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Letter to Gov. Nathan Deal Regarding Anti-Competitiveness of Georgia Elections

In Open Letter on July 5, 2011 at 2:54 AM

July 5, 2011

Governor Nathan Deal
Office of the Governor
203 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334

Re: Anti-Competitiveness of Georgia Elections

Dear Governor Deal:

According to a baseline sample of Georgia Secretary of State voting records for the 2010 elections, 75 percent of U.S. House of Representatives elections specific to Georgia were non-competitive, i.e., either unopposed contests or blow-out contests characterized by margins of victory whereby the victor received more votes than the nearest second place vote-getter by, at minimum, two times the second place amount of votes.

Of the thirteen districts apportioned in Georgia, the 2010 electoral drama featured unopposed races occurring in 2 instances and blow-out contests occurring in 8 instances. That leaves only a minority remainder of races having possessed any level of realized competition. In the past, Georgia has not always been as electorally non-competitive as it currently reflects. During the 1990s, for example, the state averaged a lower 30 percent measure in terms of anti-competitiveness. Unfortunately, however, the 2000s have not faired as competitively at 67 percent. Similarly, Georgia’s General Assembly races are characteristically failing to produce competitive outcomes.

Moving away from Georgia’s current anti-competitive redistricting process and toward the independently-controlled redistricting process available in Iowa represents a more just way forward. New York State is already exploring just such an Iowa-stylized improvement to their redistricting regime. Former Mayor Ed Koch and Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, are reportedly laboring with groups like New York PIRG, Common Cause and League of Women Voters in order to enact the non-partisan Iowa redistricting process for New York. Recently, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger successfully approved the new independent redistricting overhaul effort in California. California placed a vote before the people in 2008, a public referendum question on the ballot known as Proposition 11. More than 6 million people voted in majority to approve the measure.

For illustrative purposes, summarized below are the competitiveness numbers for Georgia measured against the Iowa results.

Summarizing Georgia results, 71 of 140 races analyzed are categorized as anti-competitive. Whereas regarding Iowa results, by contrast, that is the case with only 12 of 62 analyzed races. Surprisingly, in Georgia 19 of 140 analyzed races are categorized as unopposed. And in Iowa elections, that is the case with 0 of 62 analyzed races. Election years spanning 1988 to 2010 were evaluated in the analysis by accessing Secretary of State-provided data sources published by the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Apparently, Iowa is doing something right. See Appendix for details.

Informatively, Charles Bullock and Ronald Gaddie, political science professors from University of Georgia and University of Oklahoma, respectively, have drawn up a powerful summary of “Redistricting Lessons from Georgia” published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal in September 2007. Within the article, Bullock and Gaddie concentrate on the political gerrymandering and distortion of voter representation carried out by Georgia’s Democratic administration under Gov. Roy Barnes’ leadership in 2001.

Among Gov. Barnes organized strategies, “Several MMDs [Multi-Member Districts] were designed to defeat a Republican incumbent by swamping a concentration of GOP voters in a part of the district with greater numbers of Democrats elsewhere in the district.” By consequence, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was able to publish an article with the following variety title in August 2002, “District 60, State House: Redistricting Blamed in Decision to Quit Race.” Bullock and Gaddie further explain that, “A second Democratic strategy—used in both chambers—overpopulated Republican districts while under-populating those with histories of voting Democratic.” And, “A third Democratic strategy paired Republican incumbents [within the same district] while Democratic incumbents received separate districts in which to run, or faced Republican incumbents before solidly Democratic constituencies.”

If the Braves played only against themselves at Turner Field, or seldomly, if ever against another team, there would be very few people in the stands.

Last year, you were asked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Do you think that Georgia should adopt an independent redistricting commission that should be put into law in time for 2011 redistricting?” And last year, you responded, “I believe that voters should have the final say on important government decisions and that’s certainly the case with redistricting. State legislators should continue to draw maps because they are answerable to the voters. Politicians who try to “rig” the maps will be punished, as Georgia Democrats were in 2002. In fact, the federal Voting Rights Act requires that Georgia take race into consideration, so no “independent” commission could legally draw lines based solely on population numbers.”

Fortunately, preserving U.S. Constitutionality of the redistricting process, i.e., the 14th Amendment and Article 1, Section 2, and, correspondingly, upholding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, are dual objectives already accounted for by the Iowa independent redistricting system, which conserves ultimate voting power in the hands of elected representatives.

Libertarian candidate for Georgia’s Secretary of State in 2010, David Chastain, advocated adoption of the Iowa-system just last year, premising his defense by accounting for that exact counter-response. “In 1992 there was a district that stretched from southeast metro Atlanta all the way to Savannah. It was ruled unconstitutional in 1995. I would recommend that Georgia consider the Iowa model for redistricting where an independent commission draws several versions of districts based on specific non-partisan criteria that maintains the integrity of cities and counties. The legislature can then select one of those districts.”

Insight from the Democratic candidate for Georgia Lt. Governor in 2010, Carol Porter, is similarly interesting. According to Porter, “I was upset when the Democrats gerrymandered the districts back in 2000 and I was equally upset when the Republicans did the same thing a few years later. Both parties had a chance to do the right thing and did not. I believe it is time to take it out of the parties hands and work out what is in the best economic interest of the people. Within federal guidelines, I believe districts should be drawn as closely to economic trading and geographical land use areas as possible.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), “Iowa conducts redistricting unlike any other state. The Iowa system does not put the task in the hands of a commission, but rather the legislature does vote on the plans. Nonpartisan legislative staff develop maps for the Iowa House and Senate as well as U.S. House districts without any political or election data including the addresses of incumbents. This is different from all other states.” The Iowa General Assembly explains that Iowa’s Legislative Service Bureau has been charged with the redistricting objective since 1980.

Linda Meggers, former head of the Georgia Legislative Redistricting Office, could provide you with further expert advice concerning the available replacement redistricting options at your disposal. According to Tim Storey with the NCSL, “Linda Meggers probably borders on legendary in redistricting circles. She has so much experience and knowledge.” Appointing such a nationally-recognized and state-respected voice to take up stewardship and creation of a new investigative redistricting commission could be your best option right now. Heather Gerken, law professor at Yale University, has written constructively about implementation of other redistricting options potentially worth your exploring, e.g., establishing citizen-based map-making organizations capable of accessing/utilizing GIS-technology.

Unfortunately, the winning candidates in my particular assigned voting districts had zero substitute candidates running against them in 2010. Indeed, they ran unopposed. Here is the response of Senator Vincent Fort, District 39, for instance, to the exact same question you were asked, referenced above. “I am undecided. Any new redistricting plan should be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” And, the response of Representative Rashad Taylor, District 55, “No.”

As things have gotten progressively less competitive, everything Georgian, including the economy, public/private education and public infrastructure, now reflects decay and neglect in the absence of long-needed attention. Firstly, Georgia is ranking especially high among all states in terms of mortgage fraud occurrence, i.e., No. 1 in 2005 and No. 8 in 2010. At the same time, we rank No. 1 in terms of total bank failures since mid-2007 onward. Secondly, an ill-implemented state math curriculum is providing low-quality, irrational education to teachers, students and parents. While in Germany, parents consider PISA a household acronym, Georgia reflects the more standard American view toward international math and science rankings. Erasure marks are more commonly understood by parents in Georgia. Thirdly, public infrastructure is commonly “under construction” year-round, e.g., the Georgia Institute of Technology is a top-ranking engineering institution recognized nationally and internationally, yet the auto-pummeling craters of 10th Street run right through its center of campus. Further, companies have resorted to drilling for water; and public transportation projects, characterized by seemingly well-funded and well-intentioned ribbon-cutting ceremonies one day, are only overshadowed by accounting errors gone bad the next day.

According to Professors Bullock and Gaddie, “Redistricting is the most nakedly partisan activity in American politics. The decennial activity of allocating political power results in conflict among regional, partisan, racial, and ethnic communities of interest. Political science research generally acknowledges that when one party completely controls the redistricting process it will perpetuate its majority even if doing so unfairly disadvantages the minority party. Tendencies toward political excess are most likely to be deterred when redistricting is done by (1) a non-partisan commission; (2) a divided government, forcing bipartisan cooperation; or (3) the judiciary, working with third-party, neutral mapmakers to check majority excesses.”

With the 2010 Census apportionment results delivered and upon us, please proceed and do the right thing as Georgia turns its focus to redistricting in 2011.

I look forward to your response.

Regards,

James Breedlove

CC:

Jimmy Carter
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Andre Delattre, Georgia PIRG
Senator Vincent Fort
Senator Johnny Isakson
Representative John Lewis
William Perry, Georgia Common Cause
Elizabeth Poythress, League of Women Voters of Georgia
Mayor Kasim Reed
Representative Rashad Taylor
Ted Turner
Representative Lynn Westmoreland
Andrew Young

Appendix:

Table 1:

Table 2:

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