When politicians tinker with the laws governing their own elections, one should view their proposals with a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude. Almost always, the politicians proclaim that they are acting in the public interest to make elections fairer. And almost always, election law changes would improve the politicians’ chances of holding their offices or advancing up the political food chain. The most obvious example of the syndrome is redistricting – altering the boundaries of legislative, congressional, city council, county supervisor or school trustee districts to comply with population shifts. Self-serving gerrymanders had become so common in California that the state’s voters finally shifted the power over legislative and congressional districts from the Legislature to an independent commission.
The Legislature, however, could recapture its district-drawing power over congressional districts if the Arizona Legislature wins a case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges the legitimacy of that state’s redistricting commission.
Election law tinkering goes way beyond redistricting, however.
Legislators and other politicians are constantly changing rules of the election game, and they always alter potential outcomes, as two “reforms” in Southern California illustrate.