The Impact of Court-Ordered District Elections on City Finances

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In 1972, the representation of blacks on city councils was only half of their share of the US population. Starting in 1975, courts sought to increase minority representation by ruling at-large city council elections unconstitutional in jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. Economic theory suggests that this court-induced shift toward district elections could lead to a common-pool problem and thus to greater government noninfrastructure spending. This paper provides empirical evidence that cities that adopt district elections increase noninfrastructure spending, thus providing empirical support for the common-pool problem. Since political institutions seldom change, the shift of US cities to district elections may be long-lasting, which suggests that the goals of equal representation and effective governance may be at odds.

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