Monday, April 23, 2007

Institute: Most N.C. assembly races not competitive

Ever since the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in a legislative redistricting case four years ago that lawmakers had violated the state Constitution in the drawing of districts, Republicans have complained that districts aren’t very competitive because they favor one candidate or another. Democrats have pointed out that producing competitive political races isn’t a constitutional requirement. Both sides had their points – though voters probably would prefer more real choices in elections.
It’s no secret that most state Senate and state House campaigns are likely to go one way or another just based on the demographic makeup of the district. Now comes the National Institute on Money in State Politics with another way to look at how districts lean: money competitiveness.
Those with the most money usually win political races. But the Institute, located in Helena, Montana, sought to quantify exactly what it means. The think tank is working on an interactive Web tool it says shows how few races are really competitive on two measures – having an opponent, and raising enough money to run a competitive race. It measures whether a winning candidate has opposition and whether the opponent was able to raise at least 50 percent of the amount of money the winner spent – in other words, enough to provide some competition.
It has come up with a cutesy logo – (m)c to the 50th power, for money competitiveness in 50 states – and its website requires a bit of concentration to negotiate (click on the green link at the website's top to get to the API, or Application Program Interface). But it concludes that in the last two legislative elections, North Carolina’s 170 legislative races were not very competitive. In 2004, the institute said, 11 percent of the state’s races were competitive, while in 2006, only 9 percent were competitive.
That works out to about 15 competitive races – far less than the roughly-half-the-races some folks regarded as competitive last time. That’s pretty bad.
Does that mean there’s going to be more legislative appetite for public financing of North Carolina elections? The findings probably won’t force the issue, but they may get more policymakers pondering an experiment with public financing of a handful of districts.

7 comments:

Clayj said...

Jack, it's pretty obvious that the only way we will ever get truly fair districts, be they Congressional, state house, or state senate, is if all districts are drawn purely on a geographical basis, with no consideration given to political affiliation, race, religion, or anything else beyond the pure number of people who live within a given area. What we need is districts based on the concept of geographical compactness. This concept can be easily illustrated with a little math:

d = the number of districts
r = the radius of the smallest circle which can encircle a district
C = the sum of r[x] where x from 1 to d

Ideally, C should be held to as small a value as possible. The perfect district would be a circle, centered on a population center such as Charlotte or Raleigh... but since we have divided the state into counties based on geographical features and arbitrary lines, we can't achieve a perfect C.

What we can do, though, is to eliminate gerrymandering and idiotically-shaped districts like Mel Watt's district (which, due to its shape, has a very, very high r value and therefore a disproportionate effect on North Carolina's C value). In NC, our Congressional districts, for example, should be centered around cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Asheville, etc., and then neighboring counties should be added to those districts to make them as compact as possible. For more dense areas like Mecklenburg County, the county could be divided in half and each half used as a district's nucleus.

Only by changing the rules so that district lines are party- and color-blind will we ever have true fairness in districting. It's too bad the Founding Fathers didn't have the foresight to add such provisions to the Constitution.

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