News

It's "No Contest" once again in legislative elections

The results of over half of state legislative races are a foregone conclusion. That is the finding of FairVote Minnesota's newly releasedNo-Contest Elections 2002.

The inaugural No-Contest Electionsreport, published in November 1999, introduced political competitiveness as a criterion for the redistricting process. The administration of Governor Jesse Ventura took up the cause and set up a measure of competitiveness by which various districting plans could be measured. Today, the public can go to state GIS websites and find assessments of the competitiveness of the various districting plans offered by legislators and the Ventura administration. This kind of accountability to the public over the redistricting process was not even imaginable when FairVote Minnesota's original report came out. Much has changed since then.

According to the new analysis, the court panel that issued the final legislative district map appears to have considered competitiveness as a criterion when drawing the new boundaries. Thats because the number of competitive seats, districts in which no party clearly dominates, has gone up from one-third of the total to 44 percent in the House and 45 percent in the Senate. As a result, the voters will have more control over the outcome of this November's elections.

But the flip side is that over half the seats -- 55 percent in the Senate and 56 percent in the House -- remain "safe" for one party or the other. The original report pointed out several problems with noncompetitive elections.

  • A principle of democracy is that voters should determine the outcome of elections.

  • Officials elected from noncompetitive districts are not structurally accountable to their constituents and can become unresponsive to the interests of the voters.

  • Political power is tied to geography, penalizing competitive areas and the state as a whole.

  • The state becomes Balkanized into political regions where one party has no motivation to consider the interests of areas dominated by the rival party.

  • The real campaign is directed toward swing voters in swing districts, leaving most voters feel like politics is not about issues that affect them.

  • Taken together, these effects of noncompetitive elections reduce voter turnout.

Returning to the 2002 edition are popular features from the inaugural report, including the "Top Ten Untouchables" (a list of legislators most likely to retain their seats), a list of the most vulnerable legislators, and the districts in which the Independence Party would be most likely to affect the results of the election.

The report is available athttp://www.fairvotemn.org/resources/publications/nce2002.pdf.

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