Chapter 10: Elections and electoral participation
Elections are, in the words of Richard Katz, ‘the defining institution of modern democracy’ (Katz 1997: 3). All contemporary democratic political systems rely on general elections to shape the democratic ideal of government by the people. And because so many people engage in the ‘not so simple act of voting’ (Dalton & Wattenberg 1993), elections have been termed feasts of democracy (Weisberg 1995). For any book about local democracy a chapter about elections and electoral participation is therefore nothing short of mandatory. Here we focus on two main features of (local) elections: turnout and the distinctiveness of the voter’s choice – that is, the extent to which voting behaviour in municipal elections is based on local considerations. Both electoral turnout and the distinctiveness of voting behaviour constitute important indicators of the quality of local democracy. High electoral turnout, for instance, is frequently argued to be crucially important for representative democracy. According to Lijphart (1995, 1997) there are two reasons for this. The first is democratic legitimacy. Universal voting rights are a definitional characteristic of democracy. Thus, from a normative perspective Lijphart argues that:a political system with the universal right to vote but with only a tiny fraction of citizens exercising this right should be regarded as a democracy in a merely very formalistic and hollow sense of the term. And, practically speaking, a government elected in such a formalistically democratic manner cannot have much democratic legitimacy. (Lijphart 1995: 15)But in addition to this, (representative) democracy is grounded in the value of political equality (Dahl 1989: 109–15).
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