Sunday, July 21, 2002
Is There a Political Scientist in the House?

It's fairly easy to understand how the structures of more local government (e.g., county and city in the USA) differ from the structures of more distant government (e.g. state and Federal). For example, the need or justification for multiple chambers in representation at the local level is hard to come by (at least for me).

But how comes it that at the local level there are all these almost-hairbrained seeming schemes regarding election of the local representative body. I'm talking about whether to have few or a large number of districts, the distributions of "at large" seats, of "superdistricts", and of overlapping districts, of having multiple representatives per districts or overlapping term intervals, etc.

An example of some of the issues can be found in this story in today's Daytona Beach News-Journal. Volusia County has a manger-council type of govenment, so the only county-wide lawmaking elected officials are the holders of the at-large seats on the seven member County Council.

Both at-large seats and superdistricts (we had those back in Shelby County (Memphis), Tennessee) strike me as wrong. I always thought the better principle was to have more representation coming from smaller, distinct districts. Even at the level of county or city government.

The article pointed to does mention some of the supposed problems that at-large seats, etc., are supposed to solve.
A council composed entirely of single-member districts will often fragment because of gulfs between interests and make little progress, according to the experts. A council composed entirely of at-large members will often consolidate power in a small influential group and many times cuts out minority representation, [unnamed -- my addition] experts said.
I would really appreciate any pointers to the reasoning among, say, PoliSci types for why this is held so, or for why larger councils with smaller districts aren't the solution. Excepting increased cost, of course.

Aside: Back in Tennessee, they unfortunately changed the names of the default county government structures. The representatives went from being the County Court to being the County Legislative Body, and the County Judge went from being the County Judge to being the County Executive. How much money did some loser political science consultants get for that, or was that more homespun wisdom from the Tennessee legislature?