Partisan Election in the United States
Election in which the candidates run for office with party affiliation indicated on the ballot. Partisan elections first became popular in the 1830s during the height of Jacksonian democracy. Many states that had initially selected judges by means of executive or legislative appointment turned to partisan election in an effort to make judges and other office holders more accountable. A number of states subsequently opted to hold nonpartisan elections in an effort to reduce the influence of political party machines and bosses. The responsibility for candidate recruitment and campaign financing falls primarily to the parties in states with partisan elections. The party label often becomes the key factor when citizens make voting choices. Access to the ballot in partisan election states may be accomplished by petition, but typically the parties nominate candidates by caucus or at conventions.
Analysis and Relevance
Partisan elections tend to have higher turnouts than nonpartisan elections because there are mechanisms within the parties that prompt people to vote. Party labels simplify voter decision making but also tend to mask important candidate differences because many voters do not consider more than party affiliation. Incumbents in all elections are likely to be returned to office, but higher proportions of incumbents tend to be defeated in partisan election states than states using nonpartisan elections. If a minority party candidate happens to win a judgeship because of a presidential election or some other event influencing the election, that incumbent is more vulnerable in succeeding elections than an incumbent in a nonpartisan state. Twelve states use partisan elections for at least some of their judgeships. Each of these states permits its governor to make interim appointments when vacancies occur before the end of a full term. While these interim appointees must eventually run in an election to retain the office, executive appointment, not election, initially places many state court judges on the bench. Thus, states using partisan elections must be seen as states that tend to use the executive appointment method to initially fill judicial positions.
Notes and References
- Definition of Partisan Election from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California