Thesis title and description:
“New “Laboratories of Democracy?” The Political Economy of American Municipal Electoral Reform”
Since the recent adoption of the Alternative Vote (AV) in Maine’s statewide elections, political debate has buzzed about the possibility of national electoral reform in America’s hereto-intransigent First Past the Post (FPTP) system. Even so, the US has experimented with a variety of electoral methods in its history, primarily at the local level. Since the Progressive Era, at-large, plurality Block Voting (BV) has predominated, but single-member district, FPTP elections multiplied after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) family of systems have emerged in a number of cities throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. All these systems’ proponents claim to improve the democratic process for a community, based on the fact that they can empower under-represented groups or increase proportionality, the correspondence between votes and seats. In my project, I plan to capitalize on this natural variation in local politics to observe the impact of changes in electoral systems on political outcomes, including turnout, proportionality, and representation. Then, I will investigate the impacts of any potential variation in representation on substantive economic policy. I will then conduct qualitative research to determine the mechanisms by which reform may generate changes in the political economy of a local polity.