270,000 Doors

Over at his blog, Enik Rising, political scientist Seth Masket has been posting about interviews he’s been conducting in Nebraska for research on that state’s unique legislature, which is both unicameral (only one chamber) and nonpartisan (nominally). One thing he found notable: Senators told him that door-to-door campaigning is essential to winning in Nebraska.

Even in Nebraska, where legislative districts, at about 35,000 each, are a bit less populous than the national average, going door to door to meet voters is no easy task. Masket calculates that candidates who wish to cover their entire districts would need to knock on 10,000 doors, something that would take a month of almost full-time work. (His calculation probably underestimates the time required; it is based on porch time of one minute, and doesn’t seem to include time walking between doors, which can be pretty far apart in much of Nebraska. Two minutes per door seems a better bet.)

But imagine what would be required of senatorial candidates in California if they decided to campaign on foot. California Senate districts will have about 931,000 residents apiece in the next election. By Masket’s calculation, candidates would have to knock on 270,000 doors, a task that would take, at two minutes per door, a little over four years. State senators in California serve four-year terms.

“Actually meeting with constituents might be a good thing for the democratic system,” Masket notes. Such good things are simply impossible in California, where our legislature was sized in 1879 for a state of 600,000 people to have Senate districts of 15,000 people.

That’s why revamping the electoral system and restructuring and resizing the Legislature are central parts of the fix California needs. Until we make those changes, don’t expect to see legislative candidates at your door—unless you happen to run the fund-raising operation of a political action committee.