But shouldn't
our "representative government" at least come closer to mirroring
our population by race, age, income bracket, and occupation? Our
nation's racial diversity is increasing at a galloping rate. In two
decades our four largest states (Texas, California, Florida and New
York) will likely hold 25 percent of the nation's population and no
longer be majority-white. Can our "winner take all" political system
deliver descriptive representation in such a way that the full range
of our population feels connected to our legislatures? Or is there a
"demographic crash" in the making?
- Steven Hill, Senior Analyst
Ten Races to Watch on
The Center's Rob Richie
compiled this list for a national talk radio program. It highlights
some of the most important elections on Tuesday. Among ballot
measures to track, California and Colorado are voting on whether to
allow people to register on Election Day, while Colorado is also
voting on whether to adopt vote-by-mail for its elections.
1. Florida Governor's race -- Can
Republican Jeb Bush overcome tough economic times in his state, win
a second term and be positioned to help his brother in the
all-important battle for Florida in the 2004 presidential race?
2. Missouri US Senate race -- Can
Democrat Jean Carnahan keep the seat her deceased husband won in
2000 and allow her party to maintain control of the Senate for the
rest of 2002?
3. Minnesota US Senate race --
Can Democrat Walter Mondale win a one-week campaign in the wake of
Paul Wellstone's death? It is one of a several toss-up U.S. Senate
races, including ones in Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire and South
4. Minnesota Governor's race --
Can Independence Party candidate Tim Penny keep the two major
parties from holding all 50 governor's offices for the first time
since the 1980s?
5. Connecticut-5 US House race --
One of four incumbent- on-incumbent US House battles resulting from
redistricting, a win for either Republican Nancy Johnson or Democrat
Jim Maloney could be an early indicator of which party will control
the House in 2003-2004.
6. Louisiana US Senate race --
Can Democrat Mary Landrieu win 50% against three Republican
challengers and avoid a December runoff that just might determine
which party runs the Senate in 2003-2004?
7. Maryland-8 U.S. House race --
Can Republican Connie Morella hold onto a district drawn to be
8. Utah-2 U.S. House race -- Can
Democrat Jim Matheson hold onto a district drawn to be heavily
9. Arizona governor's race --
Running a campaign with full public financing, can Democrat Janet
Napolitano lead a tide of women winning governor's races?
10. Texas Senate race -- Can
Democrat Ron Kirk pull off a major upset and become the only black
or Latino U.S. Senator?
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