Category Archives: Gerrymandering

Martin O’Malley, the Rigged Election Expert

This post is an op-ed I submitted a while back to the local opinion pages of the Washington Post. It never got published, so I am posting it here (slightly revised) in honor of tonight’s first Democratic presidential debate.

Martin O’Malley raised hell at the Democratic National Committee’s meeting in Minneapolis in August. He was outraged that only six debates sanctioned by the Democratic Party will be held and that the DNC intends to penalize candidates who will participate in unsanctioned debates. O’Malley said the Democratic primary is rigged in favor of the establishment favorite, Hillary Clinton.

I tend to agree with O’Malley on the number of debates and penalizing candidates for participating in additional debates. Still, it seems bit of a stretch to call an election “rigged” when, after all, several debates will take place. But who can blame an underdog candidate polling in low single digits for advocating to have more debates and free exposure?

What I find extremely ironic is that of all the candidates it is Martin O’Malley who complains and makes claims about a “rigged election.” If one really wants to see a completely rigged election, you must study the Democratic Party primaries here in O’Malley’s own Maryland. As we politically engaged Marylanders know, the incumbent Democratic politicians in each legislative district form candidate slates that raise funds and advertise jointly. Especially in low-budget down-ballot races—such as for state delegate, county council, and sometimes even the non-partisan school board— it is impossible to beat an incumbent that appears on the “official” Democratic primary ballot advertisement. When there is an open seat for any of these entry-level political positions, the candidate endorsed by the incumbent slate always wins. The reason the slates are so powerful is that it is virtually impossible, in the down-ballot races in particular, for a candidate to raise enough funds to be able to compete on an even playing field with a slate-endorsed candidate.

This rigged primary election system is the foundation that the Democratic Party political machine in Maryland rests on. (I write this as a dedicated Democrat.) Our incumbent politicians stand as gatekeepers to the party establishment and positions of power. If you get in, you will owe your election to the benefactors who were kind enough to select you for their slate advertisement. In fact, falling out of favor with your fellow elected officials is the only way for an incumbent politician to lose a primary election. Amazingly, even many politically engaged Marylanders don’t fully grasp the impact the incumbent slates have on our political system.

To my knowledge, O’Malley never had any problems with our rigged primary system when it benefited him and his fellow Maryland establishment Democrats. Also, if one starts talking about rigged elections beyond primaries, it is good to remember that during O’Malley’s governorship Maryland produced what most neutral observers consider the most gerrymandered Congressional districts of any Democrat-controlled state. Thus, you must forgive me for not having much sympathy for Mr. O’Malley when he continues his battle in the supposedly rigged presidential primary.

My Fellow Democrats Need to Step Up on Redistricting Reform

I live in Prince George’s County. As all Marylanders know, our county is about as Democratic as any area of the country can be. So when I went to the September 29 Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission hearing in Waldorf, I had a whole new experience when I realized that most people at the hearing seemed to be Republicans. I have never before been to a political gathering in Maryland where Republicans outnumber Democrats.

I fully understand why Maryland Republicans are for redistricting reform. After all, they are the primary target of Maryland Democrats’ gerrymandering. But still, where were all my fellow Democrats? Are we really such partisans that we don’t see any problem with our ridiculously gerrymandered Congressional maps?

I hope many fair-minded Democrats who care about good governance attend the two remaining Redistricting Reform Commission meetings: October 6 in Easton and October 13 in Laurel. (Check the Commission’s website for meeting details.) We need to make it clear that there is bipartisan support for redistricting reform.

My Case for Redistricting Reform

The below is my testimony at the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission hearing on September 29, 2015.

Good evening. My name is Tommi Makila. I live in Accokeek in Southern Prince George’s County.

I am a strong, dedicated Democrat. However, I detest blind partisanship and putting the interests of a political party—even if it is my own party—ahead of common good and good governance. When it comes to our gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps, I am embarrassed to be a Maryland Democrat. Thus, I am thankful that our Republican governor has established this Redistricting Reform Commission.

When it comes to the redistricting reform effort, I am not blind to the partisan reasoning Maryland Republicans have for wanting reform. However, I would like to point out to my Democratic friends that they should, in their own long-term interest, get behind the reform idea. If we Democrats continue our selfish political machinations at the expense of all Maryland residents, our now-dominant position in the state will eventually end. People will put up with bad governance only for so long. And, whatever happened to just doing the right thing?

Assuming we will reform our system of redistricting, what exactly should the new system look like? What I hear mostly from reform advocates is that we need to form some type of an independent commission that will wrangle over the new districts. If such a commission is formed and properly structured, it would surely be an improvement over the system we now have. However, I am afraid that the political fighting and power plays would only move from the Legislature to the commission. Knowing how powerful the Democratic political machine is in Maryland, I would expect the machine to figure out a way to influence the supposedly independent commission. Also, the redistricting process through a commission would likely be time-consuming, and possibly costly.

Instead of the independent commission model, I urge this Reform Commission to seriously consider a model similar to the one used in Iowa. I used to live in Iowa for ten years, so I am fairly familiar with their system. In Iowa, civil servants in the independent Legislative Services Agency use computers to generate the new maps. These maps must meet strict criteria when it comes to population, existing political boundaries, and other factors. Addresses of incumbent politicians are not allowed to be used in coming up with the maps. When these maps are generated, the Iowa legislature can vote the maps up or down. If they are voted down, new maps will be generated by the same civil servants, using the same criteria. If the legislature rejects three sets of maps, the final maps will be decided by the courts. To my knowledge, as long as Iowa has been using this system, the issue has never gone to the courts.

I believe the Iowa model has many advantages over the independent commission model. It truly removes the political wrangling from the process, as much as it is possible. It is very cost effective, requiring a minimal amount of resources and time. It is a system that utilizes modern mapping technologies, making us work smarter, not harder.

Thank you for your time.

The Good Fight Must Continue

Life happens to all of us, including me. PTSA and other school activism has taken a lot of my time over the last year. Recently I was appointed to our HOA board. Most importantly, I try to spend time with my family. And I do have a full-time job. As a result, this blog has been neglected over the last year.

Still, the fight against the Maryland political machine must continue. Even though the Democratic machine experienced a shock of a lifetime in the 2014 gubernatorial election, its grip on the lower ballot races remained as tight as ever. Entry to the political class continues to be tightly controlled by incumbent politicians through their slates, sample ballots, and gerrymandering.

On the gerrymandering front there is some hope and movement, thanks to the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission established by Governor Hogan. But due to strong resistance by the Democratic machine (remember, I am a Democrat), reforming our system of redistricting is far from certain. To fight slates and their sample ballots, our next chance for real reform will be in the 2018 election. But, to have a chance at beating the political machine in 2018, we need to start preparing for the battle now.

Stay tuned! I will do my best to use this blog to feature redistricting reform developments and keep sharing thoughts on my favorite topic: candidate slates, sample ballots, and the corrosive impact those “Maryland traditions” have on our elections.

David Craig Gets My Republican Endorsement

As a Democrat, I really don’t have much business weighing in on the Republican gubernatorial candidates. But, I did approach all the Republicans in the race, and the candidates themselves made it very easy for me to pick my favorite among them. Only one of them bothered to answer my questions, and that candidate happens to agree with me on all of my three priority issues. Thus, my endorsement goes to David Craig.

As I pointed out in my Mizeur endorsement post, I think it does tell something about a politician when they respond to a citizen activist like me. If a politician doesn’t care about my views during the election season, how can I expect him or her to care about me after the election?

I realize that no Republican is likely to care about my endorsement in their gubernatorial primary. However, I want to point out that my election reform advocacy is very much non-partisan in nature. In reality, due to the Democratic dominance in Maryland politics, my efforts are mostly aimed at reducing the power of Democratic incumbents and party insiders. Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Maryland Republicans have not been hopping on the good governance bandwagon in greater numbers. It is one of the issues that could help them find a way out of the political wilderness.

My Choice: Mizeur for Governor

When I started this blog last fall to advocate for electoral reforms, my intention was not to endorse any gubernatorial candidates. My only goal was to bring my priority issues—slates, sample ballots, and gerrymandering—into the political discussion during this election season.

However, as I kept at it, it became clear to me that in good conscience I can only support one of the candidates in my own party. That candidate is Heather Mizeur.

First of all, of the three major Democrats in the race—Mizeur, Anthony Brown, and Doug Gansler—Mizeur was the only one who had the courtesy of responding to my questions. I had three simple, relevant questions for the candidates. Despite repeated contacts, the Brown and Gansler camps never bothered to answer my inquiries in any way—not even to say “No comment.” It is not very promising when a candidate is that unresponsive during a time when they are supposedly fighting for every vote.

Second, Mizeur agrees with me on two of my three questions. She supports outlawing candidate slates and reforming our redistricting process. Even though she is not supportive of outlawing sample ballot advertisements, I suspect that getting rid of candidate slates would greatly diminish the use of such advertisements. I will even give it to Mizeur that there could be constitutional challenges outlawing sample ballots.

I also must give Mizeur credit for highlighting the issue of gerrymandering and need for redistricting reform during the campaign. Again, nothing from the Brown and Gansler camps. Thus, there is only one candidate I can count on to advance good governance reforms and to challenge entrenched Democratic party insiders. In a state controlled by one party (my own party), that is a quality I consider to be very important.

Craig First Republican to Respond, Endorses My Priorities

A big hat tip to David Craig for being the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to respond to my questions. And not only did he respond, he agrees with my priorities! Craig’s responses are below (in red):

  1. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw candidate slates? – Yes
  2. If elected, will you actively work to outlaw “sample ballots” used by candidate slates as political advertisements? – Yes
  3. If elected, will you actively work to establish an independent, nonpartisan system for drawing legislative and congressional districts? – Yes

Now all I need is for the other Republican candidates to tell me where they stand on these issues.


Mizeur Calls for Redistricting Reform

As I have been going through the websites of the Maryland gubernatorial candidates, I have been very surprised about the fact that not a single candidate has had anything on their “issues” pages about my three priorities: slates, sample ballots, and gerrymandering. – Well, I do realize that the slate and sample ballot issues are so completely off people’s radar that I didn’t expect the candidates to highlight them. Gerrymandering, on the other hand, is a topic that has gotten much more public attention, so I was amazed that no candidate had made it part of his/her agenda.

Because of this total lack of attention to my priority issues, I was very happy to read today on the Washington Post website that Heather Mizeur is calling for redistricting reform. Props to Mizeur for having the guts to call for this desperately needed change. I hope other candidates will follow her example.