Monday, September 19, 2005

When to remove partisanship from partisan elections

One last reaction to the Carter-Baker report.

I agree with Mike Alvarez, Thad Hall, and Rick Hasen: the CB call for non-partisan election administrators is a good idea. It would be simple to implement, and in fact should save money in those many states and localities that elect such officials. It will enhance professional growth and development in this very important area. And it ought to result in more competent election administration.

What occurs to me is that this proposal is in the same spirit as calls for non-partisan redistricting commissions (for instance, Prop 77 in California), a position my totally unscientific survey and conversations with political science colleagues says is the conventional wisdom among scholars.

Many bemoan the growth of partisan polarization in the US Congress and many state legislatures, and somehow want to get parties out of politics. Here in Oregon, we're going to vote on a top-2 primary system in 2006; there is another proposal for a non-partisan legislature that may also make it to the ballot.

Non-partisan redistricting commissions, one that would draw lines without respect to incumbency, but would honor existing communities of interest, is a better solution. This way, we'd avoid politicians who draw lines only to benefit their own party or their own political position. We'd stop the practice of cutting up cities and neighborhoods just to allocate particular types of voters. And I suspect, even in the short run, elections would become more competitive and we'd see fewer partisan extremists.

Yes, some areas of the country have become reliably Republican or Democratic, and there is no way to force a competitive two party election in those areas. But in a state like Oregon, there is no reason that we should not have four or even five competitive contests each cycle.

We can't remove parties from politics, but that doesn't mean we can't help make party politics more competitive.


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