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Monitoring Elected Officials Difficult as Their Numbers Grow

By    |   Tuesday, 31 Mar 2015 03:03 PM

Americans and politicians alike often talk about how to hold elected officials to account, but the task is harder to accomplish when one considers that there are more than 519,000 elected officials in the United States, according to a recent post on The Daily Kos.

In addition to the 535 elected members of Congress, there are thousands of other officials on the state and local levels that hold a range of offices from mayors to dog catchers.

"There are over 3,000 counties and more than 19,000 cities and towns ... and almost every one of those has some form of elected government, including county executives, county councils, mayors, and city councils. That still scarcely covers it, though, because that doesn't include things like judges, school boards, water boards, mosquito control boards (!)—hell, even coroner is an elected position in some places. And in Duxbury, Vermont, they actually elect, yes, the dog catcher," writes David Nir.

Citing data used by Jennifer L. Lawless, a professor of government at American University, in her book, "Becoming A Candidate," Nir estimates there are 519,682 individuals currently elected to office.

However, he adds, Lawless does not account for those who run for election in various political parties.

"How many of these folks are there? We haven't found a tally anywhere, but the answer is undoubtedly 'a lot' — enough to swell that 500,000-plus figure by a fair bit, for sure," notes Nir.

The sheer number of elected officials, Nir says, is an opportunity for progressives to truly build their influence and to counter the recent wave of Republican electoral victories.

"And for progressives in particular, especially if you live in a red area, this is how we build our power — not by sending our rookies to wage long-shot bids for top-shelf positions but by bulking up our bench in every nook and cranny of the electoral world," he concludes.

Holding any of those officials to account, however, is becoming more and more difficult as the role of local news is diminished, Lawless argues in a February Brookings Institution blog post.

"Given that local newspapers are virtually the only venue where local politics — such as House races — receive meaningful attention, the impoverishment of local news carries profound implications," writes Lawless and her co-author Danny Hayes.

"Our findings also suggest that polarization, by leaving so few House contests competitive, may make it more difficult for citizens to hold their local officials accountable," they warn.

The solution may not be easy to bring about if their research is accurate. According to Lawless and Hayes, neck-and-neck races garnered three times as many stories as landslide contests did.

"Thus, the most effective route to reinvigorating local campaign coverage — and improving citizen engagement — is likely a renaissance in the competitiveness of House elections," they conclude.

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Americans and politicians alike often talk about how to hold elected officials to account, but the task is harder to accomplish when one considers that there are more than 519,000 elected officials in the United States, according to a recent post on The Daily Kos.
elected officials, numbers, elected, grow
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2015-03-31
Tuesday, 31 Mar 2015 03:03 PM
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