When you think about it, an election is a lot like a job interview.

And, in this analogy, who plays the role of the boss conducting the interview?

Right, it’s the voters, of course. In a representative democracy, they are the ultimate bosses.

With that in mind, think of the job interviews that you’ve been part of, on either side of the table.

Be the boss

As a boss, think how you’d respond if a job candidate called you up and said this:

“Yeah, about that interview tomorrow …  I’d like to hold it at my place, instead of yours.  And here is a list of the only questions I’m willing to discuss.  And, by the way, I’ve also got a list with the names of the other candidates whom you’re allowed to interview.  There’s just a couple of names on the list, and none is particularly qualified.  So, basically, I’m your only choice.”

How would you respond? You’d cross that arrogant clown off your list, that’s how.

Now make yourself the job candidate, trying to leave a good impression. Would you ever pull such a stunt?

Not if you wanted to fill out  a W-2 form, ever, in your life.

So, given how familiar we are with how job interviews happen in the workaday world, here’s a mystery:

Why do we – the true bosses of our democracy – put up with such behavior from political job candidates?

We do, you know.

It happens because we allow politicians to railroad the interview process — our elections — by shaping their own elective districts.

Carton of too politicians sitting at an interviewers table with "vote me" signs  as resumes.
Image Credit: Illustration by Rob Tornoe

 

All softball questions

When politicians draw the lines on the political map, they in essence get to choose where they want their next job interview to be held, which bosses (i.e. voters) they prefer to talk to, which questions they feel like answering, and whom they’d like their “competition” to be.

Is it any wonder, then, that in the 2016 general election for Pennsylvania General Assembly nearly half of the ballots for the state House (98 out of 203) featured candidates running unopposed?  Or that, according to Ballotpedia.org, only nine of the state House races that fall qualified as even mildly competitive.

In the state Senate, the numbers were even a little more stark.  In 13 of the 25 seats up for election in 2016, the eventual winner ran unopposed.

By now, you probably have guessed that the picture on the federal office side, Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats, was not any prettier.  Three candidates ran unopposed and only two races (the 8th and the 17th) featured victory margins of less than 10 percentage points, with no margins of less than 5 points.

A royal problem

These are not job interviews.  They are coronations.

If you’d like to see more competitive elections, a number of reforms in how Pennsylvania conducts elections are worth exploring, including open primaries and ranked-choice voting. 

But any fix must begin with a change in how election maps are drawn, because a bad map – a map drawn to protect incumbents and further partisan interests – can blunt any other reforms.

We must shift the task of creating the map to the true bosses of the democracy – the voters.

We have to say, as voters: This is where we Draw the Lines. 

 It’s our House; it should be our mouse.