How to Elect More Wendy Davis's

Posted by Kelsey Kober, Theodore Landsman on March 22, 2017

In 2008, Wendy Davis was elected to the Texas State Senate from a district that leans Republican. Davis would go on to earn national attention for her filibuster of a Texas abortion restriction and came closer than many thought possible to winning one of Texas’s seats in the US senate. Davis’s politics and style, which were shaped by the district that elected her and the pitches that worked during her candidacy, were clearly more attractive to many voters than conventional Democratic or Republican politics. However, despite this, crossover representatives in the Texas Statehouse are rarer than ever.

Over the last few decades, U.S. elections have become increasingly partisan, spawning high levels of polarization among officeholders and a dearth of competitive elections. Despite recent demographic shifts, the Texas state legislature still remains highly partisan, with extremely predictable elections.. The limited nature of split ticket voting and high level of partisan consistency is underscored by the fact that in the 2014 state legislative elections, after Davis had left the State Senate for her US senate campaign, only two state legislators won in a district that had not been carried by the same party in the 2012 presidential elections held two years before.  

Few “Crossovers Representatives” in the Texas State Legislature

There are two main measures by which to evaluate crossover districts. One method is to look at the two-party presidential vote for each state legislative district. Under this measure, crossover was extremely rare; no Texas state senators elected in 2014 came from a party opposite the winner of their district’s two-party vote. Only two of 150 representatives (1.3%) qualified as crossovers.

Alternatively, we can use a district’s partisanship that FairVote uses for much of its analysis. Partisanship is a well-established metric that provides a snapshot of the underlying partisan preferences of a district’s voters that is independent of the distorting effects of the incumbency advantage. Using this measure didn’t change the story much. No Texas senators and only one representative (0.6%) were from the major party opposite of the district’s partisan preferences. Looking to the winner of the 2016 elections, these numbers in the House and Senate held true.

Fair Representation Voting

The lack of crossover representatives poses an obstacle for fair representation and collaborative policymaking in the Texas state legislature -- and nationally. Electoral reforms that do not rely on geography can improve representation and create new incentives for legislators to work together across party lines on certain policies where views within parties can vary.

FairVote’s proposed Fair Representation Act for Congress involves representatives in multi-winner districts elected through ranked choice voting. It can better ensure that a state’s citizens have a fair say in who their representatives are and both major parties will have the voting power to elect representatives in every corner of the state. When multiple legislators are elected from a wider geographic area, Republicans from Austin and Democrats from rural areas like Bowie alike have a chance to be represented. Under a system like this, we would see far more crossover representatives like Wendy Davis, and greater diversity in Texas’s legislature. Every voter would have real choices in every election.

 

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