The Case Against 'Gaming' Electoral Rules

By: David M. Mason, JD
Sr. VP, Compliance Services

The case for sound policies in lieu of ‘gaming’ the system

The Washington Post recently reported that Florida Democrats are attempting to qualify a ballot initiative to undo an electoral calendar change that Florida Democrats imposed several decades ago in an effort to change the election system to the party’s benefit. In the 1960s, Florida Democrats moved the state gubernatorial election to the even year between presidential contests because they believed that more Republican voters turned out in presidential years. Florida Republicans have now won five straight gubernatorial elections while Barack Obama carried the state twice in the presidential contest. Party advisers now believe Democrats have a turnout advantage in presidential years, so they are sponsoring the initiative to move the gubernatorial election back to the presidential year.

A similar story unfolded in Colorado this year. Colorado Democrats pushed through a comprehensive mail-in ballot program believing that expanding balloting options would help their candidates. Instead, turnout among predominantly-Republican older voters spiked while turnout among younger, more Democratic voters failed to keep up. Senator-elect Cory Gardner reportedly attributes this result to the fact that millennials, unlike their grandparents, typically don’t own stamps.

Republicans aren’t immune from this sort of mistaken calculus. At least a few Republicans argued privately in favor of the McCain Feingold soft money ban on the basis that Republican party committees had a nearly 2:1 advantage over Democrats in hard money fundraising. Once the soft money ban passed, Democrats quickly closed the gap and then passed Republicans in party fundraising.

So, my advice to policy makers is to devise election rules that are just and fair, and then go out and win based on your ideas and good campaign mechanics. Gaming the system is just as likely to backfire as not. In fact, I’d even be willing to make a prediction that if Florida Democrats are successful in changing the gubernatorial election date again, they would soon after find themselves on the losing end of a GOP presidential landslide that costs them a gubernatorial race in the bargain.


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