There were many predictions being made by pundits, analysts and journalists in the weeks before Election Day as Georgia’s voters endured a very long campaign season.
Even before a single vote was counted, I could make at least one prediction that would be accurate no matter what happened at the ballot box: Republicans would retain their strong control of Georgia’s General Assembly and congressional delegation.
That was as sure a bet as you could make in politics.
Republicans were absolutely certain to win 92 seats in the state House of Representatives for the simple reason that no Democratic candidates qualified in any of those districts. That gave the GOP a majority of the 180 House seats right there.
There were 54 House seats held by Democrats where no Republican candidates qualified to run, so those winners were also known in advance.
In the few contested House races, the GOP was heavily favored to win the majority of them and control close to two-thirds of the seats in the lower chamber.
Let’s stop and think about the ramifications of those numbers. We knew the winners of 146 House seats months before Election Day because only one party bothered to put up a candidate. In just over 81 percent of the House districts, the voters didn’t have to bother with making a decision about who their lawmaker would be.
The situation was similar in the Georgia Senate.
There were 26 Senate districts where no Democrat was running against the GOP and 15 seats held by Democrats in districts where no Republican qualified to run. In more than 73 percent of the Senate’s 56 districts, the winner was known well before Election Day.
Unless there was an upset more astonishing than Florida’s victory over Georgia in football, the Senate lineup would continue to be 38 Republicans and 18 Democrats.
It was the same story in the races for the U.S. House of Representatives, where you knew who the winners would be in 13 of the 14 districts prior to Tuesday. The only contest with any suspense was the 12th District battle between Rep. John Barrow and Rick Allen.
In seven of the 14 U.S. House districts there was no contested race and in the other six, there was only token opposition to the party holding the seat.
This lack of competition came about largely because of the redistricting conducted by the legislature in 2011. Republicans controlled the process and redrew the lines to pack as many Democrats as possible into as few districts as possible, while drawing the maximum number of districts with safe GOP majorities.
That is how the redistricting game is played, of course, regardless of which party has control. But it means the outcomes of most legislative and congressional elections were known far in advance of Election Day.
I’ve made the point in this space before, but it’s worth making again: Georgia’s voters and taxpayers would be better served if there was true competition between the two parties for more elective offices.
When only one candidate is on the ballot, voters are shut off from the consideration of any new ideas on the important issues. There is nothing up for debate, because the candidates know they’re going to win no matter what. What you hear is the same tired rhetoric every election cycle.
A competitive, two-party system also helps keep elected politicians honest. If officeholders know they are going to have vigorous opposition at the next election, they are less inclined to put their hands in the public till.
It’s not a foolproof guarantee, of course. Human nature being what it is, some politicians will give in to the temptation to enrich themselves at the public expense. If you have a competitive political system, however, there is at least a chance the opposition will expose this misbehavior.
Competition also makes an election more entertaining.
It would have been amusing, for example, if someone had run against U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson in the general election and forced him to explain in a debate just why he thinks the island of Guam would tip over if one more American soldier were stationed there.
With so little competition in the elections, we’ll never find out the answer to that question.
Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report.