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Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The Conglomerate reports about a fascinating issue that seems to be going on in Wisconsin: public officials are being accused of logrolling and some are calling for criminal prosecution.  There is a statute in that state that makes logrolling--trading one's vote on a proposed statute in exchange for someone else's vote on a different proposed statute--a felony.  The statute reads as follows:

13.05 Logrolling prohibited. Any member of the legislature who gives, offers or promises to give his or her vote or influence in favor of or against any measure or proposition pending or proposed to be introduced in the legislature in consideration or upon condition that any other person elected to the same legislature will give or will promise or agree to give his or her vote or influence in favor of or against any other measure or proposition pending or proposed to be introduced in such legislature, or who gives, offers or promises to give his or her vote or influence for or against any measure on condition that any other member will give his or her vote or influence in favor of any change in any other bill pending or proposed to be introduced in the legislature, is guilty of a Class I felony.

It is a very curious law, since logrolling is not only business as usual in politics but it is also generally thought desirable from political science types who think logrolling helps measure preference-intensity. 

Here's how it works.  Say I am a legislator and I really want Policy A enacted.  I favor Policy B as well, but A is much more important to me.  Assume further that my friend across the aisle really favors Policy Not-B.  She also favors Policy Not-A, but not quite as much as she wants to pass Policy Not-B.  If my friend and I couldn't logroll, I'd vote for A and B and she'd vote for Not-A and Not-B.  And there would be no way to signal our respective preference-intensity because all policies would be subject to up-or-down votes.  If we could logroll, I could trade my vote on Policy B and vote Not-B in exchange for a vote for Policy A from my legislator.  In this way, we could both signal preference-intensity--and potentially enable preference-intensity to control our actual policies.  This might be a big benefit because we could order our preferences in a meaningful way.  So why make it a crime?

There are real debates about how important preference-intensity is or should be in ordering our policy preferences and determining how we should govern ourselves.  One can reasonably feel that it is an ugly practice because we have an idealized picture of legislators deliberating the merits of policies without regard for the merits of other unrelated policies that should themselves be debated on their own terms.  But, more practically, we all realize that we are willing to make trade-offs in areas that we care less about to get enacted policies that are closest to our hearts.

I hope to follow this story and have more to say in the future.

Posted by Ethan Leib on June 1, 2005 at 11:12 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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A law banning logrolling is destined to fail. Sure, there will be some people who get caught and convicted, but in the end, everyone will just figure out some way to cloak their vote-trading behaviors.

The ideal law would be one that permits logrolling, but that requires disclosure to constituents. Even that would be hard to pull off; but if it could be done, it would put the power in the hands of the constituents. Which is where it belongs.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Jun 1, 2005 12:39:33 PM

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