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US ELECTIONS/ Why Your Vote Won't Matter

May Mon 21, 2012

Famous example of gerrymandering in North Carolina  Famous example of gerrymandering in North Carolina

I do not doubt that there will be significant differences between a second term Obama administration and a first term Romney administration. But, barring some unforeseen event, it seems unlikely that either party will control the White House and both houses of Congress. The Democrats have an outside chance at taking the House. The Republicans have a better chance of taking the Senate, but no chance at getting a 60-vote majority in that body. Consequently, and sad to say, your vote won’t count this November.

The dysfunction in Washington is not only obvious, it is increasingly intractable. And, apart from the relative temperament of either party, the causes of this dysfunction are threefold and neither party seems inclined to do much about them.

The first problem is re-districting. In an article in this morning’s Washington Post, Congressman John Barrow, co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition and a Democrat from Georgia’s 12th district, notes that forty years ago, almost half of all congressional districts were genuinely competitive. In any given election cycle, a significant number of politicians could be hurled out of office by the electorate in the general election. Consequently, these members of Congress needed to find ways to appeal to constituents who did not share their party affiliation, they needed to “win the center,” and the way to do that was to work across the aisle to find compromise solutions to the nation’s problems.

Today, only ten percent of the nation’s congressional districts are considered genuinely competitive and the problem is only getting worse not better. In the other ninety percent, the districts are so carefully drawn along partisan lines that it is well nigh to impossible for someone from the other party to win in the general election. Members of Congress from such districts, therefore, do not need to “win the center,” because the center has been excluded from the equation. Instead – and here is the real difficulty – they need to worry about a primary challenger, someone who could marshal the resources of special interest groups, especially fundraising, to unseat an incumbent. Primary fights are low turnout affairs so it is in the nature of the beast that those most likely to vote are also those most ideologically committed to either the right or the left. Most current members, then, have almost no electoral incentive to compromise but every incentive to make sure they never offend a powerful, ideologically driven group.

This dynamic is not limited to the House – it was what sent Sen. Richard Lugar into early retirement a couple of weeks ago. Lugar was certainly conservative but his primary challenger accused Lugar of – horror of horrors – working too closely with Democrats. “I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” said Richard Mourdock, the man who beat Lugar by twenty points in the Indiana GOP primary. Oh, is that how it is supposed to happen?



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