In 2011 the Ohio Republican Party controlled redistricting in Ohio.  For months they met in a secret hotel room they called “the bunker”, redrawing district lines to give Republicans an edge in both votes and in fundraising.

Today the Constitutional Modernization Commission held hearings in the committee tasked with redistricting reform.  

Their guest speaker?   Thomas Brunell, the author of a book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad.

In his testimony, Brunell argued that we should create noncompetitive districts, like those created by the GOP in 2010, because it increases “voter satisfaction” and decreases “voter regret” by  limiting the number of voters who cast a vote for a losing candidate.

Seriously.   Brunell’s argument is: gerrymandering is good because it prevents voters from being sad.

“We don’t need more competition, we need less,” claimed Brunell.  “Competitive elections maximize the number of losing voters and fundamentally hurts the ability of a representative to represent his or her constituents.”

Republican State Rep Matt Huffman appeared to agree with Brunell, noting that Democratic State Rep Vern Sykes, also on the committee, seemed much more “reasonable” than many of his colleagues because he was from a noncompetitive district.   (note: Sykes won his 2012 election with 81.4% of the vote)

State Senator Charleta Tavares disagreed, claiming “Competition is good because it keeps us on our toes.”   Brunell responded, “I agree that competition is important – but in the primary.”

Tavares appropriately rolled her eyes.    “For the record she rolled her eyes,” responded Brunell.

Catherine Turcer attended the hearing, and provided this response on Brunell’s testimony…

There many reasons why competitive districts and competitive elections are good for the electorate including higher voter turnout and a higher sense of external efficacy that comes with participating by voting.  More money is spent in competitive elections, which leads to higher levels of political knowledge among voters.  Voters in competitive elections are more likely to know the candidates and their positions on issues.

Competitive districts are about accountability. If an elected official does not represent the voters well, there is an opportunity for the voters to punish the member in a general election. Brunell might argue that primary elections can serve this purpose too, but primary voter turnout is very low. Those who participate in primaries do not include independents.  These voters are much more ideologically driven and do not represent the general population.

At the end of the day, the question is whether voters want lopsided districts in which we know the winner long before election day, or competitive elections, which will give candidates and elected officials an incentive to listen to the voters. Voters may be disappointed when their candidate loses, but voters want to participate in a real way in choosing who represents them.


“My opinion is not a mainstream opinion”, said Brunell during his testimony.

Well, at least we can agree on that

  • DublinIrishBob

    Wow! Mr. Brunell was talking about the U.S., right? And by his logic, we should just condense the voting process so that fewer people vote in Presidential elections.

  • Think.

    What a thought-provoking guest speaker! (You do not want to read my mind right now.)

  • Retired Mercer

    Bravo, Catherine Turcer, you make much more sense than Brunell,the author.

  • Tom B.

    The write-up doesn’t quite get my testimony correct. I argued clearly against partisan gerrymandering and said explicitly that the current map does not match the kind of map I prefer. BOTH parties should be packed into ideologically homogeneous districts. This would lead to quite a few more Democratic districts in Ohio at the moment.

    Would you rather vote in a district in which your preferred candidate wins or loses?

  • Tom, Thanks for the comments.

    If you’ll send me a copy of your testimony, I’ll be happy to post it here.

    From personal experience, I much prefer living in a district that’s competitive. I spent many years living in New York City where almost every election was decided in the Democratic primary and it made me a much less engaged voter and much less politically active. As a matter of fact, it kind of turned me off to politics all together.

  • Tom B.

    Testimonial Summary

    1) From the Voters’ First initiative, the provision to draw maps that match the underlying partisanship of the state is terrific. This cuts right to the heart of the problem (gerrymandering), though measuring the underlying partisanship is where the rubber is going to meet the road. I think taking a handful of recent statewide elections and averaging the vote
    percentages for the two major parties is not a bad way to go. There would have to be some selection
    criteria however, to deal with the occasional statewide blow-out election.

    2) Ohio uses fairly stringent protections for keeping
    counties and municipalities whole. This does make redistricting more difficult, which can be a good thing. However it is pretty clear that even with these restrictions, maps can be drawn in Ohio that clearly favor one party. I would severely loosen these
    restrictions – perhaps something like “keep counties and cities whole when practicable.” Communities of interest are ideological, not geographical. So
    assuming that voters that reside in the same county want the same things from their state or federal government is wrong. I looked at the 2012 presidential vote by county in Ohio and while there
    were a handful of counties that broke around 70-30 for one candidate or the other, most counties were won pretty narrowly. Partisan fairness is far more important than keeping counties or cities whole.

    3) I like the smaller commission proposed in SJR- 1, rather than the larger one from the Voters First Initiative. Redistricting is political and I would much
    rather have partisans draw the maps so we know who to credit/blame. I totally understand the desire to make the process “non-partisan” or have “neutral commissioners” but regardless of what
    map gets adopted, there will be winners and losers. When you lose at the hands of “neutral,
    non-partisans” it doesn’t feel any better, in fact it usually turns out worse, because there will always be the uncertainty about whether or not the
    commission was dominated by partisanship.
    Put differently, I’d rather see the wolf eat the sheep than wonder if there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing behind it.

    4) I would recommend lowering the allowable level of
    population deviations for state legislative districts to either zero, or as close to zero as the commission feels comfortable with (+/- 1 or 2 percent?). Population deviations do facilitate keeping more cities and counties whole at least theoretically, but the problem is deviations are often used for partisan purposes. The controlling party will underpopulate districts that favor their candidates, which means the districts for the
    opposition will tend to be overpopulated.

    5) I would recommend against adopting any provision encouraging more competitive districts.

    Virtually everyone thinks that when it comes to elections, we absolutely need more competition.
    Voters, elected officials, media pundits all agree. I disagree at least in part. Its natural for us to want more competition – we are Americans and the free market is a great thing. However, the marketplace analogy does not apply to electoral politics. We rarely
    reflect on the potential downsides to electoral competition. It turns out that the costs associated with using redistricting to induce electoral competition are non-trivial – almost
    certainly far higher than any of the alleged benefits that competition might bring.

    First, one of the biggest problems with single member district (SMD) electoral systems is the prevalence of “wasted votes.” In a sense, every voter who casts a losing ballot in a congressional or state legislative race has wasted a vote. The candidate they voted for lost and so their vote has no direct effect on representation. Competitive elections waste the most votes. An election won by a single vote means just less than half the voters have wasted their vote. Losing voters, I have demonstrated in my scholarly work, are less likely to trust in government; less likely to approve
    of their representative. If a district is won by a single vote, we have maximized the number of wasted votes, the number of losing voters. This is not a
    democratic “good”.

    Moreover, a provision for competition works directly against the partisan fairness provision. The
    idea behind drawing competitive districts is that a candidate from either party can win in the district. Assuming there are macro partisan tides (and there are) when we have lots of competitive
    districts it is possible, even likely, that one party’s candidates can win all or at least most of these contests. This could lead to very lopsided state delegations that are far from representative
    of the underlying partisanship of the state.
    So partisan fairness implies a relatively stable delegation in terms of partisanship, whereas a whole slew of competitive districts implies that there
    could be large swings in terms of the partisan make-up of the congressional delegation or the state legislature. These two principles are not compatible with one another.

    Let primary elections be competitive. Primary elections are more interesting and regardless of who wins, at least most of the folks are going to have someone from their preferred party representing them. The key feature of elections is for a representative to have at least a small sense of worry about getting reelected and that can sense can be
    generated at the primary stage just as well as the general election.

  • David Corey

    Why do I get the feeling this guy is on more drugs than the Lord Mayor of Toronto?

  • David Corey

    So, are you recommending a shift away from FPTP and maybe towards MMCs?

  • xx14564

    The “fairly stringent protections for keeping counties and municipalities whole” aren’t working well. The congressional districts for Summit and Cuyahoga counties are a gerrymandered mess.

  • Retrofuturistic

    This is what Christofascism looks like….

  • Tom B.

    I did not tell the committee to move away from FPTP only because I suspect the change would be too radical. I prefer some sort of proportional representation to be honest, in large part because I think it enhances representations. Though it comes with its own set of problems – namely governing is more difficult.

  • Patricia Anderson

    Yes Dublin Irish Bob, the Republican way. And Tom B. Is trying to comment his way out of it. How about just revert it back to the way it was.

  • CherMoe

    Must be just like their idea of SQUASHING small businesses with the big box stores and putting all of them out of business. It’s like big agri-businesses. Putting smaller farms out of business and making expensive rules to make it hard for them to survive. It’s all about the 1% obliterating anybody else. That’s what “redistricting” means to me. It’s “cheating” to get ahead and to get power and money. That’s what Republicans are all about!

  • David Corey

    Why does PR make governing more difficult? I think if parties have to form real coalitions in order to govern, we might see a resurrection of the art of compromise. In 1964, Barry Goldwater was seen as a dangerous loon. Now, he looks much more mature than most of the Republican Party.

  • Tom B.

    Parties are more rigid in PR. We have governing coalitions now, it’s just that both the parties are an ever-evolving group of coalition partners. In PR the parties will be separate and distinct and more ideological, so the governmental coalitions can be unstable. I suspect we’d see far less compromise than you expect.

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