Over at Burnt Orange Report, there’s a discussion afoot about the pros and cons of moving our May municipal election to November.
No one seems to dispute that the number of people voting for local office holders would increase if we reduce the overall number of elections and coordinate with federal. This finding is consistent with comparative polisci research (for example, Wattenberg, 2002). So if the problem is turnout, then fewer, coordinated elections is the solution.
However, those advocating against fewer, coordinated elections raise the concern that the participants will be (1) partisans (2) served by a poorer marketplace of ideas that is constrained by a set of (3) insider oligarchs.
Personally, I find partisanship to be a pretty good heuristic; if a city council candidate is a Republican, that’s pretty helpful to know. Amidst a see of Democrats, I would seek supplementary information.
Which gets to number (2)…it seems that the existing highly engaged base of ‘May’ voters will still create demand for locally-focused information. The locally focused orgs (e.g. ANC) will still demand elected accountability. So, the number of forums and questionnaires will be the same; maybe the Statesman runs fewer stories, but the Chronicle, the Post, and the bloggers will still generate a lot of content that the existing ‘May’ base can find.
As for (3), in a sea of Democrats, it seems that the endorsements of neighborhood groups, environmentalists, labor, etc. retain or even gain in value as candidate differentiation. It also seems that inevitably, the long-term equilibrium is for these organized interests to seek to leverage the party organizations if they indeed become dominant. I don’t see how the status quo is especially unfriendly to money vis-a-vis grassroots organizations.
Sure, I agree with critics that the new median voter might be less knowledgeable about the intricacies, but again why is that bad? Why not take it to its logical conclusion and have our public administrators appointed by expert panels? The new lower info voters will just freeride on the high information civic enthusiasts, which happens to be the status quo already.
Finally, the status quo is not going to transform existing general election only voters into muni voters. On the other hand, the coordinated election will lead to at least some increase in municipal engagement from the general election only voters. I guess I am just not that pessimistic about the long-term chance of a combined failure by media, existing organized groups, and whatever new policy entrepreneurs emerge to help the new, broader electorate more or less accurately translate their policy preferences into elected officials.
It seems that this discussion is being waged on the short-term-focused terrain of which potential Mayoral candidate is best helped by either scheme; but in the long-term, it seems having fewer, more meaningful elections is a win-win. Especially if coupled with public financing, mail voting and single-member districts.