Non-partisan democracy (also no-party democracy) is a system of representative government or organization such that universal and periodic elections take place without reference to political parties.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Sometimes electioneering and even speaking about candidates may be discouraged, so as not to prejudice others' decisions or create a contentious atmosphere. Nonpartisan democracies may possess indirect elections whereby an electorate are chosen who in turn vote for the representative(s). (This is sometimes known as a 2-tier election, such as an electoral college.) The system can work with a first past the post electoral system but is incompatible with (partisan) proportional representation systems other than Single Transferable Vote.

A nonpartisan system differs from a single-party system in that the governing faction in a single-party system identifies itself as a party, where membership might provide benefits not available to non-members. A single-party government often requires government officials to be members of the party, features a complex party hierarchy as a key institution of government, forces citizens to agree to a partisan ideology, and may enforce its control over the government by making all other parties illegal. Members of a nonpartisan government may not share any ideologies (though in voluntary organizations, they of course may). Various communist nations such as China or Cuba are single-party nations although the Members of Parliament are not elected as Party candidates.

A direct democracy can be considered nonpartisan since citizens vote on laws themselves rather than electing representatives. Direct democracy can be partisan, however, if factions are given rights or prerogatives that non-members do not have.

In many nations, the head of state is nonpartisan, even if the prime minister and parliament are chosen in partisan elections. The heads of state are expected to remain neutral with regards to partisan politics.

Unless there are legal restrictions on political parties, factions within nonpartisan governments may evolve into political parties. The United States of America initially did not have enfranchised political parties, but these evolved soon after independence.

An absolute monarchy, such as Saudi Arabia, with no legislative branch, is not considered partisan, nor nonpartisan, nor even democratic.

History[edit | edit source]

The democracy of Ancient Greece was a nonpartisan, direct democracy where eligible citizens voted on laws themselves rather than electing representatives.

Historians have frequently interpreted Federalist No. 10 to imply that the Founding Fathers of the United States intended the government to be nonpartisan. James Madison defined a faction as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." As political parties had interests which were adverse to the rights of citizens and to the general welfare of the nation, several Founding Fathers preferred a nonpartisan form of government.

The administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the US Congress were nonpartisan. Factions within the early US government coalesced into the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. The Era of Good Feeling, when the Federalist party collapsed, leaving the Democratic-Republican party as the sole political faction, was the United States' only experience with a single-party system.

The Non-Partisan League was an influential socialist political movement in the United States, especially in the Upper Midwest, particularly during the 1910s and 1920s. It also contributed much to the ideology of the former Progressive Party of Canada. It went into decline and merged with the Democratic Party of North Dakota in 1956. The Progressive Party of Canada and the United Farmers movement (which formed governments in the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario) also acted on a similar philosophy. In the case of the United Farmers of Ontario while in power (1919-1923) the administration of Ernest Drury suffered lots of infighting as the result of conflicting views.

Because of their non-partisan ideology the Progressive Party of Canada refused to take the position of the official opposition after the election of 1921 when they came in second place. Four years later they lost that position and their rural supporters began to move to the Liberal Party and CCF. Eventually the Progressive Party of Canada and the United Farmers movement faded into obscurity with most of their members joining the Liberal Party of Canada and the democratic socialist, Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, or present day New Democratic Party.)

Structures[edit | edit source]

Elections[edit | edit source]

In nonpartisan elections, each candidate for office runs on her or his own merits rather than as a member of a political party. No political affiliation (if one exists) is shown on the ballot next to a candidate. Generally, the winner is chosen from a runoff election where the candidates are the top two vote-getters from a primary election. In some elections, the candidates might be members of a national party, but do not run as party members for local office.

Louisiana uses a nonpartisan blanket primary, also called a "jungle primary", for state and local offices. In this system, all candidates run against each other regardless of party affiliation during the primary, and then the two most popular candidates run against each other even if they are members of the same party. This form of runoff election weakens political parties and transforms a partisan election into a partly nonpartisan election. Once a candidate gets elected, the person maintains party affiliation and generally votes along party lines. Louisiana is the only place that uses a nonpartisan blanket primary.

Nebraska uses a single nonpartisan primary for the State Legislature but not for other state and local races.

Nonpartisan elections are generally held for municipal and county offices, especially school board, and are also common in the election of judges. In some nonpartisan elections, it is common knowledge which candidates are members of and backed by which parties; in others, parties are almost wholly uninvolved and voters make choices with little or no regard to partisan considerations.

While non-partisan democracies can allow for a wide selection of candidates (especially within a no-nomination system whereby voters can choose any non-restricted person in their area), such systems are not incompatible with indirect elections (such as for large geographical areas), whereby delegates may be chosen who in turn elect the representatives.

Appointments[edit | edit source]

Even if a government's executive officer or legislature is partisan, appointments of cabinet members, judges, or directors of government agencies, may be nonpartisan. The intent of appointing government officials in a nonpartisan manner is to insure the officers can perform their duties free from partisan politics, and are chosen in a fair manner that does not adversely affect a political party. Twelve US states use the Missouri Plan, and two use a variation of it, to choose judges in a nonpartisan manner. Several countries with partisan parliaments use nonpartisan appointments to choose presidents.

Legislatures[edit | edit source]

In nonpartisan legislatures, there are no typically formal party alignments within the legislature; even if there are caucuses for specific issues. Alliances and causes with a nonpartisan body are often temporary and fluid since legislators who oppose each other on some issues may agree on other issues. Despite being nonpartisan, legislators typically have consistent and identifiable voting patterns. Decisions to investigate and enforce ethics violations by government officials are generally done on the basis of evidence instead of party affiliation. Committee chairs and other leaders within the legislature are often chosen for seniority and expertise, unlike the leaders in a partisan legislature who are often chosen because of loyalty to a party.

Pros and cons[edit | edit source]

Advantages[edit | edit source]

  • Citizens can not engage in vote pairing, straight-ticket voting, or other tactical voting methods (and need not engage in ticket splitting), resulting in an election outcome that is more likely to reflect the intent of the citizens.
  • Elected officials are not beholden to a party apparatus that got them elected, and are not subjected to party restrictions on how they may vote. Non-partisan officials can therefore more readily represent the actual needs of their constituents. The lack of such requirements may also bring more principled individuals up the ranks, as they do not have to make assertions against their beliefs in order to demonstrate "party unity".
  • All in the community (or at least perhaps those of a certain age, without a criminal record, etc.) are made eligible to vote and can be voted for. Thus, it is believed that a non-partisan system also expands choice in elections beyond the limited range of choices as are otherwise presented to the public, who will at best have a limited role in partisan systems.
  • It is argued that the simple opportunity of being enabled to privately witness and assess the character and initiative of individuals within one's own community (especially where regular town meetings occur at the local level or, in indirect election systems, where non-partisan delegates meet at a national level) provides a better picture of how capable a given individual is of providing future leadership and service.
  • Advocates argue that self-aggrandizement and promise-making inherent within partisan democracies would be minimized in such non-partisan systems (and possibly eliminated entirely in at least the public level for non-electioneering systems).
  • Appeals to limited loyalties and divisiveness surrounding partisan elections (and their social consequences beyond the elections) may be averted, especially in no-electioneering systems. This was one of the rationales advanced in favor of Uganda's previous no-party system.
  • In nonpartisan systems without electioneering, financial dependence on third parties may be averted by those elected, who are unencumbered with such alliances and can make decisions according to their own conscience rather than the party or lobbies that supported them.
  • Such a system is considered by some to be also compatible with technocracy, whereby the solemn atmosphere may tend to elect candidates who may have great abilities and knowledge yet would not otherwise be inclined to participate in a media frenzy or take part in behind-the-scenes power-grabs.
  • Such systems are seen to invite a greater possibility of selection of traditionally-overlooked candidates from less self-promotional or less confrontation-accustomed populations, such as women or certain ethnic minorities.

Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

  • When compared to non-partisan systems which allow campaigning, political parties may provide poorer candidates greater resources and financing to compete against wealthier candidates. Standardized party rules may thus help equalize the campaigning field
  • Standardized party rules may insure all candidates conform to certain standards, which might be less the case in a non-partisan system, especially one which concentrated power.
  • Voters may find voting on a party basis more convenient than learning the platforms of innumerable candidates. It may be easier for voters to simply learn a broad, philosophical agenda (ie: a party platform) towards governance / politics and support candidates who share it. Time and effort may be wasted trying to learn the individual opinions of each separate candidate for each separate office when it would be simpler for them to just identify on a common platform.
  • Critics will argue that during contentious elections, de facto parties will emerge anyways. For example, if a community's most pressing public debate was over whether or not to build a new library, it would be expected that some candidates would support the idea, and others not. Voters may thus make their decisions based solely on who is willing to identify as being on "their side" of the issue, even for officials whose office is not directly related to the decision, solely on the basis that "they think like me."
  • Many candidates may endorse the same or near identical policies so competing against each other wastes resources or splits the vote among them, thus allowing a less popular candidate with an unpopular agenda a win on plurality. Supporters of parties argue it is more sensible for a group of like-minded individuals to work together in favor of a commonly endorsed compromise candidate, rather than each person trying to get elected on their own. This is a problem for only certain types of election systems such as plurality voting system, but is not a problem for election systems that do not require people to split their vote, such as approval voting, Borda Count, or range voting.
  • In past non-partisan systems, such as British Columbia prior to 1903, there was a certain level of regionalism and so-called pork barreling, where members would support a bill only if it somehow benefited their own local region. (Of course, the same may and often does happen in partisan systems, as the official remains accountable to the public, especially given that partisan systems often have high transparency and depend on would-be officials becoming known to the public through campaigns, thus making their voting pattern known to their constituents.)

Examples[edit | edit source]

Governments[edit | edit source]

Very few national governments are nonpartisan, but there are several examples of nonpartisan state or provincial governments. The nonpartisan system is also used in many US states for the election of judges, district attorneys and other officials, and many towns also have a completely non-partisan government. All city-wide elections in the state of Texas are officially nonpartisan.

Tuvalu, Micronesia and Palau have nonpartisan legislatures, although this is not defined by law.

A nonpartisan democracy might take root in sovereign nations, such as occurred in Uganda in 1986, whereby political parties were restricted by a constitutional referendum endorsed by the people of the country (this system does not have all of the features described above). During a subsequent referendum in 2005, over 92% of Ugandan citizens voted for the return of a multiple party system.

Some Swiss Cantons are also nonpartisan, direct democracies.

Constitutional monarchies have non-partisan monarchs as their head of state. Parliamentary republics generally have non-partisan, figurehead presidents.

Twelve US states use the Missouri Plan, and two use a variation of it, to choose judges in a nonpartisan manner.

The Canadian territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have nonpartisan democracies. The populace votes for individuals to represent it in the territorial assembly without reference to political parties. After the election, the assembly selects one of its number to form a government and act as premier. This system is in deference to the system of consensus government that predominates among the indigenous Inuit and other peoples of northern Canada.

The municipal government of the City of Toronto, Ontario (Canada) is the fifth largest government in the country, governing a population of more than 2.7 million. It consists of a nonpartisan, directly elected council. The public may have a general idea of the candidates' political affiliations, but their parties have no official recognition or privilege in the functioning of City Council. Councilors are free to vote on each motion individually, freeing them from party discipline.

Until the mid-20th century, a Canadian politician's political affiliation was not shown on ballots at any level of government. The expectation was that citizens would vote according to the merit of the candidate, but in practice, party allegiance played an important role. Beginning in 1974, the name of the candidate's political party was shown on the ballot.

The state of Nebraska in the United States has nonpartisan elections for its legislature because candidates are neither endorsed nor supported by political parties. However, its executive branch is elected on a partisan basis. It is the only state in the United States with a nonpartisan legislature.

Non-government organizations[edit | edit source]

A system of non-partisan, democratically elected councils has fully governed the Bahá'í Faith since 1963. These councils are formed at local and national, as well a jesus christ 2 thessolonians 3,3 s international levels. Some such local "assemblies" were elected as early as the late 19th century but were overseen at that time by a single leader of the Faith.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Ware, Alan. Citizens, Parties and the State. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

External links[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

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