Elections and Alignment

By:  Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos


Election law doctrine has long been dominated by rights-and-interests balancing: the weighing of the rights burdens imposed by electoral regulations against the state interests that the regulations serve. For the last generation, the election law literature has emphasized structural values that relate to the functional realities of the electoral system, competition chief among them. This Article introduces a new structural theory—the alignment approach—that has the potential to reframe and unify many election law debates. The crux of the approach is that voters’ preferences ought to be congruent with those of their elected representatives. Preferences as to both party and policy should correspond, and they should do so at the levels of both the individual district and the jurisdiction as a whole. The alignment approach is attractive because it stems from the core meaning of democracy itself. If it is the people who are sovereign, then it is their preferences that should be reflected in the positions of their representatives. The approach also is appealing because of the support it finds in the Supreme Court’s case law. While the Court has never embraced the approach explicitly, it has often recognized the significance of preference congruence. However, it is important not to overstate the approach’s utility. Other election law values matter too and cannot be disregarded. Moreover, many of the factors that produce misalignment are nonlegal and thus cannot be addressed by law reform alone.


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