Letter: lack of competition is too common in elections.


To the editor:

I would agree that our “electoral system is better than many think.” (In the Know column, Jan. 26 Echo Press.) A more common problem is the frequency of little-to-no competition in elections. We often see this with gerrymandering districts and the high cost of running for elected office.

Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to craft legislative and Congressional districts so as to make elections less competitive. Naturally, incumbents want to win reelection and thus districts are created to be “safe.”

In the 2004 Congressional election, only a handful of races were competitive – 172 of these races were either uncontested or clearly designed as a safe seat.

Yet, gerrymandering is only part of the problem. U.S. Senate seats are elected and the odds of reelection for an incumbent senator hasn’t been lower than 75% percent since 1980. Something else is going on.

The high cost of running for public office is an important reason for the loss of electoral competition. This is expressed through regulations involving campaign finance and ballot access.

Most of the time the candidate that outspends an opponent wins, and thus non-wealthy citizens have a strong disincentive to run for office. This is sometimes referred to as the “wealth primary.”

Last, but not least, we have ballot access regulations. These are the rules that incumbents make to determine which major and minor political party candidates get listed on the election ballot.

Candidates often are required to pay high filing fees and complete expensive petitioning drives in order to be listed on the secret ballot.

The solutions are fairly straightforward; an Independent commission can draw legislative districts. Public funding for campaigns can make it more viable for the non-wealthy and ballot access laws can be simplified.

None of these electoral reforms are likely to happen until we the people demand such changes from both Republicans and Democratic lawmakers.

Edward TJ Brown
Parkers Prairie, MN