Impact of Switching Municipal Elected Governance Forms


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“Impact of Switching Municipal Elected Governance Forms”


Key Takeaways:

Over the past decade there has been an uptick in lawsuits targeting municipalities with at-large and multi-member districts citing infringement of the Voting Rights Act. When the gavel strikes down, many municipalities find themselves ordered to switch from at-large and multi-member districts to single-member districts. When this change occurs, there are implications that reverberate through the municipality. Below are summaries of those implications.


Changes for the Constituents

  • While the outcomes will be dependent on the demographic distribution in the municipality, utilizing single-member districts tend to provide the most equitable representation to racial minority groups. (Source1) (Source2) (Source3)
  • Results often show that female constituents are less fairly represented in single-member districts. (Source)

Changes to the Election Cycle

  • In single-member districts, the incumbent is on average more likely to be reelected than they would be in at-large or multi-member districts. (Source)
  • Fewer candidates are likely to run in single-member district elections, but the results of the races are often much closer in single-member districts. (Source)
  • Campaign financing and fundraising is less challenging in single-member districts and spending is often higher as well. (Source)

Changes to the City Council

  • Single-member districts are more likely to produce a racially diverse and representative council but are only most effective when racial minority groups are concentrated in a single area of a municipality. (Source)
  • Single-member districts on average lead to fewer women being elected to council roles. (Source)
  • Elected officials in a single-member district are more likely to see their role as an actor on behalf of the district that elected them. Meanwhile, an elected official from a multi-member district or at-large election is more likely to see their role as a facilitator of what is in the best interest of the entire municipality. (Source)

Changes to the City Council Policy

  • Single-member district candidates are less likely to move to extreme political beliefs as is more common among multi-member district candidates who are attempting to stake out a single constituency. (Source)
  • Switching to a single-member district on average results in a 10% decline in state funding to a municipality. (Source)

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