Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Shortcuts to Reform

Heather K. Gerken

During the last couple of years, I've been writing a fair bit about the reform process, as it is a much neglected topic within the academy. Last week, I posted two papers on the subject, both of which emphasize the importance of shortcuts to reform. Shortcuts are a well known phenomenon in elections scholarship. The best known example is the party label, which provides voters an important heuristic for casting their vote. These two papers argue that shortcuts can and do play an important role in influencing three of the main leverage points for reform: voters, policymakers, and bureaucrats. The first essay focuses on one such shortcut -- a Democracy Index, which would rank states and localities based on how well their election systems perform -- and explains why it ought to help create an environment more receptive to reform. The second paper, which builds on the first, discusses two other shortcuts that might move along the reform process: model districting commissions and a Model Election Code. I'm happy to say that all three of these ideas have received a good deal of interest and support from foundations. The reason for this enthusiasm is simple. While these reforms might seem quite modest compared to typical reform proposals, they are the kind of reforms that can make bigger and better reform possible.

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