Direct Voting by Property Owners

Merrill, Thomas W.

Direct voting by property owners is a widespread but controversial tool for resolving disputes over local collective goods. Direct voting has powerful advantages, in that it can harness the superior knowledge of many local minds, resolve controversies in a way that is perceived to be legitimate, and eliminate corrupt dealmaking. But it also has serious pitfalls, if local voters are poorly informed, or if they ignore external effects on other communities, or if the process is distorted by majoritarian or minoritarian bias. To capitalize on the advantages of local voting, and minimize the risks, this Article proposes that direct voting be limited to local property owners, in a one-owner, one-vote fashion. The issues chosen for resolution by direct voting should also be ones with uniform high stakes for property owners, and minimal spillover effects outside the voting community. Applications to controversies over the creation of local historic districts and the use of eminent domain for economic development are discussed.


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The University of Chicago Law Review

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University of Chicago Law Review
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October 30, 2015