Better Democracy is Less Democracy

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The gerrymandering industry is a live and well. Incumbents benefit from it and so do lawyers, political consultants and others. Fact is, no one should be making money off of gerrymandering. Lawsuits cost taxpayers a lot of money. Yet, for all of the litigation to control or prevent gerrymandering, the public interest has not been served. Turnout remains abysmal. Elections are not competitive. Incumbents are virtually unbeatable.

One step towards minimizing gerrymandering would entail the removal of one of the incentives for it. In this case, I argue that lengthening legislative terms would be one small step towards controlling gerrymandering. In most legislatures and in the House of Representatives, terms are only two years. That means that elected officials spend virtually every other year campaigning to ward off challengers in primaries and then looking to defeat challengers from another party. Granted, gerrymandering tends to render districts safe for one party or the other. But, it does not prevent primary challenges.

Accordingly, if legislators must consume this much time running for re-election, they rationally would like to have districts that are more—not less secure. If they had more time to legislate—and develop a platform on which to run—there would be less incentive to gerrymander a safe district.

But, alas, the USA remains wedded to a 19th century version of democracy that, sometimes is clearly not suited for 21st century politics. So, less democracy—and fewer elections—may actually be better democracy. One good thing about longer legislative terms: no legislator is bound to oppose such a change. So, this small step towards reform actually would seem to have a real chance of occurring. Which legislator will make the first move?

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