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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Counting on the Low Information Voter

The LSE Blog features some interesting new research by University of Texas Professor Brent Boyea on the intersection of partisan elections, campaign contributions, and professionalized courts. Looking at 12 years’ worth of data from state high court elections, Boyea found that campaign contributors are nearly twice as generous, on average, in states with partisan judicial elections than they are in states with nonpartisan judicial elections. He also found that “contributors support candidates more actively in states with professionalized courts where judges have higher salaries, advanced resources, and courts have freedom to decide their agenda.” And contributors are most generous when elections are partisan and courts are professionalized. This suggests, to me at least, that campaign contributors expect to get the most "bang for the buck" in states where a candidate's election is all but assured on partisan grounds, and the elected judge will later have some freedom to act in a manner consistent with the contributor's own agenda.

Somewhat related is this story out of Illinois, discussing how attorney Phillip Spiwack legally changed his name to Shannon O’Malley in advance of his campaign for a Cook County judgeship. Spiwack/O’Malley appears to be conceding to a stubborn reality of Chicago judicial elections: having an Irish woman’s name is an extraordinarily valuable commodity at the polls—more valuable, it seems, than professional experience, skill, or judicial temperament.

These items add to a growing body of evidence that in judicial election states, candidates and their financiers virtually expect citizens to come to the polls armed with no more information than a candidate’s party affiliation or surname.  How this advances the integrity, efficiency, or legitimacy of the judicial system is beyond me, but I welcome sincere and robust defenses of this system in the comments.

(Cross-posted at The Interdependent Third Branch.)

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 13, 2018 at 12:02 PM in Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink


Suppose it turned out that the same tendencies appear in elections for executive and legislative offices. Would that be an argument for doing away with elections altogether? Or is low information voting especially problematic when it comes to the judiciary, for some reason? It's not immediately obvious why a different standard ought to apply. For a simple comparison, consider an office with little representational function, such as state attorney general or county district attorney. Partisan elections to fill those offices may not "advance[] the integrity, efficiency, or legitimacy" of government legal activity, but that is rarely cited as an argument that the practice ought to be abandoned.

Posted by: RQA | Feb 14, 2018 11:12:18 AM

"Consider Minneapolis Public Schools’ Roosevelt High School, which sits solidly in the middle of its district in terms of socioeconomics. Between 2014 and 2016, its graduation rate rose from 58 percent to 75 percent. During the same time, reading proficiency — the number of 10th-graders who pass the 10th-grade reading exam — fell from 18 percent to 14 percent. Proficiency in math, assessed in 11th grade, fell from 18 percent to 12 percent."

With such high reading proficiency rates, it's insulting that politicians don't expect us to know more.

Posted by: the74million.org | Feb 13, 2018 3:12:14 PM

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