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Electing many officials does not “The Greatest Democracy” make

I had a lecture on this literally yesterday.

Matthew Yglesias:

Via Adam Serwer, Radley Balko makes the case that elected judges lead to bad criminal justice policy:

How to reverse or ameliorate the damage already done is a debate we’ll be having for decades. But there is one change that could at least stop the bleeding: less democracy. As New York Times reporter Adam Liptak pointed out in a 2008 article, America’s soaring incarceration rate may be largely due to the fact that we have one of the most politicized criminal justice systems in the developed world. In most states, judges and prosecutors are elected, making them more susceptible to slogan-based crime policy and an electorate driven by often irrational fear. While the crime rate has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, polls consistently show that the public still thinks crime is getting worse.

I agree with that, but as I’ve said before I think there’s a much broader issue of too many elected officials in America. And I don’t think this should be understood as a call for “less democracy.” The United Kingdom is a democracy. But a resident of London votes for a borough councillor, a member of the London Assembly, a mayor of the city, a member of parliament, and a member of the European parliament. A resident of New York City votes for a city council member, a mayor, a public advocate, a city comptroller, a district attorney, a state assembly member, a state senator, a governor, a lieutenant governor, a state comptroller, a state attorney general, a member of the US house, two US Senators, and the President. Then on top of all that he votes for judges! [My emphasis].

And you have to ask yourself—is all that voting better described as “more democracy” or as “people voting in a lot of elections they’re not realistically going to know anything about”? I’m going to take what’s behind door number two. There’s no point in holding elections that just consist of ignorance punctuated by the odd burst of demagoguery.

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