Panel Paper: At-Large Elections Revisited: The Contingent and Causal Effects of Reform on Local Minority Representation

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Taft - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Carolyn Abott, The Ohio State University and Asya Magazinnik, Princeton University

Despite a long history of legal challenges alleging that elections conducted at-large suppress minority representation, this remains the dominant electoral system in local governments throughout the United States. Moreover, a large empirical literature remains divided over the present-day impact of at-large elections on the political success of underrepresented groups. We reconcile the competing findings in this literature by providing contingent, causal estimates of the effect of conversion from at-large to by-trustee area elections on minority officeholding, using a novel identification strategy afforded by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. We find a dramatic positive effect of conversion in districts where the Latino minority is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated; where there is a large income disparity between the minority and the majority; and where the minority reaches a relatively high level on selected socioeconomic indicators. Though more work remains to be done on the substantive effects of the policy change, preliminary analysis suggests no difference in educational achievement outcomes