Nonpartisan Election

Nonpartisan Election in the United States

An election in which the candidates run with no identification of their political party affiliation on the ballot. Nonpartisan elections are most commonly used to select judges and officials at the municipal level. Movement to nonpartisan elections was part of the progressive reforms early in the twentieth century. The objective was to purge politics from local government. The reformers believed that nonpartisan contests would minimize the impact of extraneous state and national issues from influencing elections. More important, it was believed that nonpartisanship would focus candidate qualifications and eliminate the influence of party machines and local political “bosses.” Ballot access in nonpartisan elections is typically accomplished by petition. If more than two candidates file for an office, a nonpartisan primary is conducted to reduce the field to two.

See Also

Partisan Election (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The nonpartisan approach to election has not produced a depoliticized electoral process. Rather, several kinds of patterns have emerged. First, political parties continue to dominate although they are disguised by the cloak of nonpartisanship. Parties continue to recruit and finance candidates, but not in an overt way. This is especially true injudicial elections, where candidates with previous partisan visibility have a distinct advantage. In the absence of other information, voters tend to vote for those who have established name recognition in the partisan political arena. It is for this reason that prosecuting attorneys, for example, are often sought as judicial candidates. Second, groups and coalitions perform the role of parties. These may be either coalitions that resemble those groups associated with the national parties or ad hoc independent community groups. In either case, slates of candidates are recruited and endorsed for each election. Yet another pattern is one where individual candidates establish their own organizations. Many people still favor nonpartisan elections, particularly with at-large elections used for judgeships at the state level, as a way of keeping state and local governments focused on the interests of the community rather than encouraging partisan or regional bickering. Those who oppose nonpartisan elections argue that they reduce voter turnout because parties have no incentive to encourage voting. They also see them as favoring the election of an upper-middle-class elite because without the encouragement of parties it is those from higher socio-economic situations who are most likely to vote, and they are most likely to vote for people like themselves.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Nonpartisan Election from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Nonpartisan Election: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Nonpartisan Election. This part provides references, in relation to Nonpartisan Election, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

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Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Nonpartisan Election and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Nonpartisan Election or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Nonpartisan Election and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Nonpartisan Election. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Nonpartisan Election should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Nonpartisan Election when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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