No Contest, No Choice
November 3, 1999
Coming soon to a ballot box near you, courtesy of both
Republicans and Democrats: the no-contest, no-choice election. In
fact, as more voters learned in Tuesday's off-year voting, it has
While politicians talk up the virtues of democracy and voter
participation, the hard-nosed reality they pursue is quite the
contrary: The best election is no election, or at least no opponent.
And the best turnout is a low turnout - of opposition voters.
Through two devices, insiders are getting more brazen in pursuit
of those goals:
Gerrymandering to maximize the number of safe, one-party seats.
In Virginia Tuesday, 61% of state legislative races had only one
major-party candidate. Fewer than 10% of the seats were regarded as
remotely competitive. The legislature itself fixed it that way,
drawing district boundaries to group Republicans with Republicans
and Democrats with Democrats and leaving as little as possible to
That happens in nearly every state: The politicians contrive to
give themselves and their colleagues maximum job security while
depriving the voters of meaningful choice.
Nationally, 41% of state legislative seats were uncontested last
year; in Massachusetts, 70% were uncontested. Of the 435 seats in
the U.S. House, scarcely 50 - fewer than one in eight - appear
competitive going into 2000.
Ducking uphill battles to suppress turnout. House GOP campaign
chief Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., talked openly of discouraging
Republicans from challenging popular Democrats for local office
Tuesday. The hope: Democrats would stay home, improving Republicans'
chances in state legislative races. If successful, he plans to copy
the strategy nationally.
Florida Democrats did the same when they faced a tight
gubernatorial race in 1994. Florida Republicans returned the favor
Thus, the voters' right to a meaningful choice is thwarted.
Nonpartisan control of districting could end insider gerrymandering.
Public financing of campaigns could make it impossible for party
bosses to squelch honest challenges. But without public pressure, it
won't happen. Elections will be left to politicians, and they're too
important for that.