Making Single Party Elections

Its getting a bit frustrating looking at single party elections.  As a demographer, I’m kind of cynical about how congressional districts are gerrymandered every ten years after the census.  It’s easiest to find conservative articles on the evils of gerrymandering because the dims are better at it. 

Doesn’t really make any difference, since the republicans aren’t that far behind.  From a Reason article:  “Under the new congressional maps recently approved by state governments, there will be just 60 districts (out of 435 in total) that would have been decided by fewer than eight percentage points in the 2020 election, according to a recent analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, a pro-democracy think tank housed at New York University.’

“To understand why this happens, take a look at Illinois . . . Democrats were focused on packing as many of the state’s Republican voters into as few districts as possible, thus maximizing the number of districts where Democrats would be favored to win. The result is three deeply red districts and 14 blue districts, many of which are nearly impossible for Republicans to hope to win—though a few of them rate as barely competitive. The map got a grade of “F” from the independent Princeton Gerrymandering Project, but fairness isn’t the goal of the partisans who control redistricting in many states. Maximizing victories is.”

But that means many voters don’t get a meaningful say in who represents them in Washington. Cynical single-party gerrymandering contributes to—and, circularly, is driven by—the hyperpartisanship that defines American politics right now.

“As a district leans further toward one party or the other, the general elec­tion becomes increas­ingly insig­ni­fic­ant while the favored party’s primary becomes the real contest,” write Brennan Center analysts Michael Li and Chris Leaverton. “As a result, primary voters can effect­ively decide which candid­ate will repres­ent the district in Congress, even though they make up a small frac­tion of the elect­or­ate and are often far more partisan than the aver­age general elec­tion voters.”

That effect is compounded in states where strict ballot access laws limit the ability of third-party and independent candidates to compete as well. The two major parties limit competition between their own candidates by drawing single-party districts, then keep anyone who can’t win a Republican or Democratic primary election off the ballot as well—a pretty neat trick!”

And those ballot access laws hit close to home: 

On November 8, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Montana’s signature-distribution requirement for party-qualifying petitions (described in more detail below) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is unclear how this decision will affect Montana’s broader statutory scheme for forming a new political party.”

“In order to qualify to hold a primary election, aspirant political parties must petition the Montana Secretary of State for recognition.

A party qualifying petition must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for the successful candidate for governor in the most general election, or 5,000 electors, whichever is less. In 2012, for example, 236,450 votes were cast for successful gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock. Because 5 percent of that total is 11,823, aspirant parties were required until the election season following the gubernatorial race of 2016 to gather 5,000 valid signatures for qualifying petitions.

This number must include registered voters in more than one-third of the legislative districts equal to at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for the successful candidate for governor at the last general election in those districts, or 150 electors in those districts, whichever is less. In 2014, for example, 119 signatures were required from each of the 34 districts from the Montana House of Representatives.[120][121]

One week before the petition is due to the secretary of state, the petition and affidavits of circulation must be presented to the election administrator of the county in which the signatures were gathered to be verified. The election administrator must forward the verified petition to the secretary of state at least 85 days before the date of the primary.[120]

The form of the petition is prescribed by the secretary of state. Petition forms and affidavits of circulation can be obtained via the secretary of state’s website.[122]

All qualified political parties must submit to the secretary of state a copy of the current rules of party government. Further, county-level party committees must submit a copy of the current rules of party government to the county election administrator.[123][124]

Maintaining party status

Political parties that fielded a candidate for statewide office in either of the last two general elections who received at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for the most recent successful candidate for governor maintain state-qualified status and may continue to nominate candidates by primary elections. To maintain qualified party status in 2014, for example, a party would have had to run a candidate for statewide office in either 2012 or 2010 who received at least 11,823 votes (5 percent of the votes cast for the successful gubernatorial candidate in 2012).

That isn’t the only spot where Montana’s election laws have been hammered by the 9th  Circuit. 

“On August 10, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Pierce v Jacobsen, 21-35173. The opinion strikes down Montana’s ban on out-of-state circulators for initiative petitions (Montana has never banned out-of-state circulators for other types of petition).

The plaintiffs had also challenged Montana’s ban on paying circulators on a per-signature basis. The decision declined to strike down that ban. It says the ban may be unconstitutional, but plaintiffs didn’t present enough evidence to justify striking it down.”

Another Ninth Circuit ruling showed up last month:

“The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with two conservative Montana residents who the state’s Commissioner of Political Practices had made register as a political group because of the law’s vague language regarding the definition of a political committee.

At issue was former Montana lawmaker Ed Butcher and Lonny Bergstrom, who maintain a website, “Legistats,” which tracks how well Republicans in the state Legislature voted with the party on bills generally considered partisan.

While running the site, the two got requests from various Republican and conservative groups to speak. They traveled, often eating at fast-food restaurants, and using their own gas money to visit the state, one time staying at a Glendive motel. According to court records, they never received compensation for their time nor were they reimbursed for their expenses.

Jeff Mangan, Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, ruled their activities triggered state law, which required them to file reports and disclose that they were a political committee because they had spent more than $250 engaged in the political process.

However, the Ninth Circuit overturned federal district Judge Dana Christensen’s ruling that Montana’s political practice rules did not violate Butcher and Bergstrom’s political free speech. Instead, a panel of judges wrote that Montana’s rules were impermissibly vague and therefore likely unconstitutional. The panel voted 2-to-1 in the split decision.”

Read the articles – I’ve just excerpted enough to illustrate a couple of spots where Montana’s election laws and practices have been ruled unconstitutional.  I’m fairly certain that not all politicians have high regard for fair elections. 

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