Every day is Election Day somewhere.

Question Day: Are There Too Many Elections?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Reader Bart22 kicks off Question Day:

I know you think there are too many elections, but where would you draw the line on which offices we vote for and which ones are filled by appointment (or some other mechanism)? State Judges? Statewide officials such as Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State? Local school boards? Water reclamation districts?

Plentiful elections and elective offices enable meaningful participation in self-government. But I do think there are too many elections. And if voters want to take each choice seriously, information about all the offices can be hard to come by. It wasn’t realistic to expect the media to dig up that information when local news was thriving, and it certainly isn’t realistic now.

I don’t have firm guidelines about where to draw the line and I have no problem with some variation from state to state. But here are some general principles, from strongest to weakest:

  • Get rid of judicial elections. Even if by miracle a well-informed electorate was possible, elections are still the wrong way to select or retain judges (see Norm Ornstein's column today on money in judicial elections). The federal model (executive appoints, legislature confirms) works reasonably well at that level. I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t work lower down, too.
  • End statewide ballot questions. I like representative government. Local ballot questions bother me less; it’s a lot more sensible to ask people in a small town whether they want to build a park than it is to ask millions of people in a state what sort of energy policy they prefer.
  • More consolidated executive branches are better: I’d rather follow the federal model and have the governor appoint officials than to have them elected separately.
  • Reduce the number of separate elected local boards, authorities and special districts. Unfortunately, this could be tricky because of the way local government lines are drawn.

And when it comes to elections, partisanship helps: non-partisan elections force voters to choose without the benefit of the most significant and efficient piece of information available to them. Local issues are often far from the concerns of national parties, but partisan cues are still more likely to add information than to mislead. And new parties can form at the local level.

One more thing: We have too many election days, in part because plenty of local officials want to be able to game the tiny electorates that come from unconsolidated elections. Unified election days are better.

If I had my way, we would still have plenty of elections, and plenty of election days. Just not quite as many as we have now.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net