San Diego Union-Tribune
Let voters, not politicians, decide who wins
June 1, 2004
two years, millions of California voters troop dutifully to
the polls to choose their members of Congress and state
legislators. What too many voters don't know, however, is
that the winners of almost all of these elections have
effectively been determined long before any votes are cast.
How could that be? Steven Hill and Rob Richie of the
nonpartisan Center for Voting and Democracy explained in
last Sunday's Insight section just how effectively this
political scam works.
The California Legislature controls how congressional and
legislative districts are drawn in this state following each
decennial federal census. The use of highly sophisticated,
carefully programmed computers grinding through mountains of
demographic and polling data has made it possible to create
lockstep Democratic or Republican districts with virtually
As Hill and Richie noted, it's no exaggeration to say that
incumbent legislators are choosing their voters before those
voters can choose them.
The most recent California redistricting was an
incumbent-protection pact crafted in Sacramento by both
political parties. It all but guaranteed incumbent Democrats
and incumbent Republicans, including those here in San Diego
County, a lock on their re-election for the remainder of
this decade. With Democrats holding the majority of
California's congressional and legislative seats, the
current incumbent protection gerrymander also means
Republicans have next to no chance to regain a majority
until sometime after 2012, at the earliest.
California's most recent congressional and legislative
election results show just how effectively this corrupt
practice disenfranchises voters and precludes political
choice. Of California's 50 congressional races in 2002, for
example, not one challenger of any incumbent received even
40 percent of the district's vote. The crushing odds against
challengers are further compounded by the political parties,
which typically don't bother funding their own challengers
in districts lopsidedly rigged in the incumbents' favor.
Clearly, congressional and legislative elections in which
nearly all incumbents are routinely re-elected by landslide
margins and few if any challengers have a chance make a
travesty of democracy.
California is hardly alone, of course. Most states have
redistricting procedures that are no less prone to political
manipulation by whichever party controls that state's
legislature. Thus, re-election rates for incumbent members
of the U.S. House of Representatives are currently about 98
percent. Only a relative handful of congressional races
nationwide in any given election are considered genuinely
Can this systematic disenfranchisement of voters be fixed?
It can, but not easily. California's ballot initiative and
petition process offers redistricting
reform a way around the Legislature. But first, voters must
understand just how effectively, and cynically, they have
been manipulated and denied real choices in congressional
and legislative elections