Election Reforms

A whole slew of election-related "reforms" are going to be kicking in over the next two years. I'm pretty skeptical about whether the changes they will bring will be positive.

The change in primary elections (to a top-two system, regardless of party) has some potential for forcing candidates to the center. It is argued that if all the candidates are competing in one blanket primary, the major contenders will position themselves near the electorate's ideological center. By contrast, it is argued that currently candidates position themselves to appeal to their party's activists (extremists) to win the primary, then are guaranteed election (or defeat) in the general election because of gerrymandering.

On the other hand, however, if their are multiple candidates vying for the center, all splitting the votes of moderates, it is still possible that appealing to party activists will generate enough motivated voters to make it to the final two. We may still face general election contests between two extreme candidates.

The redistricting "reform" is more problematic. Objectively, it could lead to fairer elections and more responsive elected officials. However, because people still tend to settle in "ghettos" and live near people of similar ethnic and economic means, I suspect assembly districts will still tend to be stacked in favor of one party or the other. Many senate seats will turn out the same.

At the state level, the main difference is that now there will be two equally-competitive assembly members ready to contest each senate district (senate districts must be drawn to contain exactly two assembly districts within them). That may lead to more closely contested elections.

At the congressional level, most seats will also still tend to favor one party or the other. They won't be quite as lopsided as currently, but they'll still be lopsided.

Since the current districts were drawn when there was a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, they were drawn to favor that party somewhat more so than they were drawn to favor Republican incumbents. So in redrawing them "fairly," it is probable that several seats will be redrawn in a way more favorable to Republicans. I would anticipate them picking up somewhere between five and twelve seats out of California in the 2012 elections.

That's the real unfairness. The Democrats have basically been unilaterally disarmed in California when it comes to redistricting. Meanwhile, Republican majorities in Texas, Florida and so forth will not be constrained by similar rules. They'll still be able to gerrymander Democrats out of their state legislatures and Congressional delegations without being offset by similar gerrymandering in the biggest and one of the most Democratic states in the Union.

In my opinion, these "reforms" would only be fair if they applied nationwide. Because of our system of federalism, they can not be imposed from above.

Great analysis. I think the

Great analysis.

I think the redistricting commission will be a farce. It already is. The main issue is voter interest and engagement and some more transparency, and I don't see this new structure delivering on the former.

Transparency gets lip service, but given that the whole point is to create a bias to favor Republicans, too much transparency will reveal this fact.

I voted against giving the power to the commission to draw Congressional lines, but the voters didn't agree. We're being duped.