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