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Democracy in the States

Democracy in the States: Experiments in Election Reform

Bruce E. Cain
Todd Donovan
Caroline J. Tolbert
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 238
  • Book Info
    Democracy in the States
    Book Description:

    Democracy in the Statesoffers a 21st century agenda for election reform in America based on lessons learned in the fifty states. Combining accessibility and rigor, leading scholars of U.S. politics and elections examine the impact of reforms intended to increase the integrity, fairness, and responsiveness of the electoral system. While some of these reforms focus on election administration, which has been the subject of much controversy since the 2000 presidential election, others seek more broadly to increase political participation and improve representation. For example, Paul Gronke (Reed College) and his colleagues study the relationship between early voting and turnout. Barry Burden (University of Wisconsin-Madison) examines the hurdles that third-party candidates must clear to get on the ballot in different states. Michael McDonald (George Mason University) analyzes the leading strategies for redistricting reform. And Todd Donovan (Western Washington University) focuses on how the spread of "safe" legislative seats affects both representation and participation. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously observed that "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." Nowhere is this function more essential than in the sphere of election reform, as this important book shows.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0147-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Promise of Election Reform
    (pp. 1-18)

    The quest to improve the processes of election and representation within the decentralized structure of American government has produced many reform experiments across the states. Some of these experiments have been intentional; others have not. Intentional experiments—particularly those promoted by citizen initiative—have tried to make elections less corrupt, more responsive, and fairer. State and federal courts have contributed to this intentional experimentation by forcing legislatures to change electoral practices that conflicted with constitutional principles and congressional mandates. The results have included experiments with term limits, redistricting practices, ballot access laws, campaign finance rules, and other aspects of election...

  5. PART ONE Promoting Integrity

    • 2 Election Administration and Voter Confidence
      (pp. 21-34)

      The 2000 presidential election was a wake-up call to elected leaders, public officials, and election scholars. The electoral fiasco—most prominent in Florida but also in states such as New Mexico and Ohio—revealed deficiencies in voting equipment. In addition, registration mix-ups and problems with absentee ballots may have led to the loss of as many as 6 million votes.¹ Confusing ballot designs, such as the butterfly ballot in Florida’s Dade County, were found to have led voters to vote incorrectly.² Although such election administration problems have no doubt existed for a long time, the closeness of the 2000 presidential...

    • 3 Poll Workers’ Job Satisfaction and Confidence
      (pp. 35-52)

      The aftermath of the 2000 election process has been one of constant learning in regard to election administration in the United States. The initial focus of both scholars and policymakers after the election was on voting technologies in order to discover which technologies most accurately recorded votes. More recently, however, scholars have come to recognize the critical role that poll workers play in shaping voters’ perceptions of the fairness of the democratic process as well as their confidence that ballots are counted accurately.¹ Consequently, in this chapter we focus on understanding who these poll workers are, what motivates them, and...

  6. PART TWO Promoting Participation

    • 4 Vote Centers and Voter Turnout
      (pp. 55-67)

      Scholars, candidates, local bureaucrats, party organizations, and even Congress have considered numerous electoral reforms that might improve voter turnout. The most recent and common changes include vote by mail (VBM), early voting, and absentee voting. In this chapter we examine the impact of vote centers, a reform that was introduced in many Colorado counties in the 2006 general election. Vote centers change how votes are cast on election day by reducing the number of polling places available to voters, while allowing anyone in the county to vote at the most convenient location (doing away with precinct-based polling completely).¹ This reform,...

    • 5 Early Voting and Voter Turnout
      (pp. 68-82)

      Early or convenience voting—understood in this context to be relaxed administrative rules and procedures through which citizens can cast a ballot at a time and place other than the precinct on election day—is a popular watchword among election reformers. Early voting is attractive because of claims that increased convenience reduces the costs of voting, resulting in higher turnout and higher-quality voter decisions. For this reason, states have experimented extensively with early voting laws. Yet the empirical literature finds mixed results, with some studies suggesting a turnout increase as large as 10 percent, while others find that voting convenience...

    • 6 Election Day Registration, Competition, and Voter Turnout
      (pp. 83-98)

      The challenge of increasing voter participation can be met in a variety of ways. In this chapter, we compare the effects of convenience voting reforms such as early voting, voting by mail, election day registration, and absentee voting laws to another key factor known to affect voter participation: electoral competition. We assess how the competitiveness of presidential races at the state level, congressional races, governor’s races, and ballot measures affect turnout. Uncompetitive elections result from a series of factors, including gerrymandered or incumbent-protected legislative districts (see chapter 10), lopsided campaign financing, and single-member district elections.¹ Although state laws governing the...

    • 7 Direct Democracy, Engagement, and Voter Turnout
      (pp. 99-114)

      One of the most distinctive aspects of American politics involves direct democracy—the use of state and local ballot propositions or initiatives to resolve controversial policy issues. The constitutions of twenty-four states and hundreds of municipalities permit votes on proposed laws that reach the ballot when advocates submit the signatures of a required number of citizens. This Progressive Era reform was primarily intended to allow citizens to pass public policies that were resisted by state legislatures. However, from the beginning the process was also understood to have educative effects. In addition to promoting the adoption of policies that better reflect...

  7. PART THREE Promoting Responsiveness

    • 8 Term Limits and State Legislatures
      (pp. 117-133)

      For as long as democracies have existed, legislative term limits have been a topic of debate. These limits are an attempt to ensure that leaders are citizens who take temporary turns in government rather than experts who serve as long as they satisfy voters. Aristotle argued explicitly for term limits, which would set “all over each and each in turn over all,” and members of the Athenianboulecould serve for only a single term.¹ Representatives in the first American Congress set up by the Articles of Confederation were allowed to serve for only three of every six years (Article...

    • 9 Multimember Districts and State Legislatures
      (pp. 134-146)

      Although many Americans may think of government structures as static, a close examination of the history of the American electoral system reveals frequent changes. For instance, since the time of the Constitution’s ratification the country has moved from indirect election of senators to direct election, believing that direct election of senators would lead to better representation. The country has also capped the number of U.S. House members at 435 and passed a series of laws to increase ballot access.

      One change that has received comparatively less attention is the move from multimember districts to single-member districts in many state legislatures....

    • 10 Legislative Redistricting
      (pp. 147-160)

      As a new census nears, state governments prepare for the decennial political ritual of legislative redistricting. This task is typically entrusted to state legislators, who have a self-interest in using redistricting to secure their reelection or maintain their party’s control of the legislature. Consequently, many good government groups have rallied to the cause of redistricting reform. Leading up to the 2000 census, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause advocated successfully for redistricting reform through ballot initiatives in Washington, Idaho, and Arizona. Since then, prominent politicians have joined the reform movement and are pressing their state legislatures to adopt...

    • 11 Multiple Parties and Ballot Regulations
      (pp. 161-173)

      For more than a century American politics has been dominated by two major political parties. The duopoly enjoyed by Democrats and Republicans is largely the result of Duverger’s law: the tendency of a system of single-member districts to produce two-party competition.¹ Minor parties fail in a single member district system for two reasons. First, the winner-take-all approach does not reward candidates who finish third. Second, citizens vote strategically to avoid “wasting” their votes on hopeless candidates and spoiling the election.²

      Perhaps owing to the apparent strength of Duverger’s law, most scholarly research on minor parties has focused on the electoral...

    • 12 Direct Democracy and Election and Ethics Laws
      (pp. 174-185)

      State legislators are likely to alter institutions so as to keep power and win elections. As such, we should not expect lawmakers to adopt either election or ethics reforms that may diminish their chances of winning and holding office. In nearly half of the American states, though, citizens may circumvent their state legislatures and adopt statutes and constitutional amendments that alter the institutional design of state government, including election and ethics policy.¹ This chapter offers a comparative and historical examination of the popular adoption and policy impact of a variety of election and ethics ballot initiatives in the American states....

    • 13 A Goal for Reform
      (pp. 186-198)

      There is consensus among reform proponents that “something” must be done to restore “faith” in American elections. This consensus has given rise to a broad range of reform proposals. Some address problems in the administration of elections. Others aim to increase participation by making the act of voting more convenient. A third category targets the structure of the election system, such as the way in which electoral maps are drawn. Each of these reforms may have beneficial effects. Few people, for example, would quarrel with the statement that election rules should ensure that only eligible voters vote and that their...

    • 14 From the Last Generation of Reform to the Next
      (pp. 199-206)

      Since the 1960s there has been a continuous flurry of electoral reform activity in such diverse areas as campaign finance, term limits, redistricting, election administration, conflict of interest regulation, and direct democracy. Some of these changes have been court instigated: the move to equal population as the almost universal basis for legislative representation and the removal of racially discriminatory electoral and franchise arrangements. Others have come through conventional legislative or direct democracy channels. But what has all this activity brought us? What can we learn from it? What does it imply for the next generation of reforms?

      The short answer...

  8. References
    (pp. 207-228)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 229-230)
  10. Index
    (pp. 231-238)