Monday, July 31, 2006

Election Follies, Part Nine

I have had a few local (Fishers) people ask me if after I run for Secretary of State, is it my plan to run for Fishers Town Council in 2007. I always respond in the same way.

Let's not put the cart in front of the horse. I am running to win the election for Secretary of State. I have no plans for future elections beyond 2010, when I would wish to run for re-election.

But, let's consider the question purely as an exercise. What would running for Fishers Town Council, or any Indiana town council, mean?

Just as shown in Part Nine when considering the gerrymandering that is the at-large nature of the election of County Commissioners who ostensibly represent districts, many elections for Town Council are similarly gerrymandered by an at-large vote of the entire town, even though the candidate is only representing a district.

Even if the incumbent thoroughly alienates the voters of her district, so long as that incumbent is of the town's dominant political party, they can reasonably go to the bank on that majority, knowing that the voters will vote more against opposition party labels than for the incumbent.

Besides- you can go door-to-door in a district. It gets to be a stretch to do the same in the whole town.

Here's the kicker- the Town Council can choose whether or not its elections will be at-large for all seats or by district. It merely has to write an ordinance that chooses direction. Guess which way the ordinance will go if there is a 100% majority on that council, and the possibility of changes in the near future due to changing demographics? Give yourself a pat on the back if you said "at-large". Here's the law, per Indiana Code 36-5-2-5:

IC 36-5-2-5
Representation by district, at large, or both

Sec. 5. (a) The legislative body has:
(1) one (1) member for each district established under:
(A) IC 36-5-1-10.1; or
(B) section 4.1 or 4.2 of this chapter; or
(2) the number of members provided for when the town adopted an ordinance under section 4.1 of this chapter abolishing town legislative body districts.
(b) The legislative body shall provide by ordinance
that its members:
(1) are to be elected by the voters of the district in which they reside;
(2) are to be elected at large by the voters of the whole town; or
(3) are to be elected both by districts and at-large.

(c) If a town legislative body adopts an ordinance under this section providing that its members are to be elected both by districts and at-large, the ordinance must:
(1) specify which seats on the legislative body are elected by the voters of a district and which are elected by the voters of the whole town; and
(2) provide that the ordinance is effective on January 1 following its adoption.
As added by Acts 1980, P.L.212, SEC.4. Amended by Acts 1982, P.L.33, SEC.27; P.L.11-1988, SEC.13; P.L.7-1990, SEC.63.

(Emphasis supplied.)

At-large votes make for safe, unresponsive incumbents who need not fear challengers from minority parties in towns that are dominated by one political party. You can't expect the Town of Fishers, dominated by Republicans, to change the ordinance. It would mean having to really work for re-election, and it might mean having an elected Libertarian.

After all, Phil Miller won election in the City of Greenfield in 1999, defeating an incumbent Republican who happened to be the GOP county chair. In the City of Greenfield, elections are not voted on at-large citywide, but strictly by district. Phil went door-to-door in the whole district, and made his case. He won wearing the Libertarian label.

It is time for the Indiana Legislature to repeal the at-large provisions made available in IC 36-5-2-5. It is time to end the gerrymandering of the at-large municipal vote which assures victory to the dominant party. It is time to give the people competitive elections in Indiana's municipalities.

As Indiana Secretary of State, I will lobby the Legislature for these changes.

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