Sara Swann is a staff writer covering campaign finance and other reform issues. She previously reported on local and state government for The Daily Times on Maryland's Eastern Shore. She has also done money in politics reporting for the Center for Responsive Politics. Sara is an alumna of Syracuse University.
Next year's redistricting landscape is, at best, a mixed bag for good-governance advocates. Although the mapmaking process has become fairer and less politicized in a handful of states over the past decade, partisan gerrymandering will still have a profound impact on representation across most of the country.
Democrats had high hopes of taking back enough power in state legislatures to have close to parity in the line drawing with Republicans, but they were totally shut down on Election Day. At the same time, while Virginians voted to bleed politics out of the process, Missourians voted to push their state the opposite way. And proposals to reform the system in six states died because they could not get on the ballot, yet another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
The result is a power dynamic for the next drawing of congressional and legislative boundaries that's only marginally different than a decade ago. The two parties will retain control over the process in 39 states, just three fewer than last time. And the GOP will run the table in twice as many states again, with only a hair less dominance over the Democrats than in 2011.
It is a far cry from a central aspiration of the democracy reform movement, which has a mantra about what it will take to fix the system: Voters must be able to pick their politicians instead of the other way around. And that can't happen if elected officials have the power to use contorted cartography to ensconce themselves in power for 10 years at a time.
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The biggest moment yet for ranked-choice voting, next year's election for mayor of New York, is facing big pushback from politicians in the city who argue the system would disenfranchise nonwhite voters.
Fifteen members of the City Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus have launched a bid to delay the use of ranked elections. The nation's biggest city voted a year ago to become the largest jurisdiction in the country to embrace the system, which has emerged as a favorite innovation in the world of democracy reform because of its capacity to promote consensus candidates and diffuse polarizing politics.
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Since New Mexico enacted a new disclosure law last year, more than $800,000 in political spending has been publicly reported by nonprofit groups that in the past would have remained largely hidden.
It's a change that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver calls "a huge victory." But Austin Graham of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics, is more reserved: "What's on the books in New Mexico is not the most cutting edge, but it's undoubtedly a big improvement from the last decade."
The New Mexico experience illustrates that improving the transparency of how campaigns are financed can be done, but making progress often requires incremental steps that take a lot of time. What has happened in New Mexico is an example of what states across the country must grapple with when they seek to slow the influence of money over their own politics, at a time when federal regulation of presidential and congressional elections has shriveled.
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- A reminder of how democracy dies in dark money - The Fulcrum ›