Available Working Papers

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

Despite a long history of legal challenges alleging that elections conducted at-large suppress minority representation, this remains the dominant electoral system in local governments throughout the United States. Moreover, a large empirical literature remains divided over the present-day impact of at-large elections on the political success of underrepresented groups. We reconcile the competing findings in this literature by providing contingent, causal estimates of the effect of conversion from at-large to by-trustee area elections on minority officeholding, using a novel identification strategy afforded by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. We find a dramatic positive effect of conversion in districts where the Latino minority is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated; where there is a large income disparity between the minority and the majority; and where the minority reaches a relatively high level on selected socioeconomic indicators. When these conditions are not satisfied, we consistently see null estimated effects.  [Download]


Disclosure, Transparency, and stakeholders in public pension financial reporting

When does government transparency lead to a well-informed public?  This paper argues that transparency, or the ease of accessibility of information, is a distinct concept from disclosure, or the accuracy of released information.  Using an original dataset on public sector pensions as an illustrative case, I show that the degree to which the government fails to accurately disclose financial data is not just a function of the actual fiscal health of the pension but also of the availability and timely release of financial reports, the extent to which the administration of the pension has been captured by public sector employees, and the strength of public sector unions in the state.  My findings suggest that the type of subtle corruption inherent in improper accounting and reporting behavior is not simply a result of political culture or incompetent policymakers, but a rational response to concrete political and budgetary trade-offs.  [Download]

The Differential Impact of Single-Member and At-Large Voting Districts on Local Democracy: New Tests and Evidence (with Asya Magazinnik)

In many local elections throughout the United States, multiple candidates can compete for and win the same public office ("at-large districts''). This is in contrast to the classic majoritarian electoral scheme in which one candidate is chosen to represent a single geographical subunit ("single-member districts''). Although at-large voting systems have historically been used to suppress minority representation, as a bare majority of a district can dictate the composition of the entire governing body, scholars remain divided over the contemporary implications for the interests of underrepresented groups. A recent wave of litigation against school districts with at-large elections under California's 2001 Voting Rights Act (CVRA) provides a unique opportunity to identify the causal effects of at-large versus single-member districts on local representation and accountability. Taking advantage of a rich new dataset on school district elections, local voter participation, and school finance and educational achievement outcomes, we find that exogenous variation in the way in which school board members are elected exerts a strong influence over descriptive representation, while the link between voting rules and substantive representation remains unclear.   [Download]


What role do interest groups play in decisions about public policy?  This paper offers a novel theory of the public policy process by building on the rich literature on political parties and local politics.  I suggest that state and local budgetary policy, in particular, is more likely to suffer from a ``tragedy of the commons'' when interest groups are strong, politics is hostile, and overfishing is the result of a compromise in which voters are the losers.  Classic machine-like politics in which parties are strong and interest groups are subordinated for the good of both is more likely to result in fiscal responsibility and fewer costly rent-seeking transfers.  I investigate the political determinants of state pension funding as a test of this theory and find that, contrary to conventional wisdom, public sector unions often act as bulwarks against extractive pension benefits when paired with strongly Democratic governments.   [Download]

State GO Credit Rating Response to Public pension Liability Data

Much has been made of, but little said, of what perceived state-level fiscal crises might mean for public policy and fiscal sustainability. Using historical S&P’s ratings and revised pension data that has been stripped of reporting bias, I run a simple empirical model to see whether self-reported or revised data are better at predicting one-year ahead general obligation bond ratings. Though both data fare reasonably well in predicting ratings, the self-reported data appear to outperform revised data in terms of explanatory power. Analyzing borrowing costs directly, however, suggests that creditors may be more savvy, and that actual liability data is better at predicting the size of the interest burden relative to outstanding debt.  [Download]