The Madness of Partisan Municipal Elections


I briefly noted this yesterday, but it turns out that state legislative outcomes are highly correlated with House of Representatives elections. For example:

This suggests that swing voters are relying very heavily on some pretty unsound heuristics to decide who to vote for at the state level. The fact of the matter is that the Tennessee State Legislature and the United States Congress deal with some very different issues. To say “I’m fed up with ObamaCare/the Iraq War so I’m going to kick my state senator to the curb” doesn’t make any real sense.

And this gets worse the further down ballot you go.

Washington DC is a very heavily Democratic jurisdiction so naturally Republican candidates got crushed across the board in our municipal elections. And they always will get crushed, since people aren’t actually considering the candidates they just know that Republicans are bad. The result is that the Democratic primary is the “real” election. But if you look at the general election results, you’ll see that a bit less than ten percent of the city seems reliably Republican and a similar quantity likes to vote for the DC Statehood Green Party. The system we currently use in effect disenfranchises these people. I think it’s very possible that incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty (who snagged 22% without running or being on the ballot) could have put together a majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats if not for the fact that those Republicans weren’t allowed to vote in the primary that sealed his fate.

It would make a lot more sense for DC to do what many other cities do and hold non-partisan elections. You could do Instant Runoff Voting or a two-stage process with a runoff. In general, I’m a fan of parties and partisanship because I think they promote accountability and policy cohesion. But it doesn’t make sense to take a party system organized around congressional conflict and apply it to city government. The ideal scenario might be to do something Canada-style and simply have whole different parties at different levels of government. But barring that, I think non-partisan local elections are pretty clearly the way to go.