Schleicher Discusses Voting Issues in Tucson Weekly

Mason Law professor and elections expert David Schleicher weighed in on important voting issues such as rational ignorance, partisan branding, and lack of voter knowledge in a pair of features in this week's Tucson Weekly.

In the first, Schleicher participates in a question-and-answer exchange, discussing how and why partisan identification plays an important role in voter choices, providing a sort of "shorthand" that gives voters a substantial part of the information they acquire about politics.

"The way elections systems should work is that they should take into account that voters have problems learning about politics or limits in how much they know about politics," says Schleicher. "(Systems) should do their best to give them the best information they can. ...Parties are brands, and we can give them credit. It allows us to overcome the lack of information we have about politics," he adds.

Political contests in Tucson, the only city in Arizona that still has partisan elections, may undergo a sea change if a bill that cleared the Arizona Senate is approved by the House. That piece of legislation would prohibit cities and towns from having partisan elections. Schleicher points out in the second article that the movement to implement nonpartisan elections has its basis in efforts to dismantle party-machine politics in big cities. Its end result, though, he says, is to remove voters even more from the political process by further diluting the information available to them.

"Nonpartisan elections are probably the worst electoral innovation of the 20th century, because they removed so much information from politics," says Schleicher.

Q&A With Elections Expert David Schleicher, Tucson Weekly, June 25, 2009. By Jim Nintzel.

Who Gives a Crap? Tucson Weekly, June 25, 2009. By Jim Nintzel.

Excerpt (from the latter):
"The political scientists have a name for this: rational ignorance.

"'Voters have very little reason or incentive to learn very much about politics,' says David Schleicher, a law professor at George Mason University who studies the implications of rational ignorance. 'It doesn't affect your day-to-day life. The odds that your vote is going to matter in an election are very small. This is not to say that voters are incapable of learning about politics. It's just that it doesn't make a lot of sense to become very informed about politics.'

"In other words: If you're like most Tucsonans, you couldn't care less about what the City Council is up to or who is running for office this year.

"After all, it's not as if it's difficult to vote. The city mails several generic announcements that the election is coming up, and even invites voters to order a mail-in ballot so that people can vote from the comfort of their kitchen table.

"But learning enough to cast an informed ballot-delving into candidates and issues-costs a person a certain amount of time.

"'People are busy,' Schleicher says. 'They might rather be watching the Cardinals. Or they have to work.'

"If you think Tucson's numbers are bad, take a look at Phoenix: In the 2007 mayoral race, less than 19 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

"Schleicher says that's because rational ignorance is multiplied when a city institutes nonpartisan elections.

"'In partisan urban elections, voters know very little,' Schleicher says. 'In nonpartisan elections, they know absolutely nothing, on average.'"

Read the first article

Read the second article