A false choice of electoral evils

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September 9, 2013 15:19

The current system is bad; district-based voting would be worse. But those aren’t the only options.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira 370. (photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem)

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira and State Attorney Moshe Lador held an illuminating public debate two weeks ago over whether prosecutors should seek to bar municipal office-holders indicted for corruption from running for reelection. Shapira was opposed, arguing that “the public should be the one who judges them.” Fine in theory, Lador retorted, but in practice, “the public has a very limited ability to express its criticism of the conduct of public officials.”

The truth is that both are right. Shapira is right that evaluating a candidate’s fitness for public office – in this case, whether criminal suspicions against him outweigh a record of past achievement – is properly the province of the electorate, not the unelected legal system. Lador is right that in practice, this is often impossible, because aside from mayors, few officials at any level are directly elected. Instead, voters elect party slates whose composition they have almost no say over. Thus the only way to vote against a corrupt individual is by voting against his entire party – something voters who otherwise support that party are rarely willing to do.

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