Local democracy in the United States is in a state of crisis.
Electoral representation is quite unevenly distributed across states, ranging from fewer than 1000 resident per local representative to over 30,000 residents per local representative.
In order for the American experiment in federalism and democracy to succeed in promoting the general welfare of the people and in securing the blessings of liberty, governments at all levels need to make sure that the voices of all constituents are heard and their interests represented. This is especially true at the local government level which—as the government level closest to the people—delivers key public services and provides the foundation for American self-government and democracy.
Local democracy in the United States, however, is in a state of crisis. More than half of all Americans believe that politics and elections are controlled by people with money and by big corporations. As a result, fewer than 15 percent of eligible citizens turn out to vote in local elections across the country, while only one out of three young Americans trusts local governments to do the right thing. Furthermore, analysis suggests that electoral structures in many local governments result in the systematic under-representation of women, minorities, and youth.
Bold reforms will be needed in order for local governments in the United States to once again become governments “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Many organizations seek to strengthen local democracy by improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities. In many cases, however, reforms to the structure and role of local governments are needed to ensure that local governments are able to function as an inclusive, representative and democratic platform for local self-government. A comprehensive review of the state of local democracy in the United States and careful analyses of local governance in each state should inform the evidence-based strengthening of local democratic institutions.