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An American flag flies over Capitol Hill in Washington. 

Voters across the United States often express the hope that the candidates they elect to office turn out to be somewhat moderate, people who are willing to form partnerships with other lawmakers (sometimes even from the other party) to get things done for the country.

That's what we say.

Then we go ahead and elect people who are not at all moderate.

A recent piece in The Atlantic examined the reasons behind the slow decline of the American moderate. The article could prove to be essential reading as you come to terms with the results of yesterday's election.

Part of the problem with supporting a moderate candidate these days is that there are so few of them, especially in federal races. According to a study by Danielle Thomsen, a political science professor at the University of California-Irvine, only about 4 percent of congressional candidates in the last midterm elections, in 2014, qualified as ideologically moderate. The percentage has been steadily declining since the 1980s.

"It takes a lot of guts to run for Congress as a moderate in the current environment," Thomsen said.

Well, that — and an appetite for being crushed at the polls.

The nation is continuing to suffer from the corrosive long-term effects of gerrymandering, the practice of redrawing the boundaries of a political district so that they benefit one party or the other. (This is a particularly timely topic now, especially since districts get redrawn every 10 years after the census wraps up.) If redistricting ends up creating districts in which one party or the other consistently rules, then the general election tends to be not particularly competitive — the winner of the primary generally is guaranteed victory in November. The result there is that moderate Democratic candidates likely will face serious primary challenges from their left, and moderate Republican candidates will face challengers from their right. And any attempt by a moderate incumbent to, God forbid, reach across the aisle almost certainly will be the topic of a thousand attack ads in the primary.

The solution there would be for Congress to take a serious look at reining in gerrymandering. But perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that Congress has shown little appetite to do that. 

Another solution — although this seems almost as far-fetched as the idea that Congress could regulate gerrymandering — would be for voters to seek out those candidates who put a premium on forging partnerships, who understand that compromise can be the essential piece in getting important work done, and to reward them by electing them to office, and then re-electing them if their performance warrants another term. That would require voters to look beyond the ceaseless wave of attack ads and make some decisions on their own about what they really want from their candidates. Otherwise, we all bear some responsibility for the gridlock in Washington, D.C. (mm)

Vote-by-mail solutions

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here's one more argument for adopting vote-by-mail systems throughout the nation.

We happened to catch a story in The New York Times this week that listed types of misinformation that are increasingly common on Election Day. They include polling place hoaxes, such as rumors that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were arresting voters at the polls. Some voters may have received messages saying they could cast their ballots via text. False reports of broken or rigged voting machines are common on Election Day. In the 2016 election, doctored or mislabeled photos made the rounds showing long lines at polling places — attempts to discourage people from voting. Voters may receive bogus text messages telling them that voting hours or locations have changed or that new forms of ID are required.

Spreading this sort of misinformation is reprehensible, of course. But the chances of this kind of mischief go way down with vote-by-mail. Just a thought. (mm)

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