Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day 2013 (or why I go to the polls in an odd-year)

Hailing from the great Commonwealth of Virginia, I am well acquainted with the practice of holding important elections in odd-year. Virginia is a bit pretentious when it comes to our political practices, hence the fact that we are no mere state.

Sound familiar?

As is its practice, Virginia holds its elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general in the year immediately following presidential elections. Had I still lived in Virginia, I'm sure I would have enjoyed the pleasure of enduring one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in recent history (if only Bill Bolling hadn't dropped out of the race). Alas, I do not. I will have to wait another year before deciding if Tom Corbett deserves another term in office (hint: no).

But that does not mean Pennsylvania doesn't have elections this year. We have very important races to decide, like Supreme Court judges (as I study judicial elections for a living, I will confidently assert that all the incumbents will win), county supervisor, and district attorney. And then there are the not-so-important candidates. Of the 11 municipal elections, only three actually had more than one candidate on the ballot.

Sir Auditor, the Not-Quite-So-Important-As-Sir-District-Attorney

As any good public citizen, I took some time last week to research the elections so I would be prepared to cast my vote. I was surprised to find several offices on my ballot which one would think don't need to be there. For instance, Pennsylvania still elects jury commissioners. While their purpose seems pretty clear (call people to jury duty), I don't understand why this needs to be an elected office. I'm sure our local jury commissioners were kept busy last year (we had a somewhat high-profile trial), but it also seems like this is a task easily performed by a computer: randomly select individuals from a list of eligible jurors and mail court summonses. In a rare instance of progressive government reforms, the legislature is actually abolishing the position (sort-of).

Whoa, let's not get too progressive

Perhaps a better example of silly offices on the ballot is auditor. According to PA law, each township must elect a board of auditors to, well, audit the township. Except that law also allows the township to hire professional CPAs to perform this task. Seems to me like this probably more efficient, since in some smaller townships it would be difficult to find enough qualified individuals with an interest in running for this position.

Ron Swanson would fire all government officials so there is no one to spend money

As it turns out, our township does exactly this. So great, that's some space on the ballot saved. Wait, we still have to vote for auditors? Yes! Well that seems silly. Does anybody even run? No! That must make for some fun write-in candidates. Why yes it does! Here's just a few of the candidates receiving votes since 2009:

Sidney Crosby, aka Sid the Kid, aka Cindy Crysby
Graham Spanier, former president of Penn State and promoter of "football" culture
He could audit my books any day
Someone wrote in "Republican." Does this mean we can use an elephant?
This guy

Sadly I did not start my campaign for auditor in time this year to have a good chance at winning, but I did give it my all coming up with some strong write-ins this year.

Magisterial District Judge JoePa
School Director Amanda Soltoff
Judge of Election. Shockingly Amanda and I both thought she'd make a great judge of elections, whatever that is.
Inspector of Election Sam Seaborn, aka Chris Trager, aka Hottie McHotterson
Amanda's selection was far more clever.
Inspector Clouseau would also have been acceptable

Really I could not understand the importance of voting in this election. As my colleagues are undoubtedly pestered about around this time of year,* isn't the probability of actually influencing the outcome of an election extremely unlikely? According to the utility hypothesis of R = (PB) - C, the probability of influencing the election is remote. But there are a wide range of benefits one attains through voting.

Instrumental benefits of voting

Expressive benefits of voting

Candy benefits of voting

If you haven't yet today, make sure you get out to the polls today (or don't, I really couldn't care less)!


*This makes me wonder if political scientists are more or less likely to vote in elections than the general public. Clearly we are interested in politics more than the average citizen, yet we should also understand better that our votes don't really matter. And since individual voter participation is a public record, I could easily test these hypotheses. I smell a PS article.

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