Extra-partisan electoral reform in the U.S.: The effects of geographic self-interest, core values, and American exceptionalism on electoral rule choice
Virgin, Sheahan Gray
A central tenet in the electoral systems subfield is that parties and their members pursue opportunities to advance partisan objectives via the strategic adoption of electoral rules. This scholarly consensus exists for good reason: after all, partisans not only run for office under a given set of electoral rules, but also, they populate the deliberative bodies that make, as well as the administrative positions that maintain, them. While a focus on parties is prudent, the purpose of this dissertation is to challenge the state of the art by reconceptualizing electoral reform as a process that is more nuanced and richer theoretically than the canonical partisan self-interest approach permits. In the following chapters, I put partisan self-interest to the test by examining a range of other, extra-partisan considerations that motivate political actors—whether elites or the mass public—to favor the adoption of new electoral rules or the adaptation of existing ones. Examples of such motivations include: the effect of geographic loyalty on support for electoral college reform; of predispositional core values on support for absentee voting; and, of nationalistic attitudes such as American exceptionalism on support for systemic congressional and presidential electoral reform. The major contribution of this research is that it presents a more accurate understanding of a process that is central to democratic maintenance and renewal: while the (expected) partisan effect of a reform is indeed a powerful motivation, actors possess—and chase through reform—predispositional and attitudinal objectives other than those that are immediately partisan in nature.