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The Unheavenly ChorusUnequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy$

Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691154848

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691154848.001.0001

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What, if Anything, Is to Be Done?

What, if Anything, Is to Be Done?

(p.534) 17 What, if Anything, Is to Be Done?
The Unheavenly Chorus

Kay Lehman Schlozman

Sidney Verba

Henry E. Brady

Princeton University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on changes that would have the result of making the participatory input from individuals and organizations more representative of the American public in terms of a variety of politically relevant attributes—not only such demographic characteristics as social class, race, gender, or age but also preferences and needs for government policy. It seeks to provide some analytical hooks to facilitate systematic thinking about the various strategies that might reduce inequalities of political voice, and emphasizes the reasons as to why political change is so difficult to realize and why it is so often a disappointment when it is achieved.

Keywords:   political change, political reform, political attributes, participatory input, political voice, inequalities

A book like this one that diagnoses a problem in democratic governance usually concludes with a chapter that looks forward by making suggestions for procedural change. Consistent with our habit of sticking closely to the data, when we have considered such issues in the past we have never availed ourselves of the opportunity to propose reforms that might ameliorate the circumstances that we have gone to such lengths to analyze. In a break from our prior reticence, in this chapter we consider some of the political, educational, and social changes that might overcome partially the inequalities of political voice that previous chapters have documented in such detail.

Our more reform-minded readers will probably not find our exploration to be fully satisfactory. In the space of a single chapter, we cannot give thorough consideration to the various procedural changes—many of which, like campaign finance reform and voter registration, have been the subjects of multiple volumes and extensive scholarly writing—that might address political inequalities among citizens. Rather than propose a laundry list of reforms, we hope to provide some analytical hooks to facilitate systematic thinking about the various strategies that might reduce inequalities of political voice. Moreover, as signaled by the title of the chapter, we have not abandoned entirely our previous prudence. As we proceed, we shall emphasize repeatedly why political change is so difficult to realize and why it is so often a disappointment when it is achieved. Hence this chapter makes no pretense of being the final word on what is to be done.

Shauna Shames is coauthor of this chapter.

(p.535) We should make clear that our purview in this chapter is not the entire landscape of political reform. There are many proposed changes to American political procedure—for example, term limits for members of Congress, a defined period of campaigning for federal elections, or a greater role for elected officials at party conventions—that might or might not be desirable but that are not germane to our central concern. In fact, we are not even concerned with the full range of reforms that might bear on citizen political participation. The agenda of procedural reforms contains items, of which voting by mail is an example, that seem to have the effect of raising the level of activity without decreasing inequalities of political voice.1 In fact, because most people are not especially active in politics, and thus the channels that transmit messages from citizens to public officials run at far below full capacity, it is possible simultaneously to increase both the amount of activity and the extent to which it is unrepresentative.

Our focus is on changes that would have the result of making the participatory input from individuals and organizations more representative of the American public in terms of a variety of politically relevant attributes—not only such demographic characteristics as social class, race, gender, or age but also preferences and needs for government policy. As we have maintained throughout, our concern with equality of political voice does not prescribe any particular inflection point along the continuum of elite autonomy or populist control in policy making, only that the expressions of political voice—through which citizens inform public officials about their circumstances and opinions and persuade them to listen—represent all equally.

The Uphill Road to Reform

As political scientists, we have reason to be leery of wholehearted endorsement of political reform. Not only are there multiple barriers to effecting political change but political history is littered with examples of procedural reforms that did not deliver on their initial promise. As we discussed in Chapter 10, one of the axioms of political analysis is the strong gravitational pull exerted by the political status quo in America. As every textbook points out, our political system was constructed from the outset to diminish the possibilities for hasty change. The checks and balances intrinsic to separation (p.536) of powers and federalism have been reinforced by institutional mechanisms that disperse power—for example, the committee system in Congress and a traditionally weak bureaucracy—with the result that inaction is more likely than policy innovation. Not only do institutional arrangements present an impediment to policy change but it is also the case that “policy makes politics.” That is, existing policies usually create stakeholders with an interest in maintaining those policies. Their support for existing policies is an additional factor militating against policy change.

Moreover, federalism implies that many of the political arrangements with implications for inequalities of political voice—ranging from the laws mandating the disenfranchisement of felons to the regulation of corporate giving in state elections—are governed by state, not national, law. Some states have a track record of innovation when it comes to political arrangements. State-level experiments can yield important evidence to guide procedural reform on a more widespread basis regarding such matters as ballot access and campaign finance. However, the very unevenness that is the essence of federal arrangements implies that sometimes these procedural arrangements—for example, poll taxes in the South or restrictive local regulations governing protests—act as barriers to equal voice instead of facilitating it.

Bringing about changes on a national basis involves changing up to fifty sets of laws—and perhaps myriad local ones—which is much more challenging than altering a single federal statute. One way to overcome the impact of federalism and bring about change on a national basis is by constitutional amendment. Historically, the cause of greater equality of political voice has been furthered by constitutional amendments enfranchising former slaves in 1870 and women in 1920, outlawing the poll tax in 1964, and enfranchising young adults in 1971. However, the number of failed constitutional amendments—including, most recently, the attempt to establish equality under the law irrespective of gender through the Equal Rights Amendment—demonstrates how high a hurdle is imposed by the requirement for congressional super-majorities and passage in three-fourths of the states.

An additional barrier to certain kinds of political changes is the nature of the American political tradition. Distrust of government and a liberal celebration of the individual apart from inherited statuses mean that certain political arrangements that are common across democracies to overcome political inequalities—for instance, registration of voters by the government or reservation of seats in the legislature for underrepresented groups such as women—would be less likely in the American context.

(p.537) Anatole France wrote famously: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Still another political obstacle to procedural reform is contained in the observation that, even when fairly applied, the rules of politics are rarely neutral in their political effects, and thus a quarrel about the rules of American politics often masks a dispute over substance. Most observers of American democracy do care deeply about the frequently conflicting values at stake in disputes about procedure. Nevertheless, there is often a remarkable coincidence between political self-interest and the competing democratic norms to which contestants appeal in debates about political arrangements. For example, laws aimed at combating vote fraud that require voters to present a photo ID at the polls are thought by many to pose a more substantial deterrent to turnout by voters of limited education or English language skills. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Democrats are less likely than Republicans to consider vote fraud to be a serious problem and less enthusiastic about voter ID laws as a possible remedy. Of the 2,018 legislators across nine states that considered voter ID bills between 2005 and 2007, 95.3 percent of the Republicans and 2.2 percent of the Democrats voted in favor.2

Political Reform: Results or Consequences?

When it comes to political reform, it is a truism that “you want results and you get consequences.” For a variety of reasons, political innovations frequently do not work out as expected. As commonly noted about public policies, and many other matters, “The devil is in the details.” Assessments of the consequences of procedural reforms often contain the caveat that they have their intended impact “if correctly designed,” thus attesting to the central role played by details of program design in determining their effectiveness. It is often possible to find loopholes that can be exploited to subvert the best intentions for political change—a circumstance that seems to be the rule, not the exception, when it comes to campaign finance law. For example, the impact of limitations on the sums that individuals can donate to campaigns is weakened when smaller checks are “bundled” together.3

(p.538) Furthermore, it is one thing to legislate and another to implement. In many cases, the implementation of political reforms has been spotty. For example, on the principle that low-income and disabled voters would be less likely to have cars or driver’s licenses, the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) contained provisions directing states to provide for voter registration not only at motor vehicle bureaus but also at public assistance agencies. According to a report issued by Project Vote and Dēmos, nongovernmental organizations concerned with voter participation, compliance with the mandate for voter registration at public assistance agencies declined precipitously in the decade after the NVRA was passed and first implemented. Comparing two presidential election cycles (1995–1996 and 2003–2004) shows a decrease of 60 percent in the number of registrations at public assistance agencies over the eight-year period.4

In addition, procedural changes often bequeath unintended consequences. For example, in seeking to establish the direct party primary early in the twentieth century, Robert La Follette reasoned that, if parties were no longer controlled by bosses driven by desire for patronage, they would be more likely to be united behind policy programs. However, if anything, the introduction of direct primaries left the parties less disciplined and cohesive. Similarly, in seeking to make the Democratic presidential nominating process less removed from the rank and file, the McGovern-Fraser Commission (1969–1972) did not intend to spur the widespread introduction of state presidential primaries. Nonetheless, that was surely one consequence of its guidelines.5

(p.539) Still another example of a government initiative that worked out in unanticipated ways—one that touches our concerns very directly—was the controversial mandate for “maximum feasible participation” of the poor in the community action programs of the federal poverty program of the 1960s. According to one analysis of this casually legislated attempt to address “political poverty”—that is, the political powerlessness and quiescence of the poor—the pushback against community participation by urban blacks came from a somewhat surprising source. It came “not from businessmen antagonistic to changes in class relationships nor from white groups resisting racial equality” but instead from “Democratic politicians who had often relied on black electoral support and encouraged specific black advances within their cities” and who resisted threats to established patterns of authority and to their own political power.6

Not only do reforms sometimes produce unexpected results but a procedural reform in the name of one democratic value may, in fact, jeopardize others. For instance, opponents of same-day voter registration, a procedural reform that increases turnout, argue that it increases vote fraud. Surely the integrity of the electoral process, which requires restricting access to the ballot to eligible voters, is also an important democratic principle. As we shall see, among the most notable examples of the way that political reforms may involve trade-offs among cherished democratic values is campaign finance regulation.

Our discussion so far leads us to be circumspect about the possibilities for reducing political inequalities through procedural reform both because there are political barriers to the realization of such reforms and because they so often go awry if adopted. There is a final reason that we are dubious about what can be achieved by procedural reform. Our analysis of the roots of political inequalities makes clear how deeply embedded they are in social, educational, and economic inequalities. If this volume has any theme, it is the power and durability of the impact of stratification by socio-economic status (SES) on individual and collective political participation. Addressing (p.540) such inequalities of income and education is not a matter of mere institutional tinkering but would constitute a political and social revolution requiring a level of patience and a commitment of resources that have not been characteristic of American policy and that would seem out of step with the current political climate. It is difficult to overestimate what would be required to cut through the web of interconnected political, social, economic, and educational circumstances that reinforce inequality in contemporary America. Not only would the radically egalitarian policies designed to level the SES playing field be politically unlikely but it is doubtful that they could be fine-tuned in such a way as to bring about the desired outcomes without other disastrous consequences.

Strategies for Ameliorating Inequalities of Political Voice

Thus chastened, we shall spend the remainder of the chapter discussing a series of changes that might have the effect of reducing inequalities of political voice. Once again, our survey of reforms is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of possible democratic reforms. It is not even a survey of possible reforms that have some bearing on political voice. Instead we focus much more narrowly on those that, if implemented, have a chance of reducing inequalities of political voice. The qualifiers if implemented and chance reflect our understanding of the barriers to enacting and implementing reforms and the frequent surprises in how they actually work out.

Table 17.1 presents a series of six strategies for reducing inequalities in political voice and, for each, gives examples of the kinds of political arrangements or public policies that are in place in the United States and in some other developed democracy. Those strategies are as follows:

  • Ensuring votes of equal weight

  • Mandating a participatory ceiling

  • Establishing a participatory floor

  • Lowering barriers to activity

  • Recruiting activity

  • Developing civic capacity

We developed these rubrics as a tool in organizing a complex discussion of the multiple policies that contain the possibility of ameliorating inequalities


Table 17.1 Strategies for Reducing Inequalities of Political Voice in the United States and Other Developed Democracies


United States

Other Developed Democracies

Ensuring Votes of Equal Weight

One person, one vote

Proportional representation electoral systems

Mandating a Participatory Ceiling

Limits on lobbying Limits on campaign contributions

Full public financing of elections

Establishing a Participatory Floor

Intervenor funding

Compulsory voting

Lowering Barriers to Activity

Voter registration at public assistance agencies

Election day a national holiday

Recruiting Activity

Get-out-the-vote drives

Strong labor unions

Developing Civic Capacity

Civic education

Educational and social services Redistributive economic policies

(p.542) of political voice, but we do not wish to reify these categories. It would be easy to slice and dice the relevant proposals in other ways. There are surely alternatives with respect to the rubrics under which relevant policies could be grouped.

Ensuring Votes of Equal Weight

An obvious source of political inequality is any set of electoral arrangements in which votes do not count equally. Until a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s declared the practice an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, legislative districts often differed substantially in population, with the result that those living in districts with fewer people, usually rural districts, enjoyed greater representation.7 The effect of these Court decisions was to end such mathematical malapportionment for state and local legislatures, and eventually for the U.S. House.

However, the U.S. Senate remains as a clear example of unequal representation of individual citizens, with, at this writing, the most populous state, California, having the same number of senators—and more than seventy times the number of inhabitants—as the least populous, Wyoming. At times in the past, the equal representation of states in the Senate has had the political effect of protecting particular minority interests, such as the interests of slaveholders. At present, altering the composition of the U.S. Senate—which, because Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate”—is extremely politically remote.8

Support for altering the other visible manifestation of unequal votes, the Electoral College, arises from time to time—usually in response to an election in which the peculiar operation of the Electoral College threatens to produce deadlock or to elect as president a candidate who did not win a plurality of the popular vote rather than in response to an abstract concern about the way that popular votes may weigh unequally.9

(p.543) In discussions of the Electoral College, voters in three different sets of states are deemed to be advantaged by the way that the Electoral College works in presidential elections:

  • Small states, because the apportionment of electoral votes as the total of a state’s delegation to the U.S. House and Senate implies that each electoral vote represents fewer popular votes

  • Large states, because the unit rule in the casting of electoral votes to the plurality winner in the state makes winning a large state much more valuable in the Electoral College tally

  • Competitive states, because candidates do not pay much attention to states that they know they will definitely lose—or win10

In addition, the common wisdom has traditionally been that the biases in the operation of the Electoral College accrue to the advantage of urban interests, especially blacks.11 However, there is reason to question this conclusion. The states in which African Americans are an especially large share of the voter-eligible population tend to be in the South and to be medium sized. They do not fall into any of the categories—the small, the large, or the competitive—said to be privileged in presidential elections. Thus, contrary to the received opinion, African Americans do not seem to be placed at a political advantage by the Electoral College.

It can be argued that the most substantial affront to votes of equal weight is the system of single-member legislative districts with winner-take-all elections. (p.544) Under these arrangements, which have long been critiqued by reform-minded scholars, politicians, and activists, the votes of those who cast ballots for any candidate other than the one gaining a plurality of the vote have essentially no weight at all. In contrast, in systems using proportional representation, parties attracting votes beyond a specified threshold, even if not a plurality, gain legislative representation, and therefore voters supporting minority viewpoints are not shut out. According to Robert Dahl, “Because the governing coalitions [in proportional systems] will generally include representatives from minority parties, governing majorities are likely to be more inclusive than in a majoritarian system. Thus, a proportional system comes closer than a majoritarian system to providing equal representation—an equal say—for all.”12 That said, the political obstacles to bringing about a change in the procedures for presidential elections are, to say the least, formidable.

Mandating a Participatory Ceiling

Much more common than inequalities of political voice deriving from electoral arrangements in which votes count unequally are those that derive from inequalities in the resources of skills, time, and money that make it possible for individuals and organizations to be politically active and from differences in the desire to use those resources in the pursuit of political objectives. With the exception of voting—for which the principle of one person, one vote mandates equality of political input among individual participants—all forms of political activity can be multiplied to the limits of a participant’s capacity and inclination to take part. Thus one way to limit inequalities of (p.545) political voice is to place constraints on the use of resources in participation or the amount of activity in which an individual or organization is permitted to engage.

By way of explanation, consider Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”13 Lest anyone take advantage of special gifts in Vonnegut’s dystopia, the Handicapper General imposes equality of capacities by reducing all to the least common denominator: an intelligent man has a small radio in his ear that emits frequent noises so as to prevent him from thinking too hard; a particularly graceful ballerina is forced to wear weights on her arms; a beautiful one wears a mask that is unsightly. There is no precedent in American politics for the Handicapper General’s strategy of leveling downward. Except under unusual circumstances that will be discussed, individuals are free to spend as much time as they like on participatory acts intended to influence politics: while others pass their leisure time shooting hoops or attending the ballet, activists can spend their spare time working for a candidate for office, composing letters to public officials, or serving on the local zoning board. The most important boundaries are those imposed by the limits on participants’ time, attention, and commitment. In general, when it comes to reducing inequalities by imposing a participatory ceiling, it has been much more common to regulate forms of activity that depend on money than those that depend on time or especially skills.

From the perspective of inequalities of political voice, the unfettered use of money as a medium of participatory input poses special problems.14 When a Monet is sold at Sotheby’s, we expect the highest bidder to prevail. Why do we impose a different standard when it comes to political transactions? As we mentioned when we considered the organizations that are active in Washington politics, we do not ordinarily bother to ask why bribery is offensive in a democratic political system except to say, somewhat tautologically, that we are concerned about “corruption” or “the integrity of the political process.” Presumably, the reason that bribery is an affront to democracy has something to do with the fact that, when political preferments and policy outcomes are apportioned in response to bribes, an important principle of democratic equality is violated: political decisions are no longer made in response to the (p.546) will of the majority or as the result of deliberation on the merits but on the basis of who has the capacity to pay, and therefore democracy is no longer a level playing field on which citizens are equal.

Under certain circumstances, the use of money to achieve political goals is completely proscribed. For example, it is unlawful to bribe a voter. Similarly, everywhere in the United States it is illegal to pay a public official to take some desired action—a set of provisions that are generally, though hardly universally, honored. In the same spirit, there are complicated laws and regulations governing the nature and value of gifts, services, and entertainment that public officials can accept from constituents and representatives of organized interests. U.S. House rules prevent representatives from accepting any present valued above $50, any gifts that are cumulatively valued above $100 from a single source in a calendar year, or any gifts from registered lobbyists.15 Analogous rules vary depending on the political jurisdiction and the branch of government in question. A former Maryland state legislator reported that in his state, under rules enforced by the Maryland Ethics Commission, he was not allowed to accept a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.16

Campaign Finance

Both more controversial and more highly technical than the laws that make it illegal to bribe a public official are the many restrictions that seek to equalize political voice by placing limits on campaign contributions.17 Campaign finance regulations take many forms. Some of them—for example, overall caps (p.547) on what a campaign can spend—are not really germane to our concern with equal political voice among citizens. However, several forms of campaign finance regulation bear directly on the matter of diminishing inequalities of political voice. Among them are restrictions on campaign giving from certain sources such as labor unions, corporations, and government; restrictions on the size of contributions from individuals and political action committees; and schemes for the public funding of elections. In addition to federal laws regulating campaign finance are diverse regulations on the state and local levels. Forty-five states impose some type of campaign contribution limits, and twenty-three have some sort of public funding of electoral campaigns or political parties.18 Furthermore, a number of large cities provide either full or partial public funding for citywide elections.19 Viewed cross-nationally, the American system of campaign finance is unique among developed democracies in the extent to which it relies on contributions from individuals and organized interests.20 Every other democracy of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses some form of public funding to conduct its elections.21

(p.548) Fundamental to the controversy over campaign finance regulation is the extent to which campaign finance arrangements entail complex trade-offs among democratic values. As students of democracy, we ask a great deal of elections: among other things, to be free of corruption, to be competitive, to involve a large share of the eligible voters, to increase the voters’ faith in the political process, and to allow maximum opportunities for individuals to express—and to persuade others to heed—their views. Depending on whether what is at stake is a cap on individual contributions or public funding and depending on just how the regulations are specified, procedural arrangements that might ameliorate inequalities of political voice have possible consequences for a number of these desirable qualities for elections. In particular, political scientists have examined, with mixed results, the implications of various forms of campaign finance regulation for the competitiveness of elections.22

No fancy statistical studies are needed to ascertain that ceilings on contributions have the effect of preventing those who are so inclined from devoting (p.549) whatever resources they have to campaign donations. Such restrictions are unambiguously a constriction of individual liberty and are therefore to be taken seriously by anyone concerned about democracy. Whether such constraints constitute an infringement of free speech, however, is a more complicated—and more highly contested—matter. The Supreme Court first declared spending money to be a form of speech in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). Reviewing the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Court stated in the majority opinion:

A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached. This is because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money. The distribution of the humblest handbill or leaflet entails printing, paper, and circulation costs. Speeches and rallies generally necessitate hiring a hall and publicizing the event. The electorate’s increasing dependence on television, radio, and other mass media for news and information has made these expensive modes of communication indispensable instruments of effective political speech.23

Within the principle that spending money is a form of constitutionally protected expression, the Court ruled that it would not permit certain kinds of restrictions—most importantly, on independent spending that is not coordinated with a candidate—but allowed many others. For three decades the Court hewed to this course, emphasizing the relevance of the First Amendment to campaign finance laws while permitting various forms of regulation. In McConnell v. FEC (2003), a divided court upheld most of the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

With the personnel changes that brought Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the bench, the Supreme Court has tacked in a more antiregulatory direction since then.24 In a series of five decisions, the Court struck down several campaign finance laws: strict state and local limits on (p.550) contributions in Vermont (Randall v. Sorrell [2006]); restrictions, sustained a few years earlier in McConnell, on the use of corporate and union funds to pay for electioneering communications (FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. [2007]); BCRA’s “Millionaire’s Amendment” that lifted limits on what could be contributed to a House or Senate candidate whose self-funded opponent had spent personal funds over a specified amount (Davis v. FEC [2008]); and Arizona’s provision, passed by ballot initiative, for escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing (Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett [2011]).25 In contrast to other recently disallowed provisions, the Millionaire’s Amendment and the Arizona’s Citizens Clean Election Act did not restrict political expenditures; in fact, it facilitated them.

The most significant and controversial decision was handed down in early 2010, when the Court struck down limits on corporate independent expenditures on political campaigns in its decision in Citizens United v. FEC.26 The case concerned a documentary produced in 2008 by a nonprofit corporation, Citizens United, and the television advertisements for this documentary, both of which were highly critical of then– presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The FEC argued that such negative advertising was an unlawful independent expenditure under BCRA. Reversing a lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the BCRA provisions limiting corporate independent expenditures constituted an “outright ban on speech” and had a “substantial, nationwide chilling effect” on free speech.27 In a reference that made unusually clear the value trade-offs inherent in campaign finance regulation and their consequences for equal political voice, Justice Roberts cited “Buckley’s explicit repudiation of any government interest in ‘equalizing the relative ability of individuals and groups to influence the outcome of elections.’”28 In his (p.551) State of the Union address not long afterward, President Obama drew attention to the potential impact of the decision on political equality: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.”29

Undergirding the Citizens United decision is the legal status of corporations as persons. Since the late nineteenth century the Court has extended rights to corporations as persons under the Fourteenth Amendment—among them First Amendment rights.30 As we saw in Chapter 14, corporations are active in lobbying government, and neither their right to do so nor their right to deduct the expenses associated with lobbying has been contested by political reformers. Citizens United recognized and enhanced the free speech rights of corporations. Corporate personhood to the contrary, the rights and responsibilities of corporations are not coterminous with those of individual citizens. Corporations pay taxes, but they do not sit on juries. They can be sued but do not carry guns. In fact, to spoof the notion that corporations are entitled to the same political rights as human persons, those involved with Murray Hill Inc., a small public relations firm in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, decided that the company should run for Congress. “‘Until now, corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influencepeddling to achieve their goals in Washington,’ the candidate, who was unavailable for an interview, said in a statement. ‘But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.’”31

There is a nascent movement among those concerned about corporate political power to strip corporations of their status as persons. While the movement (p.552) uses populist, anti-corporate rhetoric, it is less clear exactly how the rights of corporations to engage in political advocacy would change if they were no longer construed as persons and how much effect those changes would have on inequality of political voice.32

The nature and extent of the consequences of the Citizens United decision depend upon what the courts do to interpret and apply the decision with respect, for example, to state and local laws, what Congress does to introduce statutory and constitutional changes to blunt the effects of the decision, and what organized interests do to take advantage of their new electoral rights. At this point, it seems that the campaign finance environment after Citizens United—and the subsequent appellate court decision in SpeechNow.org v. FEC (2010)—is changing dramatically in ways that, if anything, render the playing field even less level. Although spending traditionally drops in off-year elections, independent spending in 2010 reached unprecedented levels. As we finish this work, media attention is focusing on the avalanche of money pouring into the 2012 Republican primaries and on the preferred vehicle for independent spending, the Super PAC, which permits unlimited donations, often difficult to trace, by individuals, corporations, and unions.33

Restrictions on Voting

When political participation requires time or skills rather than money, individuals and organizations are generally free to be as active as they like— (p.553) constrained not by policy but only by the limits on their talents and their leisure time. Thus politically committed activists can write as many letters to public officials, attend as many rallies, or labor as hard as a member of the school board as they like. However, even forms of political activity that do not rely on money are sometimes restricted. Limitations on such activity do not always have the intent or the effect of ameliorating inequalities of political voice. On the contrary, depending on the circumstances, ceilings may actually exacerbate such inequalities.

The vote is the single form of political participation for which there is an upper bound on the amount of activity in which any individual may engage, and one person, one vote is one of the most important democratic principles in the name of equal political voice. There is another form of limitation on the vote, however—the disenfranchisement of citizens in particular categories. Historically, citizens have been barred from voting on the basis of, most notably, property, race, and sex. Conventional history points to the onward, if protracted, process of incorporating disenfranchised groups into the electorate: Jacksonian-era reforms removed property qualifications; the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments eliminated race- and sex-based qualifications, respectively; and various measures during the 1960s outlawed poll taxes, literacy tests, and other discriminatory policies and practices. However, as Alexander Keyssar makes clear, the process of incorporating a greater share of adult citizens into the electorate has entailed periodic retreats as well as advances and efforts to place barriers to access to the polls on the basis of class.34 The post–World War II era has witnessed the establishment of a nearly universal right to vote for adult citizens.

Nevertheless, access to the franchise is still limited for those who appear to lack either the instrumental or the moral competence to make decisions relevant to participation: children, some of the mentally incapable, and felons.35 With the enfranchisement of eighteen-year-olds by the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 1971, age restrictions on the vote are no longer controversial. In contrast, state laws disenfranchising felons are the subject of contention. With the exception of Maine and Vermont, all states have some provision for (p.554) the disenfranchisement of felons, and fourteen states deny access to the ballot to some or all ex-felons who have completed their sentences and no longer have contact with the criminal justice system.36 States with high proportions of African Americans are especially likely to have stringent laws, and there is good reason to believe that racial considerations played a significant role in their enactment. With felon disenfranchisement laws that are far more punitive than in other developed democracies and incarceration rates that are six to ten times higher, the United States is unique—both in barring large numbers of nonincarcerated felons from the polls and in the share of the electorate that is affected. At the time of the 2004 election, more than five million people, or more than 2 percent of the voting-age population, were denied access to the polls. Although there is no consensus as to whether the disenfranchisement of felons has an impact on actual electoral outcomes, there is agreement that the burden of such laws falls disproportionately on young males—in particular, young African American males—and represents a serious compromise of equality of political voice.37

Limiting Contacts with Policy Makers

The First Amendment to the contrary, another form of political activity, communicating with public officials, is, under certain circumstances, subject to regulation. The policy-making process is said to be enhanced by the free exchange of views between such public officials and those who know about and are affected by government policies, and concerned individuals and organizational representatives are free to approach legislators, elected executives, and their political staff to discuss policy matters. However, different values are invoked for the judicial branch. When it comes to judges, impartiality and fairness take precedence. Thus, in contrast to the possibility of informal contacts with a senator, governor, or mayor when policies are under consideration, informal communications are proscribed when cases are pending before a judge. Individuals or representatives of politically concerned organizations do not take the initiative to get in touch with a judge; (p.555) instead the exchange of views takes place in the ritualized and rule-bound setting of a hearing. Although the relative skills of the parties—or their relative abilities to pay for skilled counsel—may provide an advantage to one side or the other, the structured setting and the requirements for due process put the parties on a more nearly equal footing.38

The expectations that judges act impartially and the substantial efforts they make to shun even the appearance of conflict of interest seem to be at odds with the fact that, in many states, candidates for elected judicial office are permitted to accept campaign contributions from lawyers and litigants who might appear before them. In thirty-nine states, some if not all judges are elected in what can be expensive campaigns, and elected judges do not necessarily recuse themselves in cases involving campaign contributors. Judges for the state’s highest court are elected in twenty-one states, and in eight of those states the elections are partisan.39 In a 2009 decision, a divided Supreme Court ruled five to four that an elected West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself in a case in which the defendant had spent $3 million on television advertisements urging the electoral defeat of the judge’s opponent.40 It is noteworthy that the First Amendment arguments offered by those opposed to the Court’s decision in this case have not been invoked as a justification for permitting litigants and their attorneys to engage in informal contacts with judges when cases are pending.

A different kind of limitation has a clearer impact in terms of political voice when it comes to advocates of broad public interests. There are restrictions on the amount of lobbying that so-called 501(c)3s—such nonprofits as (p.556) museums, universities, clinics, and social service agencies, contributions to which are tax deductible under section 501(c)3 of the federal tax code—are permitted to undertake.41 In fact, these regulations do not erect a wall between nonprofit executives and government officials, especially those in the executive branch. Instead there is a complex and contradictory dance in which those in nonprofits cultivate relationships with policy makers but feel constrained from using the full arsenal of tactics of advocacy that other organizations mobilize—lest their tax status be jeopardized. This chilling effect potentially exacerbates inequalities of political voice among organizations representing different kinds of interests.

The rhetoric surrounding restrictions on lobbying by 501(c)3s and the limitations on campaign contributions illustrates the truism that behind every procedural disagreement in American politics lurks a dispute over substance. Although they have been joined by such First Amendment hawks as the American Civil Liberties Union, it is conservatives who have been most concerned about the implications of campaign finance regulations for freedom of expression. However, periodic conservative efforts to use the prohibition on lobbying by nonprofits as a mechanism to “defund the left” and thus weaken a set of liberal institutions have not engaged a parallel deference to the First Amendment.42 Reciprocally, liberals demonstrate the same inconsistency in the opposite direction, exhibiting less concern with free speech when it comes to campaign finance than with respect to the restrictions on lobbying by nonprofits. Of course the 501(c)3s that are constrained from lobbying by the tax code are unlikely to be uniform in their political perspectives. Still, it is liberals rather than conservatives who have suggested loosening the rules.

Regulating Protests

The restrictions on the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble” take a different form. There is no ceiling on the number of protests or marches that an individual may attend. However, public authorities sometimes prevent such activities from taking place—if, for example, they threaten (p.557) to become disorderly. The rules governing public protests and rallies vary from city to city and are often contested. In one locale a permit may be required for a protest of 250 people, in another for a protest of 300. In New York City, for example, public protests are generally allowed without permits as long as the protest does not block streets, sidewalks, or building entrances and does not use amplified sound.43

There is, however, an irony to this form of ceiling on activity. Unlike caps on campaign contributions, raising barriers to protests has the potential to exacerbate inequalities of political voice. Although the United States has a tradition of middle-class protest movements, as we saw in Chapter 5, the SES bias characteristic of all kinds of political participation does not obtain for taking part in protests and demonstrations. Protest is traditionally viewed as the weapon of the weak, and protest activities sometimes bring new and challenging ideas into politics. Moreover, if local policies are complex, legalistic, or not widely known or if they are zealously or selectively enforced, groups with limited skills and resources are especially likely to be affected.

Establishing a Participatory Floor

The opposite strategy for reducing inequalities of political voice is to give a boost to the silent by placing a floor under the activity of those who participate least. Such participatory floors are quite unusual, but not unknown, in American political arrangements. One policy that can be construed as creating such a floor emerged from the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright establishing the right of an indigent defendant in a felony trial to be represented by counsel, a decision that can be thought of as creating a floor that equalizes voice in a setting in which matters involving individual offenders are resolved.

A short-lived and less well-known example in a domain in which policy is made, intervenor funding, derives from the world of administrative agencies. Under these arrangements, which were in place in a number of agencies from the mid-1970s, citizen groups that did not command the resources or the expertise needed to participate in protracted and complex rule-making hearings were subsidized to take part. In the process, perspectives that might (p.558) otherwise not have come to the attention to public officials were given voice.44 Although most of the intervenor funding programs were killed early in the Reagan administration, some government agencies—for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—continue to solicit public participation in the making of policy.45

Another proposal that would have the effect of placing a floor under political participation is for a publicly funded campaign voucher program that would issue to every citizen a voucher for a set amount—proposals range from $10 to $100—that could be assigned to any (registered) political party, other campaign funding organization, or candidate.46 Citizens would be permitted (p.559) to divide the total and assign varying amounts to different groups or candidates. Earlier proposals varied in terms of whether candidates would be permitted to accept private money in addition or would be limited to voucher receipts, an alternative that, most likely, would not now pass constitutional muster with the Supreme Court.47 Proposals for campaign vouchers have not been met with universal enthusiasm.48 Among the obvious limitations are that they would be expensive. Even at a mere $10 per citizen, the vouchers would come to $2.2 billion if every eligible voter took advantage of the opportunity to use the full value of the voucher. The measure would require defining and registering eligible groups and candidates and would require a bureaucracy to administer and audit the program. Nevertheless, such a program would allow everyone, regardless of resources, to get into the political contributions game and, within limits, to register the intensity of their feelings by apportioning the total to different groups or candidates. Campaign vouchers would presumably result in an increase in citizen interest and knowledge. However, their most important consequence from the perspective of our concerns would be their impact in reducing inequality of political voice.49

A different kind of policy that equalizes political voice by placing a floor under participation involves making political activity mandatory rather than voluntary. To require attendance at meetings or rallies or contributions to a party is more the hallmark of an authoritarian than of a democratic system. However, in about thirty other nations, including eleven of the OECD countries, citizens are required to go to the polls at election time and may be fined if they do not.50 Although there is evidence that countries that have introduced compulsory voting have seen reductions in inequalities in turnout (p.560) among social groups, mandating turnout as a means of equalizing political voice is controversial among political scientists.51 Besides, a proposal for policy making such a demand on citizens might be a tough sell in a nation uneasy with public mandates.

With regard to whether individualistic Americans would countenance being required to vote, we should note that there is a form of required civic involvement that is not usually included in discussions of political activity, jury service. A recent major study shows that, contrary to popular assumption, even though jury service is usually mandatory, those who serve on juries generally feel quite positive about the experience. Jury service seems to have an impact on political activity—increasing rates of turnout, especially for infrequent voters, and often other forms of involvement.52

Lowering Barriers to Activity

Another strategy for ameliorating inequalities of political voice involves lowering the barriers to participation. We have already discussed the extent to which the Internet has made it easier to take part, but there are also public policies—most commonly focused on voting—that facilitate activity. American electoral practices are notable for several reasons. Compared with that of other developed democracies, U.S. voter turnout is low, and voter participation is especially likely to be structured by education and income.53 Furthermore, (p.561) like so many of the procedural arrangements discussed in this chapter, policies and practices around elections—such matters as registration, absentee voting, the management of voter rolls, the staffing of polling places, and balloting devices—vary widely across the U.S. states and localities. These local variations have implications for class-based inequalities in turnout. Poor communities are less likely to have well-trained poll workers, up-to-date equipment, and enough voting machines, with the result that lines are likely to be longer and the entire process is less likely to run smoothly.54

In considering the many proposals designed to lower barriers to turnout and make it easier to vote, we must not assume that they have the intended consequence of boosting turnout. Furthermore, we need to distinguish between the amount and the bias of activity. Even when procedural changes are successful in raising the level of electoral participation, they may not have the effect of equalizing political voice through voting.

In particular, the American system of leaving to the individual the responsibility for registering to vote is often cited as a factor that dampens turnout and increases the SES bias among voters. The requirement for registration is seen as posing a particular hurdle to the young, to the residentially mobile, and to those who have low levels of income and education and fewer skills or community ties.55 Reforms designed to ease the registration process, such as (p.562) the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993—known as “Motor Voter”—have a mixed record of success. While mail-in registration seems to have no independent effect, permitting people to register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or vehicle registration seems to increase turnout somewhat, particularly among the young and residentially mobile.56 In addition, postponing the closing date for registration or permitting election-day registration is also associated with higher rates of voting among the young and residentially mobile and may somewhat increase turnout rates among lower-income voters.57 Michigan has a system that links the state’s electronic databases. Registered voters who file a change of address within the state at the Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically reregistered to vote at their new residence.58

Reformers have offered various other proposals for increasing voter turnout by lowering the costs of voting, such as holding elections on weekends rather than on work days or making Election Day a national holiday, as it is in many other countries. Already in place in many states are arrangements that make it more convenient to vote: eased restrictions on absentee voting, often without a requirement for stating a reason; provisions for early voting at polling places; and, in Oregon, voting by mail. Empirical assessments of (p.563) reforms designed to lower the barriers to voting are not especially encouraging. Voting by mail seems to have the greatest success in actually increasing turnout in such invariably low-turnout elections as local elections and those on ballot propositions. Evidence for a positive impact on turnout in elections of greater visibility is more mixed.59 Moreover, to the extent that these studies pay explicit attention to the matter at all, they do not find that greater turnout has the consequence of equalizing voter participation.60

At the same time that efforts have been made in the past two decades to ease access to the ballot, a concern about vote fraud has led to the enactment of other measures that have the possibility for the opposite effect. Especially controversial among these measures are mandates for frequent purging of nonvoters from the voting rolls and requirements that voters show photo ID at the polling place. With respect to the latter, political scientists are in agreement in finding very few cases of the particular form of vote fraud that voter ID laws seek to address: voter impersonation at the polls. Indiana, which has a strict voter ID law that was blessed by the Supreme Court in a 2007 case, has never had a single prosecution for that form of vote fraud. An extensive initiative to uncover and document vote fraud in Texas found only thirteen indictments for vote fraud, none of which would have been prevented by a requirement to show photo ID at the polls.61 There is less agreement as to whether voter ID laws depress turnout.62 Such measures designed to combat (p.564) vote fraud—when taken together with the fact that, even when they increase turnout, attempts to lower barriers to voting so often have disappointing results with respect to reducing political inequalities—may imply that we have entered one of the periodic eras of contradictory trends with respect to equality of access to the franchise or perhaps even one of contraction rather than expansion.

Recruiting Activity

In Chapter 15 we demonstrated that one time-honored weapon in the arsenal of those who seek to expand participation, recruitment, does indeed catalyze activity. Political scientists emphasize the role of strategic elites in generating political participation.63 In addition, Alan Gerber and Donald Green have conducted field experiments specifying what kinds of mobilization efforts yield results. For example, while telephone calls with a nonpartisan message have no impact, knocking on doors and delivering the same message personally can increase voter turnout substantially.64 While our analysis in Chapter 15 makes clear that a great deal of political activity takes place in response to a request, it also demonstrates why it is critical to differentiate the level from the equality of participation. Taken together, efforts to recruit others to take part do produce more political activity, but processes of rational prospecting—in (p.565) which those who seek to generate participation not only search for recruits who are likely to be active but also do so effectively by, for example, compelling letters or big checks—actually exacerbate inequalities of political voice.

Efforts to mobilize political activity traditionally rely not on tinkering with procedural arrangements but on the strength and effectiveness of the institutions that mediate between citizens and government—most importantly, political parties, organized interests, and social movements but also local newspapers.65 Organizations on the left—socialist parties and unions—mobilize working-class citizens to levels above what they would have achieved based on their individual resources and motivation. Such organizations are weaker in the United States than elsewhere.66

Political scientists sometimes wax nostalgic about the era of strong urban party organizations at the end of the nineteenth century and argue that not only have contemporary political parties declined in strength but they have also abandoned any efforts to mobilize the poor.67 There is no doubt that the political parties of the late nineteenth century were more successful in organizing working-class voters and bringing them to the polls—with the result that turnout of the eligible electorate was much less class stratified than it is today. Clearly, campaigns are run by candidates and their hired professionals rather than by parties, and for many reasons the urban machine is a thing of the past.

(p.566) Nevertheless, the strong political parties that produced such high rates of turnout mobilized an eligible electorate that was white and male and were not notably anxious to enfranchise two large groups, African Americans and women.68 Besides, over the past quarter century, the parties have become stronger not just in the legislatures but on the ground as well: more likely to have a local organization that engages in such electoral activities as canvassing and—as we saw in Chapter 15—more likely in recent years to contact voters to urge them to vote.69 The national parties have devoted substantial resources to digitizing information about voters and to GOTV—get-out-the-vote—campaigns.70 Furthermore, the Obama campaign drew on Obama’s experience as a community organizer to build a massive ground organization.71 Still, consistent with the principle that higher levels of participation do not necessarily reduce unequal political voice, our analysis has shown that both parties—including the Democrats, who are more reliant on the votes of those who are lower on the SES ladder—target their recruitment efforts at the affluent and well educated.

Moreover, although some organizations—for example, grassroots organizations with a strong local focus or religious institutions—can bring the politically quiescent into politics,72 what we have learned about the overall (p.567) shape of the organized interest system suggests that mobilization efforts by organized interests would reinforce rather than transform the existing socio-economic bias in political activity. In particular, labor unions—which, across developed democracies, have traditionally been a force for mobilizing have-nots on the basis of their shared economic concerns—have become weaker as both a political and an economic force. Moreover, unions currently enroll a declining share of the private-sector workforce, and the unionized workforce has become, in relative terms, less blue collar and better educated as it has become more concentrated among public-sector workers. Without stronger unions and many more local grassroots groups, mobilization efforts in the current political configuration may increase the level but not the equality of political participation.

Developing Civic Capacity

We cannot conclude a discussion of the strategies for ameliorating inequalities of political voice without considering the need to develop individual civic capacity. In this chapter we have repeatedly made the point that the barriers on the path to participation loom larger for those of limited means and education. Sometimes we are able to specify concrete circumstances to explain why the hurdles seem differentially high. Producing proof of residency is more difficult for the homeless or those who, through poverty, are forced to move frequently. Getting to town hall to register is more difficult for someone who has no car and is working two jobs. Writing a check in support of a candidate is more difficult when there is not enough cash for the electricity bill. Squeezing in time to vote is more difficult for someone who is rushing from work to retrieve the baby from day care and confronts long lines at the polling place. In contrast, participation is easier when there are strong mobilizing institutions, parties, and organized interests to communicate information about political issues, to encourage and guide political involvement, and to offer services to facilitate activity.

Such circumstances go only so far in explaining the extent to which political voice is structured by SES, however. While the configuration of political institutions and arrangements has an impact on political inequalities, individuals bring to their political activity different bundles of attributes—skills (p.568) and resources and such psychological orientations as political interest, knowledge, and efficacy—that lead them to want and to be able to take part. Without recognizing the extent to which inequalities of political voice are shaped by disparities in individual resources and motivations, no amount of procedural tinkering can fully confront their sources.

Addressing such individual differences would require a major public commitment—demanding both resources and patience and having no guarantee of positive outcome—for which Americans have shown little taste. As we made clear at the outset, the context for our inquiry into inequalities of political voice includes both the extent to which American ideological egalitarianism stops short of an embrace of economic redistribution and the growth of economic inequality over the past three decades. Improving educational outcomes, job prospects, housing alternatives, and health care for those at the very bottom are, to us, worthy goals in themselves quite apart from their impact on political inequalities, but such social engineering is difficult. In the era in which this book is being written, there seems to be little political will and no political constituency for making serious policy commitments to raise the educational and economic profile of those who have least.

In the absence of such a major social transformation, one much more limited strategy for developing the civic capacity of individuals focuses on civic instruction in the schools. Assessments of traditional civics classes find them to be widespread but not especially effective, even at imparting knowledge: despite the fact that three-quarters of all high school graduates in the mid-1990s had an American government course in grades 9–12. A 1998 study found that 35 percent of high school seniors were below even the most basic level of civics performance.73 However, advocates for programs focusing on civic education and service-based learning emphasize the possibility that they can give a participatory lift to young people who might otherwise be inactive.74

(p.569) An extensive body of evaluative research indicates that, under certain conditions, civic education and service learning programs have the potential to reduce political inequality by endowing young people whose parents are not well educated and affluent with the skills, knowledge, and other resources they need to engage with politics.75 The conditions that make such programs effective, however, are numerous and not easily met; both the design of the courses and the quality of the instruction matter for their success.76

If civic education is to have the desired impact on inequality, students must bring to civic education a basic level of cognitive ability and the learning tools and skills necessary to process and apply the civic information they learn. Children and teenagers from families that are the least active, who most need civic training to boost their participation, are the least likely to command the abilities needed to make it a useful and engaging learning experience. Moreover, such students are unlikely to attend resource-rich schools with the kinds of programs that studies suggest are the most effective.

Because resources are more readily available to those who need them least and least easily available to those who need them most, civic education and service learning pose a somewhat more complex version of the dilemma discussed with regard to several of the procedural changes we have reviewed. Under the right circumstances, these educational programs can operate to create civic capacity and to raise political engagement and participation, thus (p.570) ameliorating one form of inequality of political voice, the skew on the basis of age, by bringing the young into politics. However, these optimum educational circumstances are less likely to be available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. If those whose parents are well educated and affluent have differential access to well-designed programs of civic education—just as they have differential access to so many participatory resources—the result would be analogous to what we saw for online political participation: to raise the overall level of civic commitment and political activity of the young but not to reduce SES inequalities of political voice within the younger generation. In short, neither civic education nor service learning provides a silver bullet to solve the problem of political inequality.

Another approach is to foster the civic skills of adults. For example, the goal of the Right Question Project (RQP) is to help “people in low and moderate-income communities learn to advocate for themselves, participate in decisions that affect them and partner with service-providers and public officials” in such settings as “educational, health care, social service, community-based organizations and public agencies.”77 Although RQP indicates that its methods produce promising results, these kinds of efforts have been tried in very limited circumstances.

Political innovations on the local level also have a positive impact on political activity. For example, in Chicago neighborhood councils with local control over policing and public schools seem to have engaged and benefitted inner-city African American residents, although they seem not to have had the same positive effects for Spanish-speaking Latino immigrants.78 Another study finds that city-supported neighborhood associations tend to “increase confidence in government and sense of community” and reports finding no evidence that the increased participation introduces racial or economic biases into the system.79 Still, even this kind of intensive, local, city-supported participation did not seem to bring about fundamental change in the class bias of who participates.80

(p.571) Yet another possibility arises less commonly in discussions about how to foster civic capacity: the possibility created by the impact of the design and implementation of government policies in facilitating participation by different segments of the American citizenry. Recent studies suggest that the policy design of government benefit programs can have consequences for the propensity of beneficiaries to take part politically.81 Policies that are universal rather than means tested and bureaucratic agencies that treat citizen-clients with respect and prompt service rather than with delays, negative assumptions, and invasions of privacy promote greater participation in politics.82


This review of policy innovations that might have the effect of ameliorating inequalities of political voice has drawn both on what is broadly known in political science about the process of making public policy and on our own analysis of the roots of political activity and the shape of the pressure system. Our discussion, which has been sobering, underlines why we have been reluctant in the past to rush headlong into recommendations for reform. Beyond the inertial effect of the policy status quo in a system that was crafted more than two centuries ago to place roadblocks in the path of policy change, the political obstacles to procedural reform are formidable—especially when the reform in question is expensive, requires action on the part of each of the states, threatens significant interests with stakes in current policies, or involves trade-offs with other cherished democratic values. Moreover, accomplishing the desired outcome is often difficult. Implementation may be lackadaisical. Determined stakeholders may find ways to exploit loopholes that subvert the original purpose. Even when implementation is vigorous and no one seeks to use details to undermine the achievement of the intended purposes, the results may not be as originally predicted. In short, procedural reforms often disappoint.

(p.572) Nevertheless, our response to the question that animates this chapter, “What, if anything, should be done?” is “As long as we do not expect a full-scale transformation—a number if things.” Short of a massive change in the configuration of the mediating institutions—parties and organized interests—that link ordinary citizens to public officials or a wholesale transformation of the American system of social stratification, we can subscribe to a number of much more limited reforms that hold the promise of having an impact in the desired direction on inequalities of political voice.

For example, it seems reasonable to make more serious efforts to ease registration requirements, for example, by linking various state-level electronic databases so that a change of residence noted by the agencies that collect taxes or register motor vehicles automatically updates a voter registration or by implementing more consistently the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act that mandate voter registration at public assistance agencies. Similarly, it should be possible for states to improve the administration of elections so that the voting experience—the length of the lines, the skill and training of the election workers, the quality and accuracy of the balloting devices—would be more positive and would not depend on the budget constraints of differing municipal budgets. We would also suggest a rethinking of the rules that constrain the lobbying by 501(c)3s—nonprofits to which contributions are privileged with tax deductibility.

With respect to campaign finance, the tide seems to be running in an inegalitarian direction. Still, we would urge consideration of citizen vouchers to allow all to make limited campaign donations and close scrutiny of the consequences of public funding schemes in the states that have enacted them. A properly structured system of public funding of campaigns seems to hold potential for reducing the inequalities of political voice. We would also suggest ongoing monitoring of the programs for civic education for youth and adults and service learning in the schools to ascertain what makes them work and efforts to make sure that such programs are available to the students who need them most.

In each case, there is reason to be cautious. Each of the proposed reforms runs into at least one of various daunting political realities: it would be expensive; it would require either changes in each of the states or a national policy that would raise questions about federalism; it would offend either a powerful stakeholder or another important democratic value. Overall, for each of the reforms we have discussed, there is a trade-off between political feasibility and consequences for inequalities of political voice: the changes that (p.573) would have the greatest impact are the least likely to happen. A group of incremental changes, each one relatively contained, might have an impact on inequalities of political voice. After all, American history, which has been punctuated by periodic bursts of procedural reform, has probably not witnessed its last.


(1.) See Adam J. Berinsky, Nancy Burns, and Michael W. Traugott, “Who Votes by Mail? A Dynamic Model of the Individual-Level Consequences of Voting-by-Mail Systems,” Public Opinion Quarterly 65 (2001): 178–197.

(2.) Figure cited in Chandler Davidson, “The Historical Context of Voter Photo-ID Laws,” PS: Political Science and Politics 42 (2009): 94.

(3.) Fred Wertheimer and Susan Weiss Manes, “Campaign Finance Reform: A Key to Restoring the Health of Our Democracy,” Columbia Law Review 94 (1994). Wertheimer and Manes note (pp. 1140–1141) that, although checks within a “bundle” originate from many sources, the “bundler”—that is, the person, group, or corporation gathering the checks together and delivering them to a candidate or campaign—gets the credit.

(4.) Douglas R. Hess and Scott Novakowski, Unequal Access: Neglecting the National Voter Registration Act, February 2008, http://www.demos.org/pubs/UnequalAccessReport-web.pdf (accessed August 8, 2008), p. 5. The report (p. 6) takes care to consider and discredit explanations other than uneven implementation for the decline in the number of registrations at public assistance agencies. For example, it might be thought that by reducing the number of recipients of public assistance, welfare reform would have obviated the need for voter registration in public assistance offices. However, although the number of recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds did decrease over the period, the number of food stamp recipients increased substantially.

(5.) Austin Ranney, Curing the Mischiefs of Faction: Party Reform in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 205–206. Ranney, who served as a member of the McGovern-Fraser Commission, gives a number of examples of party reforms that have led to unexpected consequences. On the proliferation of primaries, see also Nelson W. Polsby, Consequences of Party Reform (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 56–59.

(6.) J. David Greenstone and Paul E. Peterson, Race and Authority in Urban Politics: Community Participation and the War on Poverty (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1973), p. 13. This government effort to increase participation by the disadvantaged elicited widely differing assessments. For contrasting views, see Daniel P. Moynihan, Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty (New York: Free Press/Macmillan, 1969), and Milton Kotler, “Discussions,” in A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs: Achievements, Failures, and Lessons, ed. Robert H. Haveman (New York: Academic Press, 1977), pp. 281–283.

(7.) On these decisions and their consequences, see Stephen Ansolabehere and James M. Snyder, Jr., The End of Inequality: One Person, One Vote and the Transformation of American Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008).

(8.) See Robert A. Dahl, How Democratic Is the American Constitution? (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 13–18 and 144–148.

(9.) At this time, the supporters of National Popular Vote are seeking a reform that would circumvent the possibility that workings of the Electoral College will deny the presidency to the national plurality winner. According to its Web site, “Under the National Popular Vote bill, all of the state’s electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538).” See http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/pages/explanation.ph (accessed March 23, 2010).

(10.) On the biases in the way the Electoral College operates, see Lawrence D. Longley and Neal R. Peirce, The Electoral College Primer 2000 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), chap. 5, and Robert L. Lineberry, Darren Davis, Robert Erikson, Richard Herrera, and Priscilla Southwell, “The Electoral College and Social Cleavages: Ethnicity, Class, and Geography,” in Choosing a President: The Electoral College and Beyond, ed. Paul D. Schumaker and Burdett A. Loomis (New York: Chatham House, 2002), chap. 11.

(11.) For an example of the common wisdom, see Nelson W. Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky with David A. Hopkins, Presidential Elections, 12th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), p. 243. The argument made in this paragraph is less obviously applicable to Latinos, who are concentrated in such large states as California, Florida, and Texas and in certain swing states like New Mexico.

(12.) Dahl, How Democratic Is the American Constitution? p. 101. A similar sentiment is expressed by Arend Lijphart in “Reforming the House: Three Moderately Radical Proposals,” PS: Political Science and Politics 31 (1998): 10: “That PR provides more accurate representation than majoritarian election methods is not controversial.” See also G. Bingham Powell Jr., Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), chap. 10. Powell shows that, on average, the policies in proportional systems come closer to the policy positions of the median citizen than those in majoritarian systems. For the impact of PR on increasing equality for women and minorities, see Joseph F. Zimmerman, “Underrepresentation of Women and Minorities in Elective Office in the United States,” in Electoral Systems in Comparative Perspective: Their Impact on Women and Minorities, ed. Wilma Rule and Joseph F. Zimmerman (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 101–114; Ian McAllister and Donley T. Studlar, “Electoral Systems and Women’s Representation: A Long-Term Perspective,” Representation 39 (2002): 3–14; and Pippa Norris, “The Impact of Electoral Reform on Women’s Representation,” Acta Politica (Special Issue) 41 (2006): 197–213.

(13.) Kurt Vonnegut Jr., “Harrison Bergeron,” in Welcome to the Monkey House (New York: Dell, 1970), pp. 7–13.

(14.) On the contrast between time and money as resources for politics, see Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady, Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), pp. 289–295.

(15.) U.S. House of Representatives, “The House Gift Rule,” U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, 2010, http://ethics.house.gov/Subjects/Topics.aspx?Section=24 (accessed January, 6, 2011).

(16.) John Hurson, quoted in David D. Kirkpatrick, “States Take Lead on Ethics Rules for Lawmakers,” New York Times, January 1, 2007, p. A-1. Even within the boundaries of strict adherence to such regulations, lobbyists are in a position to do valuable favors for legislators—for example, by holding fund-raisers or otherwise assisting with raising campaign funds or by donating money in support of a party convention.

(17.) The literature on campaign finance reform and its effects is quite substantial. Extensive references to recent literature can be found in the bibliography to Malbin, ed., The Election after Reform: Money, Politics, and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), pp. 271–281, and in the references to the articles in “The Forum: Has the U.S. Campaign Finance System Collapsed?” Berkeley Electronic Press 6, no. 1 (2008), http://www.bepress.com/forum/vol6/iss1 (accessed November 28, 2010). A helpful review of the literature on the effects of campaign finance regulation in the states is Nolan L. Reichl, “What We Know and What We Don’t: A Review of the Literature Empirically Analyzing the Effects of State Campaign Finance Reform Laws,” Senior Thesis, Stanford Law School, Stanford, CA, 2006.

(18.) On contribution limits, see National Conference of State Legislators, “Contribution Limits,” 2010, http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/documents/legismgt/limits_candidates.pdf (accessed November 28, 2010). On public funding for campaigns or parties, see Jessica Levinson, “State Public Charts,” Center for Governmental Studies, Los Angeles, CA, 2009, http://cgs.org/images/publications/cgs_state_pfc_050409.pdf (accessed November 28, 2010). See also Steven Levin, “Keeping It Clean: Public Financing in American Elections,” Los Angeles, CA: Center for Governmental Studies, 2006, http://cgs.org/images/publications/Keeping_It_Clean.pdf (accessed November 28, 2010). For more information, see the series of public election financing and other reports from the Center for Governmental Studies, http://www.cgs.org/.

(19.) Levin, “Keeping it Clean,” and Jessica Levinson, “Local Public Financing Charts,” Center for Governmental Studies, Los Angeles, CA, 2009). These cities include, among others, Albuquerque, Austin, Chapel Hill, Long Beach, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland (CA), Portland (OR), Sacramento, San Francisco, and Tucson.

(20.) For an overview of the literature on comparative political finance, see Susan E. Scarrow, “Political Finance in Comparative Perspective,” Annual Review of Political Science 10 (2007): 193–210. Scarrow points out that most of the literature is not genuinely comparative but consists instead of single-country studies. There are several edited volumes containing chapters on party and campaign finance arrangements in various countries, among them Arthur B. Gunlicks, ed., Campaign and Party Finance in North America and Western Europe (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993); Herbert E. Alexander and Rei Shiratori, eds., Comparative Political Finance among the Democracies (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994); and Robert Williams, ed., Party Finance and Political Corruption (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

(21.) With the exceptions of Chile and New Zealand, which use indirect public funding through free media access, every other OECD country uses direct public funding given to the parties. Chile also has another form of indirect public funding of parties; it grants parties a special tax status. The United States stands out among OECD nations in that it provides for no direct or indirect public funding of parties. See the Political Finance Database of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, http://idea.int/parties/finance/db/index.cfm, or download the 2003 handbook at http://idea.int/publications/fund-ing_parties/upload/full.pdf (accessed November 28, 2010).

(22.) In “What We Know and What We Don’t,” Nolan L. Reichl reviews a number of studies of the consequences for the competitiveness of elections of regulations at the state level. See also Donald A. Gross, Robert K. Goidel, and Todd G. Shields, “State Campaign Finance Regulations and Electoral Competition,” American Politics Research 30 (2002): 143–165, and Donald A. Gross and Robert K. Goidel, The States of Campaign Finance Reform (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2003).

On the implications of public funding, see also Kenneth R. Mayer and John M. Wood, “The Impact of Public Financing on Electoral Competitiveness: Evidence from Wisconsin, 1964–1990,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 20 (1995): 69–88; Patrick D. Donnay and Graham P. Ramsden, “Public Financing of Legislative Elections: Lessons from Minnesota,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 20 (1995): 351–364; and Patrick Basham and Martin Zelder, “Does Cleanliness Lead to Competitiveness? The Failure of Maine’s Experiment with Taxpayer Financing of Campaigns,” Policy Analysis 456, Cato Institute, Washington, DC, October 16, 2002.

Researchers disagree about the consequences of contribution limits. See Robert E. Hogan, “The Costs of Representation in State Legislatures: Explaining Variations in Campaign Spending,” Social Science Quarterly 81 (2000): 941–956; Thad Kousser and Ray LaRaja, “The Effect of Campaign Finance Laws on Electoral Competition: Evidence from the States,” Policy Analysis 426, Cato Institute, Washington, DC, 2002; Kedron Bardwell, “Campaign Finance Laws and the Competition for Spending in Gubernatorial Elections,” Social Science Quarterly 84 (2003): 811–825; Thomas Stratmann and Francisco J. Aparicio-Castillo, “Competition Policy for Elections: Do Campaign Contribution Limits Matter?” Social Science Research Network, 2001, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=274470 (accessed August 22, 2007); and Keith E. Hamm and Robert E. Hogan, “Campaign Finance Laws and Candidacy Decisions in State Legislative Elections,” Political Research Quarterly 61 (2008): 458–467.

(23.) Buckley v. Valeo (1976), p. 9. On the Buckley decision, see Frank J. Sorauf, Money in American Elections (Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman, 1988), pp. 235–246.

(24.) On recent campaign finance decisions by the Supreme Court, see Richard Briffault, “Decline and Fall? The Roberts Court and the Challenges to Campaign Finance Law,” The Forum 6, no. 1, Article 4, 2008, Berkeley Electronic Press, http://www.bepress.com/forum/vol6/iss1/art4 (accessed January 13, 2011), and Adam Liptak, “Justices Reject Another Campaign Finance Law,” New York Times, June 28, 2011.

(25.) The issues at stake in Davis are discussed in Briffault, “Decline and Fall?” pp. 8–9, which was written before the Court had ruled. The decision is discussed in Matthew Mosk and Robert Barnes, “High Court Deals Blow to Campaign Finance Law: ‘Millionaire’s Amendment’ Is Ruled Unconstitutional,” Washington Post, June 27, 2008, p. A 4.

(26.) Liptak, “Justices Reject Another,” shows that five justices (Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas) voted together in all five decisions and were joined only once, by Breyer in Randall.

(27.) Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), U.S. Sup. Ct. 08-205, opinion of the Court, written by Justice Kennedy.

(28.) Concurring opinion (p. 8), written by Justice Roberts. Justice Kennedy included a similar comment (p. 34) in his majority opinion. For contrasting views on the consequences of Citizens United for equality, see Samuel Issacharoff, “On Political Corruption,” and Mark Alexander, “Citizens United and Equality Forgotten,” in Money, Politics, and the Constitution: Beyond Citizens United, ed. Monica Youn (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2011), chaps. 8 and 10.

(29.) “Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address,” January 27, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-state-union-address (accessed March 11, 2010).

(30.) The original case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), involved taxation of railroads. Although the railroad raised the issue of whether corporations were considered “persons” under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court did not rule on this matter in its decision. However, language asserting the personhood of corporations was included in a preface to the decision.

(31.) John Wagner, “Campaign Stunt Launches a Corporate ‘Candidate’ for Congress,” Washington Post, March 13, 2010.

(32.) On the legal consequences of corporate personhood, see Daniel J. H. Greenwood, “Essential Speech: Why Corporate Speech Is Not Free,” Iowa Law Review 83 (1997–1998): 995–1070; Thomas W. Joo, “The Modern Corporation and Campaign Finance: Incorporating Corporate Governance Analysis into First Amendment Jurisprudence,” Washington University Law Quarterly 79 (2001): 1–88; Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights (Rodale, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2002); Kellye Y. Testy, “Capitalism and Freedom: For Whom? Feminist Legal Theory and Progressive Corporate Law,” Law and Contemporary Problems 67 (2004): 87–108; Adam Winkler, “Corporate Law or the Law of Business? Stakeholders and Corporate Governance at the End of History,” Law and Contemporary Problems 67 (2004): 109–133; Kenneth Lipartito and David B. Sicilia, eds., Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Arun A. Iyer, “The Missing Dynamic: Corporations, Individuals and Contracts,” Journal of Business Ethics 67 (2006): 393–406. A helpful summary of the relevant issues and links to other materials can be found at http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/corprights.html (accessed March 10, 2010).

(33.) See Adam Liptak, “Courts Take On Campaign Finance Decision,” New York Times, March 26, 2010; Eduardo Porter, “How the Big Money Finds a Way In,” New York Times, September 18, 2011; Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo, “Campaign Finance Reports Show ‘Super PAC’ Donors,” New York Times, January 31, 2012; and Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo, “Secrecy Shrouds ‘Super PAC’ Funds in Latest Filings,” New York Times, February 1, 2012.

(34.) Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

(35.) On votes for those with developmental disabilities and serious mental health problems, see Erica Goode, “Gentle Drive to Make Voters of Those With Mental Illness,” New York Times, October 13, 1999, pp. A1 ff, and Jeremy Peters, “Who Is Fit to Vote? A Vote Will Decide,” New York Times, October 14, 2007, sec. 14 NJ, p. 2.

(36.) Material in this paragraph is taken from Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

(37.) On the issue of whether felon disenfranchisement laws actually alter election outcomes, compare Manza and Uggen, Locked Out, chap. 8, and Traci Burch, “Punishment and Participation: How Criminal Convictions Threaten American Democracy,” PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2007.

(38.) With respect to these matters, federal executive agencies—which have quasi-legislative functions when they make rules and quasi-judicial functions when they decide cases—occupy a space between these poles. Administrative law judges, who preside over hearings that dispense with cases, are subject to rules parallel to those that govern the behavior of judges. However, with respect to administrative rule making, there is no simple analogy to Congress or the White House. In contrast to the practices that obtain for Congress, greater transparency is expected in the executive branch and agencies, which are required to keep records of contacts with stakeholders. Once again, alternative democratic values are invoked without discussion of their appropriateness for different institutional settings or the trade-offs involved. On ex parte rules, which govern contacts with executive branch agencies, see Richard J. Pierce Jr., Sidney A. Shapiro, and Paul Verkuil, Administrative Law and Process, 4th ed. (New York: Foundation Press, 2004), chap. 9.

(39.) Robert Barnes, “Politics Enters the Courtroom,” Washington Post Weekly Edition, November 5–11, 2007, p. 16.

(40.) On the decision in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Company, see Adam Liptak, “Judges Tell Judges Not to Rule in Major Backers,” New York Times, June 8, 2009.

(41.) The argument in this paragraph is taken from Jeffrey M. Berry with David F. Arons, A Voice for Nonprofits (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2003). Berry probes the relationship between nonprofits and government and the impact of 501(c)3 tax status. He also discusses (pp. 54–65) the way that an obscure tax provision, H election, permits greater freedom in approaching public officials.

(42.) On the effort to “defund the left,” see Berry, A Voice for Nonprofits, pp. 81–85.

(43.) New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), “Know Your Rights: Demonstrating in New York City,” NYCLU pamphlet, 2009, http://www.nyclu.org/files/publications/nyclu_pub_demonstrating_in_nyc.pdf (accessed January 17, 2011).

(44.) On intervenor funding, see Joan B. Aron, “Citizen Participation at Government Expense,” Public Administration Review 39 (1979): 477–485; Jeffrey Berry, “Citizen Groups and Alternative Approaches to Regulatory Reform,” Review of Policy Research 1 (1982): 505; Barry B. Boyer, “Funding Public Participation in Agency Proceedings: The Federal Trade Commission Experience,” Georgetown Law Journal 70 (1981–1982): 51–172; William T. Gormley Jr., “Regulatory Issue Networks in a Federal System,” Polity 18 (1986): 595–620; and Kay L. Schlozman and John T. Tierney, Organized Interests and American Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), pp. 351–353; William T. Gormley Jr., Taming the Bureaucracy: Muscles, Prayers, and Other Strategies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), pp. 77–81; and Richard A. Harris and Sidney M. Milkis, The Politics of Regulatory Change, 2nd ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 173–180.

Australia and Canada have had intervenor funding programs. See, for example, Michael I. Jeffrey, “Intervenor Funding as the Key to Effective Citizen Participation in Environmental Decision-Making: Putting the People Back into the Picture,” Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law 19 (2002): 643–677; and Michael I. Jeffrey, “Environmental Governance: A Comparative Analysis of Public Participation and Access to Justice,” Journal of South Pacific Law 9 (2005), available at http://www.paclii.org/journals/fJSPL/vol09no2/2.shtml (accessed July 29, 2009).

(45.) As of 2003, the EPA mandated “public involvement” in decision making, and certain EPA regulations dictated more specific public participation requirements. See EPA, “Public Involvement Policy,” available at the EPA Web site at http://www.epa.gov/publicinvolvement/pdf/policy2003.pdf (accessed November 29, 2010).

(46.) Various versions of the voucher plan have been proposed. See, for example, David W. Adamany and George E. Agree, Political Money: A Strategy for Campaign Financing in America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975); Bruce Ackerman, “Crediting the Voters: A New Beginning for Campaign Finance,” American Prospect 13, March 21, 1993, 71–90; Edward B. Foley, “Equal-Dollars-per-Voter: A Constitutional Principle of Campaign Finance,” Columbia Law Review 94 (1994): 1204–1257; Richard Hasen, “Clipping Coupons for Democracy: An Egalitarian/Public Choice Defense of Campaign Finance Vouchers,” California Law Review 84 (1996): 1–59; and Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, Voting with Dollars: A New Paradigm for Campaign Finance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002). A related suggestion involves small-donor matching funds, which would have the effect of diluting large contributions in state elections. See Michael J. Malbin, Peter W. Brusoe, and Brendan Glavin, “Public Financing of Elections after Citizens United and Arizona Free Republic,” Campaign Finance Institute, Washington, DC, 2011.

(47.) Ackerman and Ayres, in Voting with Dollars, pp. 26–30, also add a requirement that all contributions be anonymous, which reduces the threat of politicians’ being “bought.”

(48.) See, for example, Bradley Smith, “Some Problems with Taxpayer-Funded Political Campaigns,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 148 (1999): 591–628; David A. Strauss, “What’s the Problem? Ackerman and Ayres on Campaign Finance Reform,” California Law Review 91 (2003): 737; and Daniel H. Lowenstein, “Review: Voting with Votes,” Harvard Law Review 116 (2003): 1971–1994.

(49.) Spencer Overton, “The Donor Class: Campaign Finance, Democracy, and Participation,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 153 (2004): 73–118.

(50.) See Sarah Birch, “Compulsory Electoral Participation and Political Legitimacy,” paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, September, 2007, and M. Gratschew, “Compulsory Voting,” article published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), available at http://www.idea.int/vt/compulsory_voting.cfm#compulsory (accessed January 7, 2008).

(51.) Arend Lijphart, in “Unequal Participation: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma,” American Political Science Review 91 (1997): 1–14, recommends mandatory voting as a means of equalizing turnout. Aina Gallego, in “Understanding Unequal Turnout: Education and Voting in Comparative Perspective,” Electoral Studies 29 (2010): 239–247, notes that mandatory voting tends to reduce the inequality of voting by moving turnout so close to a universal level that there is no room for variation across SES groups. For an alternative view on compulsory voting, see, among others, Mark N. Franklin, “Electoral Engineering and Cross-National Turnout Differences: What Role for Compulsory Voting?” British Journal of Political Science 29 (1999): 205–216. Benjamin Highton and Raymond E. Wolfinger, in “The Political Implications of Higher Turnout,” British Journal of Political Science 31 (2001): 179–192, argue that, because the differences between voters and nonvoters are fairly trivial, the consequences of requiring voters to go to the polls are overstated.

(52.) John Gastil, E. Pierre Deess, Philip J. Weiser, and Cindy Simmons, The Jury and Democracy: How Jury Deliberation Promotes Civic Engagement and Political Participation (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2010), esp. chaps. 3 and 6.

(53.) On low voter turnout, see Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris, “Introduction: The Present and Future of Democratic Elections,” in Comparing Democracies: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, ed. Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996), pp. 16–19, Table 1.3. See also David Hill, American Voter Turnout: An Institutional Perspective (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006). On factors influencing turnout, see, in particular, G. Bingham Powell Jr., “American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective,” American Political Science Review 80 (1986): 17–43.

(54.) See, for example, Henry Brady and Iris Hui, “Accuracy and Security in Voting Systems,” in Designing Democratic Government: Making institutions Work, ed. Margaret Levi, James Johnson, Jack Knight, Susan Stokes (New York: Russell Sage Publications, 2008), ch.10. In the aftermath of the chaotic 2000 election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Although its title might suggest that the objective of the legislation was to increase turnout, the bill was designed to establish standards for and to assist states and localities with the administration of federal elections. There seems to be real progress when it comes to the quality of voting machines, especially the replacement of most punch card and lever pull systems. However, according to Charles Stewart, “Despite the great deal of attention paid to voting reform from 2000 to 2004, and billions of dollars spent, there is surprisingly little systematic evidence of improvement in how elections are conducted in the United States.” See “Measuring the Improvement (or Lack of Improvement) in Voting since 2000 in the U.S.,” paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, September 2005), p. 1; revised for presentation at the Mobilizing Democracy Working Group Conference, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, January 20–21, 2006, available at http://web.mit.edu/cstewart/www/papers/measuring_2.pdf (accessed September 9, 2008).

(55.) See Raymond E. Wolfinger and Steven J. Rosenstone, Who Votes? (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980), chaps. 1–3; Peverill Squire, Raymond E. Wolfinger, and David P. Glass, “Residential Mobility and Voter Turnout,” American Political Science Review 81 (1987): 45–65; and Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote and Why Politicians Want It That Way (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000). On reduced turnout among the residentially mobile in Canada, see Craig Leonard Brians, “Residential Mobility, Voter Registration, and Electoral Participation in Canada,” Political Research Quarterly 50 (1997): 215–227. Brians finds that both reregistration requirements and the severance of social and community ties associated with a residential move play a role in decreasing voter turnout. Benjamin Highton, in “Easy Registration and Voter Turnout,” Journal of Politics 59 (1997): 565, finds that a requirement to register “does contribute to the upscale character of voters” but notes that there are also “substantial differences for which registration laws are not responsible.”

(56.) Stephen Knack, “Does ‘Motor-Voter’ Work? Evidence from State-Level Data,” Journal of Politics 57 (1995): 796–811; Staci L. Rhine, “An Analysis of the Impact of Registration Factors on Turnout in 1992,” Political Behavior 18 (1996): 171–185; and Benjamin Highton and Raymond E. Wolfinger, “Estimating the Effects of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993,” Political Behavior 20 (1998): 79–104.

(57.) Benjamin Highton, in “Registration and Turnout in the United States,” Perspectives on Politics 2 (2004): 507–515, summarizes a great deal of literature. See also Stephen Knack and James White, “Election-Day Registration and Turnout Inequality,” Political Behavior 22 (2000): 29–44. Rhine, in “The Impact of Registration Factors on Turnout,” also finds that same-day voting registration is associated with increased voter turnout.

(58.) R. Michael Alvarez and Thad E. Hall, Point, Click, and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004), p. 43.

(59.) John C. Fortier summarizes a number of studies in Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2006), chap. 3.

(60.) Adam J. Berinsky, in “The Perverse Consequences of Electoral Reform in the United States,” American Politics Research 33 (2005): 471–491, summarizes a great deal of literature with the observation that (p. 471) “reforms designed to make it easier for registered voters to cast their ballots actually increase, rather than reduce, socioeconomic biases in the composition of the voting public.” For similar conclusions with respect to voting by mail, see Jeffrey A. Karp and Susan A. Banducci, “Going Postal: How All-Mail Elections Influence Turnout,” Political Behavior 22 (2000): 223–239; and Berinsky, Burns, and Traugott, “Who Votes by Mail?”; Grant W. Neeley and Lilliard E. Richardson Jr., in “Who Is Early Voting? An Individual Level Examination,” Social Science Journal 38 (2001): 381–392, find (p. 381) that “some evidence suggests that early voting merely conveniences those who would have voted anyway.” See also Jan E. Leighley and Jonathan Nagler, “Electoral Laws and Turnout, 1972–2008,” paper delivered at the Fourth Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, November 2009.

(61.) Davidson, “Historical Context of Voter Photo-ID Laws,” pp. 94–95. To the limited extent that vote fraud compromises election integrity, absentee and mail-in votes pose more of a problem than does voter impersonation at the polls. However, Indiana’s controversial law does not cover requests for an absentee ballot.

(62.) For literature reviews and contrasting empirical assessments, see the following articles contained in a symposium in PS: Political Science and Politics 46 (2009): 81–130: Richard Sobel, “Voter-ID Issues in Politics and Political Science”; Marjorie Randon Hershey, “What We Know about Voter-ID Laws, Registration, and Turnout”; Matt A Barreto, Stephen A. Nuño, and Gabriel R. Sanchez, “The Disproportionate Impact of Voter-ID Requirements on the Electorate—New Evidence from Indiana”; Timothy Vercellotti and David Andersen, “Voter-Identification Requirements and the Learning Curve”; Jason D. Mycoff, Michael W. Wagner, and David C. Wilson, “The Empirical Effects of Voter-ID Laws: Present or Absent?”; and Stephen Ansolabehere, “Effects of Identification Requirements on Voting: Evidence from the Experiences of Voters on Election Day.”

(63.) See, in particular, Steven J. Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen, Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America (New York: Macmillan, 1993), chap 6.

(64.) Alan S. Gerber and Donald P. Green, “The Effects of Canvassing, Direct Mail, and Telephone Contact on Voter Turnout: A Field Experiment,” American Political Science Review 94 (2000): 653–663, and Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004). Subsequent experiments have demonstrated the power of social pressure, especially that of showing irregular voters a written record of their past turnout. See, among others, Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green, and Christopher W. Larimer, “Social Pressure and Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment,” American Political Science Review 102 (2008): 33–48, as well as the results reported in the articles in a special issue of Political Behavior 32 (2010): 331–430.

(65.) Local newspapers have traditionally played a role in explaining local issues to the public and in fostering turnout and other forms of local political participation. On the erosion of local newspapers, see, for example, David Folkenflik, “Imagining a City without its Daily Newspaper,” National Public Radio (NPR), February 5, 2009, available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100256908, and David Folkenflik, “A Nonprofit Panacea for Newspapers?” NPR, February 6, 2009, available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100310863 (both accessed November 29, 2010), and Paul Starr, “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption),” New Republic, March 4, 2009, pp. 28–35. More generally, see Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications (New York: Basic Books, 2004).

(66.) See Sidney Verba, Norman H. Nie, and Jae-on Kim, Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), chaps. 5–7, and Gallego, “Understanding Unequal Turnout.” On the role of unions, see Richard Freeman, “What Do Unions Do to Voting?” NBER Working Paper, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, 2003, and Jan Leighley “Unions, Voter Turnout, and Class Bias in the US Electorate, 1964–2004,” Journal of Politics 69 (2007): 430–441.

(67.) See, for example, Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter, Politics by Other Means: Politicians, Prosecutors, and the Press from Watergate to Whitewater, revised and updated ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), pp. 44–46.

(68.) This bald statement oversimplifies the complicated relationships among the late nineteenth-century political parties, the post–Civil War disenfranchisement of blacks, and support for women’s suffrage. According to Aileen S. Kraditor, in The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), chap. 8, the political parties rebuffed overtures from advocates of the enfranchisement of women, who, in turn, aligned with the antiparty spirit of their Progressive contemporaries. Furthermore, Alexander Keyssar, in The Right to Vote, demonstrates that the appeals of late nineteenth-century woman suffrage supporters were laced with racism (pp. 197–199), that the Democratic Party in Congress opposed federal efforts to protect black voters in the South (pp. 108–111), and that the North stood by quietly while African Americans were deprived of the franchise in the South, a movement with class as well as racial effect (pp. 113–116).

(69.) On canvassing, see Marjorie Randon Hershey, Party Politics in America, 14th ed. (New York: Longman, 2010), p. 55. On GOTV campaigns, see Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde, Change and Continuity in the 2008 Elections (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010), pp. 108–109.

(70.) William H. Flanigan and Nancy Zingale, Political Behavior of the American Electorate, 12th ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010), pp. 50–52.

(71.) Christopher Arterton and William Greener, “Obama: Strategies and Tactics in the General Election,” in Campaigning for President 2008: Strategies and Tactics, New Voices and New Techniques, ed. Dennis W. Johnson (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 183–184.

(72.) In a large body of literature, see, for example, Harry C. Boyte, The Backyard Revolution: Understanding the New Citizen Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980); Gary Delgado, Organizing the Movement: the Roots and Growth of ACORN (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); and Heidi J. Swarts, Organizing Urban America: Secular and Faith-Based Progressive Movements (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

(73.) On the prevalence of civics courses, see Richard G. Niemi and Julia Smith, “Enrollments in High School Government Classes: Are We Short-Changing Both Citizenship and Political Science Training?” PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (2001): 281–287. On the performance of students in such courses, see Robert L. Dudley and Alan R. Gitelson, “Civic Education, Civic Engagement, and Youth Civic Development,” PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (2003): 263–267.

(74.) For a review of a variety of approaches to civic learning, see Peter Levine, The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens (Medford, MA: Tufts University Press, 2007), chap. 7.

(75.) For positive reports on various civic learning programs, see Shelley Billig, Sue Root, and Dan Jesse, “The Impact of Participation in Service-Learning on High School Students’ Civic Engagement,” Center for Information on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) Working Paper 33, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, 2005, http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/WorkingPapers/WP33Billig.pdf, p. 1; Alberto Dávila and Marie T. Mora, “An Assessment of Civic Engagement and Educational Attainment,” CIRCLE fact sheet, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, 2007, http://www.civicy-outh.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_Mora.Davila.pdf; and Michael McDevitt and Spiro Kiousis, “Experiments in Political Socialization: Kids Voting USA as a Model for Civic Education Reform,” CIRCLE Working Paper 49, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, 2006, http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/WorkingPapers/WP49McDevitt.pdf, p. 2 (all accessed August 22, 2007).

More measured assessments can be found in Mary Kirlin, “Civic Skill Building: The Missing Component in Service Programs,” PS: Political Science and Politics 35 (2002): 571, and Susan Hunter and Richard A. Brisbin Jr., “Civic Education and Political Science: A Survey of Practices,” PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (2003): 759–763.

(76.) U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Democracy and Governance, Approaches to Civic Education: Lessons Learned, USAID Technical Publication Series (Washington, DC: Office of Democracy and Governance, USAID, 2002), http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/democracy_and_governance/publications/pdfs/pnacp331.pdf (accessed August 22, 2007).

(77.) Right Question Project Web site, http://www.rightquestion.org/ (accessed on June 24, 2011).

(78.) See Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright, Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Community Governance (New York: Verso Press, 2003), and Wesley G. Skogan, Police and Community in Chicago: A Tale of Three Cities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

(79.) Jeffrey M. Berry, Kent E. Portney, and Ken Thompson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy (Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 2003), p. 14.

(80.) Berry, Portney, and Thompson, Rebirth of Urban Democracy, pp. 284–285. See also Kaifeng Yang and Kathe Callahan “Citizen Involvement Efforts and Bureaucratic Responsiveness: Participatory Values, Stakeholder Pressures, and Administrative Practicality,” Public Administration Review 67 (2007): 249–264.

(81.) See, for example, Joe Soss, Unwanted Claims: The Politics of Participation in the U.S. Welfare System (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000); Andrea Campbell, How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Suzanne Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); and Joe Soss, Jacob S. Hacker, and Suzanne Mettler, eds., America: Democracy and Public Policy in an Age of Inequality (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).

(82.) Campbell, in How Policies Make Citizens, uses Social Security as an example of the former in each case, and welfare as an example of the latter.