Cover image for Just elections : creating a fair electoral process in the United States
Just elections : creating a fair electoral process in the United States
Thompson, Dennis F. (Dennis Frank), 1940-
Publication Information:
Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 262 pages ; 24 cm
Introduction. Electoral justice. Legitimacy ; Individual rights ; Fair competition ; Principles of electoral justice ; Deliberating about electoral justice -- [Pt.] I. Equal respect: why votes count. Casting votes ; Drawing districts ; Counting votes ; Conclusion -- [Pt.] II. Free choice: how voters decide. Selecting candidates ; Informing voters ; Financing campaigns ; Conclusions -- [Pt.] III. Popular sovereignty: who decides what votes count. Taking initiatives ; Deferring to state legislatures ; Empowering commissions ; Conclusion -- [Pt. IV.] Conclusion. Electoral deliberation. Justice and representation ; From principles to institutions ; Norms of electoral deliberation ; Forums of deliberation.
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The 2000 election showed that the mechanics of voting such as ballot design, can make a critical difference in the accuracy and fairness of our elections. But as Dennis F. Thompson shows, even more fundamental issues must be addressed to insure that our electoral system is just.

Thompson argues that three central democratic principles--equal respect, free choice, and popular sovereignty--underlie our electoral institutions, and should inform any assessment of the justice of elections. Although we may all endorse these principles in theory, Thompson shows that in practice we disagree about their meaning and application. He shows how they create conflicts among basic values across a broad spectrum of electoral controversies, from disagreements about term limits and primaries to disputes about recounts and presidential electors.

To create a fair electoral system, Thompson argues, we must deliberate together about these principles and take greater control of the procedures that govern our elections. He demonstrates how applying the principles of justice to electoral practices can help us answer questions that our electoral system poses: Should race count in redistricting? Should the media call elections before the polls close? How should we limit the power of money in elections?

Accessible and wide ranging, Just Elections masterfully weaves together the philosophical, legal, and political aspects of the electoral process. Anyone who wants to understand the deeper issues at stake in American elections and the consequences that follow them will need to read it.

In answering these and other questions, Thompson examines the arguments that citizens and their representatives actually use in political forums, congressional debates and hearings, state legislative proceedings, and meetings of commissions and local councils. In addition, the book draws on a broad range of literature: democratic theory, including writings by Madison, Hamilton, and Tocqueville, and contemporary philosophers, as well as recent studies in political science, and work in election law.

Author Notes

Dennis F. Thompson is the Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and director of the Center for Ethics and the Professions at Harvard University. He is the author of Political Ethics and Public Office, Ethics in Congress , and (with Amy Gutmann) Democracy and Disagreement .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In light of events such as the contested 2000 presidential election, it is imperative that voters are able to intelligently judge "the process of elections independently of the outcomes," this book argues. Through a careful analysis of electoral procedures, considered in the light of three main precepts (and chapters)-equal respect, free choice, and popular sovereignty-Thompson aims to give voters the philosophical and political know-how to become more engaged with elections, and to make better informed decisions about electoral justice. Thompson (Political Ethics and Public Office) is a professor of political philosophy at Harvard, and it shows: the ideas are meticulously presented and exhaustively explained, but this volume, which often reads like a textbook, can make for some slow going. Nonetheless, this is important work. Thompson examines the complex principles underlying arguments about district boundaries, registration, the voting process and term limits, among others. He also addresses questions of authority-i.e., who, among legislatures and courts and commissions, should have the power to decide which votes count. Despite the book's dry tone, it is well worth reading, as every American should understand the procedures and ideas it explains. As Thompson says, "reasonable disagreement about electoral justice is not only inevitable but also desirable." (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Thompson's book fits in that sadly small category of political theory applied directly to current problems. He ponders controversies surrounding US elections in light of philosophical principles and examines the arguments of participants themselves. Many of the issues emerged from the 2000 election. It is disappointing, then, that Thompson (Harvard Univ.) barely touches on electoral college reform. But his plate is full of other issues, each of which is carefully discussed through principles of equal respect, free choice, and popular sovereignty. His analysis is thoughtful and sometimes surprising, as when he argues that closed primaries promote free choice better than do blanket primaries. A central theme is that people must look beyond the perspective of individual rights to consider how institutions actually function for benefit or detriment of voters and the system. In some cases, such as campaign finance, Thompson draws specific conclusions: he argues that more funding for disadvantaged candidates is better than limiting money spent in campaigns. In others, such as racial redistricting, he defines the issues carefully but does not come down on either side. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Students of elections, advanced undergraduate and up. J. Heyrman Berea College

Table of Contents

Introduction: Electoral Justice Legitimacy
Individual Rights Fair Competition Principles of Electoral Justice Deliberating about Electoral Justice
1 Equal Respect: Why Votes Count Casting Votes Drawing Districts Counting Votes
2 Free Choice: How Voters Decide Selecting Candidates Informing Voters Financing Campaigns
3 Popular Sovereignty: Who Decides What Votes Count Taking Initiatives
Deferring to State Legislatures Empowering Commissions
Conclusion: Electoral Deliberation Justice and Representation
From Principles to Institutions Norms of Electoral Deliberation Forums of Deliberation
Notes Index