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The Performance of Elected Officials: Evidence from State Supreme Courts

Ash, Elliott; MacLeod, William Bentley

This paper provides evidence on the effect of electoral institutions on the performance of public officials. Using panel data on state supreme courts between 1947 and 1994, we measure the effects of changes in judicial electoral processes on judge work quality – as measured by citations by later judges. Judges selected by non-partisan elections write higher-quality opinions than judges selected by partisan elections. Judges selected by technocratic merit commissions write higher-quality opinions than either partisan-elected judges or non-partisan-elected judges. Election-year politics reduces judicial performance in both partisan and non-partisan election systems. Giving stronger tenure to non-partisan-selected judges improves performance, while giving stronger tenure to partisan-selected judges has no effect. These results are consistent with the view that technocratic merit commissions have better information about the quality of candidates than voters, and that political bias can reduce the quality of elected officials.

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