Local voters who will cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election may think they're selecting their politicians, but the reality is that the politicians who drew the districts they'll be voting in have already selected them, in the process getting rid of other voters who might have been inclined to throw them out of office.
There's not a single challenger in any of the six Mecklenburg County Commission district races this November. Only one of the six had a challenger in the primary. There are 15 state legislative districts that crisscross Mecklenburg County, but there will be two-person races in only three. No opposite party challengers bothered to sign up in the others because they tilt so much toward one party that running is pointless. Two of our three Congress members come from districts so slanted toward their parties that they'll slide back into office without half trying.
Since there's almost no one to vote for, CL decided not to waste space pretending there is. So our election guide will be very short this year, because we'll be confining it to the handful of races left in which voters can still make a difference.
Across the state, voters and the media are flipping out about electronic voting machines or paper ballots, obsessing over how every vote will be counted.
The irony of the whole thing cracks Chris Heagarty up. What most people don't realize, said Heagarty, the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, is that the bulk of the district elections that will be held in this state are already so rigged that what goes down at the polls on Nov. 2 won't matter much.
The two parties have done such a good job at carving the state up into safe districts that of 170 seats up for grabs in the state legislature, only 12 are truly competitive, say Heagarty and North Carolina Forum for Research and Economic Education (NCFREE) Executive Director John Davis.
Big donors are pumping mega-bucks into those races because they will determine who controls the state legislature. But since none of those races are in Mecklenburg County, voters here won't have much say in who runs the state.
The Bill James Effect
It's one of the greatest scams in modern politics, and it's polarizing the electorate as never before. From the county level on up to Congress, politicians know
that if they draw their districts right, they only need five percent of the vote to win. That's not five percent more than their opponent, mind you, but five percent total. How do they do it? Take the Mecklenburg County Commission for instance.
At this moment, there are about 470,000 registered voters in Mecklenburg County. Each of the six county commission districts has between 70,000 and 90,000 registered voters. Yet most commissioners are elected again and again in district races where they get only 3,000 to 5,000 votes total -- that is, when anyone bothers to challenge them at all. They accomplish this by chopping voters of the opposite party out of their districts to such a degree that it's nearly impossible for someone of the other party to beat them in the general election, where voters might cast tens of thousands of votes. Then, all they have to do is win the primary race, in which only about 6,000 voters vote.
It's a pretty simple formula, really. When they're drawing districts, all politicians have to do is keep the voters of the other party in the 25 percent range, keep unaffiliateds in the 25 percent range, then make sure the rest of the district is filled with voters of their party.
All politicians need to do to own their districts is to make sure that at least 47 percent of the voters in them are members of their party. Like lemmings, about half the unaffiliated voters can be counted on to vote for each party -- and they think they're independent -- so count them in for another 10 to 12 percent. With this "arrangement," the incumbent can pretty much count on getting 60 percent of the vote in the general election.