Author(s): Asya Magazinnik, Carolyn Abott 

Status/Format: Published

Date: 2020

Publication Type: Journal Article

Publisher: American Journal of Political Science

Volume and Issue: 64(3)

Page Numbers: 717 - 733

At-Large Elections and Minority Representation in Local Government



Despite a long history of legal challenges alleging that elections conducted at‐large suppress minority representation, this remains the dominant electoral system in local governments throughout the United States. Moreover, a large empirical literature remains divided over the present‐day impact of at‐large elections on the political success of underrepresented groups. We reconcile the competing findings in this literature by providing contingent, causal estimates of the effect of conversion from at‐large to ward elections on minority officeholding, using a novel identification strategy afforded by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. We find a dramatic positive effect of conversion in districts where Latinos constitute a sufficiently large share of the voting population, and in large and residentially segregated districts. When these conditions are not satisfied, we consistently see null estimated effects.