Lynn Schmidt: An Electoral System Designed to Exempt Public Servants from Answering to Voters | Columnists

If an employee was completely insensitive to their employer, they probably wouldn’t have a job for very long. Unfortunately, this is not the case in politics. Americans’ approval rating for the work Congress is doing has fallen to 18%, but in the 2020 general election, 93% of incumbents nationwide won their re-election bid. Our political system is so broken that elected officials are not motivated to be responsive or accountable.

With just one question I wanted to ask the Missouri congressional delegation, I called or emailed the Sens offices. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, Democratic Representatives Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver II, and Republicans Ann Wagner, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Vicki Hartzler, Sam Graves, Billy Long and Jason Smith. No one responded for a comment. Zero. The lack of response has been sweeping and bipartisan.

The disappointing reality is that none of them had any incentive to respond to me.

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Take abortion. A St. Louis University/YouGov poll conducted in August showed that large majorities disagreed with the lack of exceptions for rape and incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, with 75% of respondents, including 60% Republicans, supporting legal abortions in cases of rape.

The percentage was even higher, with 79% of respondents supporting legal abortions in cases of incest. Under Missouri’s trigger law, which passed in 2019, abortions will only be allowed in medical emergencies. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Defunding the police is widely unpopular. According to an Ipsos/USA Today poll, only 18% of respondents supported the move to defund the police, and 58% said they opposed it. In February, Bush doubled down on his use of the defund slogan as party members urged him not to.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 68% of voters support tougher gun laws, up from 64% in a previous poll. When the bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, a gun regulation and mental health bill, was passed in June, all House Democrats voted “yes” with 14 Republicans – none from Missouri . Blunt voted “yes” in the Senate. Hawley voted “no”.

Functional government operates with a give-and-take structure between elected officials and the public. Citizens need to know where their representatives stand on pressing issues, and legislators need to understand the needs and wants of their constituents. Only then can voters determine whether their opinions align with a candidate. At least in theory, that’s how it should work.

The combination of gerrymandering, uncompetitive districts, hyperpolarization, black money and lack of accountability has created a stew of political dysfunction. Competing congressional districts have been in steady decline for decades and only getting worse. The Cook Political Report estimates that less than 8% of congressional districts will be competitive in November. I suspect the lack of competitive precincts leaves an overwhelming majority of Americans feeling their votes don’t matter, while parties and candidates feel they don’t need to work to win the votes of anybody.

Republicans living in St. Louis, where Biden won by 60 points, or Democrats living in Dunklin County, where Trump won in 2020 by 55 points, probably don’t think their votes will make much of a difference. The truth is, unless it’s a statewide race or a ballot initiative, it’s not.

Effective governance in America requires compromise. When more than 90% of congressional districts lean towards one of the two main parties, most representatives probably have little incentive to compromise. Elected officials increasingly face strong pressures to be hyper-partisan, which has made governance very difficult.

In 2018, Missourians passed the Clean Missouri Amendment with 62% of the vote. The amendment required lawmakers to wait two years before they could turn around and pressure their colleagues. It aimed to eliminate almost all lobbyist giveaways over $5. It aimed to eliminate partisan gerrymandering. It also aimed to tighten candidate contribution limits.

Missourians rescinded the Clean Missouri Amendment two years later. The difference was 59,145 votes. Although Clean Missouri wasn’t perfect, it made progress in resolving what ails us.

So far, attempts to change the incentives and fix the system have failed. We should not expect that we will soon have a more responsive or more functional legislative structure. Because at the end of the day, we get what we vote for.

Schmidt is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: [email protected] and @lynnschmidtrn.