Elite Statecraft and Election Administration: Bending the Rules of the Game? Hardcover – 4 Sep 2012
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'Toby James has written an important book. Election administration has been a neglected subject but, as James demonstrates, by ignoring the intricacies of how elections are managed and run we are ignoring an important aspect of politics and power. As this well written and informative book demonstrates, the rules of elections affect the outcome and the book does an excellent job in drawing out attention to running of elections. It also highlights how, when thinking about constitutional reform we need to think about how citizens vote.' - Martin J. Smith, Professor, University of Sheffield, UK
'Elite Statecraft and Election Administration presents an innovative integration of election administration and politics to present a framework for evaluating administrative arrangements and for explaining when these arrangements will change. This book is important for understanding cross-national variations in the ways in which elections are run.' - Thad Hall, Professor, University of Utah, USA
The book makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the politics of election administration. James makes a compelling case that election administration matters, that it can affect turnout or electoral outcomes, and that party elites seek to manipulate election administration to further their own interests. This is the first in-depth comparative examination of continuity and change in election administration in three different democracies (USA, UK, and Ireland). This is a masterful study.
Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies
Université de Montréal
Explores how, when and why politicians have reformed election administration for their own political interests
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James gives an excellent overview of the relevant literature, and in the introductory chapter links the issues to methodological debates and concepts in wider social science research. The book therefore provides the politics student grappling with an essay on electoral administration and a deadline the theoretical straw and citable clay to quickly mould some first-class bricks. James himself takes these bricks, in particular new institutional, constructivist and critical realist perspectives on institutional change to build a wall criticising the positivist/determinist assumption that electoral systems evolve to capture more accurately some exogenous democratic will that is out there in the population. Instead James argues that systems are socially shaped by the interacting needs and values of competing groups, with elites most influential in shaping the systems to suit their ends. This is an insightful and powerful argument that can be applied to all changes in British electoral procedures back to the Representation of the People Act (1832), and probably beyond.
My main criticism of this book is that while this critical viewpoint is applied to recent changes in Britain, US and Ireland, the criticism is blunted when addressing current topics. For example, the support or resistance to individual voter registration by key actors could have been unpicked more, and the claimed "independent" roles of the Electoral Commission and Electoral Management Boards could have been dissassembled (for the rejection of positivism implies the impossibility of any body being truly independent). Similarly James is positive about the imposition of performance standards on election administrators on the basis that this professionalises their roles, but his theoretical position would suggest that the standards are managerialising these roles and making political parties (i.e. "the elites") the customers of election administrators' services, with obvious dangers. Dr James seems more comfortable criticising decisions in the past than he is in pointedly exposing how his interviewees are currently acting to represent factional interests; I assume that Dr James needs their collaboration in future.
On the other hand, Dr James may not expect that all his interviewees have read this book. The list prices of £57 and £60 for the Kindle and hardback versions of this book will prevent it being read by the readers for whom it would be most useful - politicians, electoral administrators and regulators - and leave it read by intellectually curious academics with access through university libraries, like myself.