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Schleicher in WSJ: Nonpartisan Elections a Terrible Idea

Commenting in The Wall Street Journal on a proposal to institute nonpartisan elections in New York City, Professor David Schleicher categorized the concept as "a terrible idea."

Schleicher, a native New Yorker who studies municipal elections, says nonpartisan balloting would make city voters less informed and less likely to vote, as well as creating a less competitive atmosphere in down-ballot races.

"The current system of local elections is a disaster," he says of New York City. "But nonpartisan elections take a bad situation and make it worse."

Schleicher maintains that while a candidate's party loyalty may help identify his or her expected leanings on national issues, it gives very little information on what views that candidate might hold on local issues. Nonpartisan elections "take a situation where you know very little and reduces it to zero," says Schleicher. "All evidence shows that voters in nonpartisan elections behave as though they have no idea what's going on and they turn out in far smaller numbers." Further, he adds, without party labels voters rely heavily on ethnic and racial clues and other factors in making choices.

Will Nonpartisan Elections Make for Dumber Voters? The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2010.

Excerpts:

"Studies have found that, without party labels, voters rely heavily on ethnic or racial clues in candidates names. In nonpartisan judicial elections, Schleicher notes, 'candidates for judge that have honorable in front of their name do far better than candidates that don’t.'

"If we are to do away with partisan labels at the ballot box, Schleicher believes we need to replace it 'with something that gives more information' about candidates. He has a couple of proposals, none of which would prove easy to implement.

"Mayoral races in New York generate far more media attention and campaign spending than down-ballot contests for City Council. Schleicher suggests allowing mayoral candidates to endorse slates of candidates for lower offices, with the endorsements noted on the ballots, as an alternative to party labeling. Another proposal: allowing interest groups who collect enough petition signatures citywide to endorse candidates on the ballot."

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