Saturday, July 29, 2006

Election Follies, Part Eight

I was recently asked in an email why the Libertarians aren't running a candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner against Christine Altman, in light of the clear case we make against the high cost of light rail and mass transit boondoggles. After all, Altman is a Republican who is on record supporting regional mass transit, and this is an obvious case of wasteful pork. It should be a good place for a Libertarian to challenge where a Democrat could not- on grounds of fiscal conservatism. Altman represents Clay Township, which is to say Carmel, where fiscally conservative voters rule the day.

It's a good question, and perfectly well observed. This is a race that a Libertarian could make interesting. Here's the problem, and why nobody wanted to step forward:

Although the County Commissioner represents a district in the county, the whole county votes on the position, even those living outside the district that the Commissioner would represent.

This is per IC36-2-3-3:

IC 36-2-2-3
Election of executive; terms

Sec. 3. (a) The executive shall be elected under IC 3-10-2-13 by the voters of the county. The number of members to be elected to the executive alternates between one (1) and two (2) at succeeding general elections.

(b) The term of office of a member of the executive is four (4) years, beginning January 1 after election and continuing until a successor is elected and qualified.As added by Acts 1980, P.L.212, SEC.1. Amended by P.L.5-1986, SEC.33.

So what, you ask? Observe how it has played out in other Commissioner races.

Steve Dillinger has been a Hamilton County Commissioner since the mid-1980s. He has routinely lost in the townships he represents- Delaware and Noblesville. However, he has won in the townships he does not represent, and since those townships make up the lion's share of the county, he has been continually re-elected.

This kind of election is its own kind of gerrymandering. The incumbent can thoroughly alienate his district and still be re-elected, merely because his party holds a solid majority countywide. Because Republicans hold a countywide majority in Hamilton County, the incumbents really don't even have to campaign outside their districts. They go to the bank on the majority. It has the effect of reducing the accountability of the Commissioners. Why listen to the District if the others in the County will elect you?

It also has the effect of making elections non-competitive, where it's over with the May Primary Election. That's a huge disservice to voters, not only in November, but for the entire time from May to November, where the incumbent's best strategy is to be relatively invisible. Want to talk issues? Go talk to that wall.

For a challenger, it means that you have to campaign over the entire county, even though you will only represent a portion of the county. In the case of running against Altman, it means campaigning in nine townships for the privilege of serving just one- Clay Township. It's daunting and therefore prohibitive. You could go door-to-door in one township, but the County?

So, Altman runs unopposed in the General Election in November. She remains unaccountable to the district, and the people are given another reason to not bother turning up at the polls. Not to pick on Altman- this happens across our state, where most of the 92 counties are dominated by either the Rs or Ds. Only a handful- Marion, Monroe, and LaPorte come to mind- are competitive at the county level. (Is that why Mitch Daniels promotes elimination of Township offices? Well, that's another topic for another day.)

It is time for the Indiana Legislature to end this kind of election. It's time to make the Commissioners accountable to their districts by having only their districts vote for the candidates that would represent them.

It is time to revise IC 36-2-3-3 to read: "The executive shall be elected under IC 3-10-2-13 by the voters of the district within the county.

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