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The steady exodus of city residents to the suburbs since World War II and a more mobile population with fewer ties to particular neighbourhoods have also weakened the social base that once made political machines synonymous with city government. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.

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You may find it helpful to search within the site to see how similar or related subjects are covered. Any text you add should be original, not copied from other sources. At the bottom of the article, feel free to list any sources that support your changes, so that we can fully understand their context. These types of tactics continue, but they were much more common in the time period that I look at, from the turn of the century to about The machines also did things like beat people up who voted for the opponent.

The book goes through something like 30 different mechanisms that organizations used in order to keep themselves in power. In no case were they satisfied with just patronage or just a poll tax.


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They would do all of them at once because politicians — at least the ones in my book — they were scared of losing office and they were scared of being undermined, and they did everything they could to maintain power. WWS: What was their downfall really?

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You mentioned people rising up after being excluded, but was it just some of these actions or tactics were simply criminal? There were a number of different factors that led to the collapse of monopolies. In large part because we live in federal system in the United States, the state and federal governments can come in and change the rules of the city, without the city have to agree to it. And that is what happened in a number of cases. One of the major tactics that the reformers used was to eliminate districts for voting for city council.

They made all of the city council seats at-large - where everybody in the city votes for all the city council members at once. Their first choice candidate never wins. So, when they had to change the rules in response to higher levels of government, then black and Latino members would start to win. Patronage is another good example of this. It is very, very difficult to crack down on patronage because there are a million ways to do this secretly.


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Chicago was the test case for this. If you are a patronage employee you are not going to admit it. At one point a poll tax was a perfectly acceptable mechanism. We only wanted people who pay taxes, who are invested in our community, to be able to vote. Or literacy tests; we only wanted smart, educated people to be able to vote. Well, over time the population of the United States decided that this was not acceptable.

And so those big changes happened in the Voting Rights Act. It trickled down to the cities after that. Do you see any evidence today of any machines or reform governments? Part of this is that people learn over time. We learn, officials learn, state governments learn, opponents learn. And so the tactics that were once easy to use are no longer easy to use, in part because they are prohibited and in part because the world is different. I have other work that tries to look at what other mechanisms might be more useful today.

Political Monopolies in American Cities: The Rise and Fall of Bosses and Reformers, Trounstine

When I was doing the work on my book I benefitted from my historical focus - people were perfectly willing to tell me all sorts of crazy things because they happened 50 years ago. But people are more reluctant to talk about things like bias in modern elections. What I show in my new work is that there are certain types of institutional structures that really decrease voter participation.

If you open your polls for longer hours and allow people to vote before work or after work that increases the number of people who will cast ballots. If you do things like send voters the sample ballot in advance you are much more likely to get people who know what the election is about and turn out to vote. But there are very few cities and states where that kind of information is provided. I have never gotten a sample ballot for a school board election.