All I want for Christmas are … competitive elections. Here is my political wish list for Santa that might just help make that happen. And unlike my real wish list, I am not holding my breath that any of these will appear under my tree during 2023.
Competitive elections are good for democracy. And while it is not surprising, it should be slightly alarming that there are now fewer competitive congressional districts than at any point in the last 52 years. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are only 30 competitive districts left in the country.
Competitive elections give citizens the ability to influence the government through voting and allow constituents to hold their elected officials accountable. Uncontested or lightly contested elections reduce voter participation and set the electorate on a downward spiral that is difficult to overcome. Individuals whose preferences do not resonate with any of the candidates on the ballot are more likely to abstain. And gerrymandered district maps can also discourage voters.
So, here’s my wish list that might just help us return to some semblance of competition in our elections:
1. That we institute ranked choice voting, final four, or final five voting. Ranked choice voting gives voters more choice at the ballot box and can be a way to reflect the will of the majority more accurately. It works in all types of elections and supports more representative outcomes.
2. That our congressional representatives will come home and host in-person town hall meetings. It would also be nice if elected officials responded to the news media for comments or questions. How can constituents know what their representatives are doing for their districts if they do not communicate with them?
3. That candidates work to persuade voters to vote for them and not just against the other party’s candidate. The midterm elections showed that there are plenty of swing and split-ticket voters out there. It would be refreshing if politicians talked to all voters and competed for the right to represent their constituents.
4. Bring an end to gerrymandering. The Brennan Center for Justice notes that districts drawn by lawmakers in states under unified, one-party control are nearly four times less likely to be toss-ups than districts drawn by courts, commissions and legislatures under split control. With these safer and more partisan districts, there is little incentive, or reward, for members to reach across the aisle, compromise and govern. The act of drawing district maps needs to be removed from politicians and the responsibility given to independent or bipartisan commissions.
5. Work to strengthen the two-party system. I’m not a Democrat, but I believe the election system works best when both parties are competititve. There were many open slots on my ballot here in St. Charles (Mo.) County in 2022, with Republicans running unopposed.
6. And finally, while we’re on the topic of Missouri Democrats, I hope they will nominate a strong candidate to run and compete in the race for U.S. Senate in 2024. I have one such candidate in mind: Jon Hamm, a St. Louis native, John Burroughs School and Mizzou alumnus. The actor has name recognition, screen presence and spends more time in his hometown than Sen. Josh Hawley.
My wish list is a big one. But this is the time of year when hopes, wishes, and dreams come true.
Lynn Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member