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Democracy Reform
Primer Series

Narrowing the gap between
research and public dialogue

About The Primer Series

Narrowing the gap between research and public dialogue, the University of Chicago Center for Effective Government's Democracy Reform Primers responsibly advance conversations and strategy about proposed changes to our political institutions. Each Primer focuses on a particular reform, clarifies its intended purposes, and critically evaluates what the best available research has to say about it. The Primers do not serve as a platform for either authors or the Center to advance their own independent views about the reform; to the contrary, they serve as an objective and authoritative guide about what we actually know—and what we still don’t know—about the likely effects of adopting prominent reforms to our political institutions. In some instances, the available evidence may clearly support the claims of a reform’s advocates. In other instances, it may cut against them. And in still others, the scholarly literature may be mixed, indeterminate, or altogether silent. Without partisan judgment or ideological pretense, and grounded in objective scholarship, these Primers set the record straight by clarifying what can be said about democracy reforms with confidence and what requires further study.

About The Series Editor

CEG Faculty Affiliate Anthony Fowler is a Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. His research applies econometric methods for causal inference to questions in political science, with particular emphasis on elections and political representation. Fowler is currently the Co-editor in Chief of the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, and the co-author (with Ethan Bueno de Mesquita) of Thinking Clearly with Data: A Guide to Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis (Princeton University Press, 2021). Fowler earned his Ph.D. in government from Harvard University and completed undergraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Term Limits

Written by
Anthony Fowler
Harris Public Policy, University of Chicago

  • Jan 25 2024
  • 15 minute read

Too many of our incumbents are incompetent, corrupt, ideologically extreme, or out of touch, yet the vast majority of incumbents are regularly reelected. Term limits would “throw the rascals out” and bring new blood into office.

Filibuster Reform

Written by
Ruth Bloch Rubin
Ruth Bloch Rubin

  • Jan 25 2024
  • 12 minute read

Many important and popular pieces of legislation that have majority support are not enacted because their sponsors lack the votes to override a potential Senate filibuster. By changing how the filibuster is practiced, or eliminating it altogether, the Senate would no longer be hostage to relentless obstruction and would instead be more productive and responsive to the will of the people.

Public Funding of US Elections

Written by
Alexander Fouirnaies
Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

  • Jan 25 2024
  • 12 minute read

Private fundraising in US elections corrupts the incentives of elected officials, advantages entrenched elites, and harms electoral competition. Public funding of elections could level the electoral playing field and better align the interests of elected officials and citizens.

The Timing of Local Elections

Written by
Christopher R. Berry
Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

  • Jan 25 2024
  • 14 minute read

Despite their importance, and increased relevance to the average citizen, turnout in local elections is startlingly low, often less than 20%. Researchers point to local elections held synchronously with national elections that on average yield almost double the voter turnout and produce more representative candidates.

Political Appointees to the Federal Bureaucracy

Written by
David E. Lewis
Vanderbilt University

  • Feb 20 2024
  • 22 minute read

There is widespread dissatisfaction with federal agency performance, with some of the discontent stemming from the large number of appointed positions—some critics site regular vacancies or unqualified candidates in appointed roles, while others take issue with the insulated nature of the career bureaucracy and the difficulty in firing civil servants. Reformers advocate cuts or expansions in the number of political appointees to improve performance.

Elected vs. Appointed Judges

Written by
Sanford C. Gordon

  • Feb 20 2024
  • 17 minute read

By injecting politics into the branch of government for which independence and impartiality are indispensable, judicial elections threaten to undermine the rule of law. Eliminating judicial elections and substituting bipartisan (or nonpartisan) nominating commissions would depoliticize and restore confidence in state judiciaries.

Redistricting Process Reform

Written by
Stephen Ansolabehere and Christopher T. Kenny

  • Feb 20 2024
  • 22 minute read

Far too often, redistricting plans are gerrymandered, leaving politicians less accountable to the citizens they represent. Independent redistricting commissions are frequently proposed as a way to draw fair district lines that don’t favor either party or any candidate.

Compulsory Voting

Written by
Shane P. Singh

  • Feb 20 2024
  • 18 minute read

In the United States, turnout remains lower than in many peer countries. The promise of compulsory voting is that it would incentivize people to turn out and, in turn, bolster the quality of democracy.