Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



As demonstrated by San Francisco's recent adoption of instant runoff voting and New York City's recent expansion of its program for funding candidates for municipal office, local governments around the country have been actively engaged in examining and revising electoral and governmental processes. These local initiatives include alternative voting systems, campaign finance reforms, conflicts of interest codes, term limits, and revisions to tax, budget and legislative procedures. These local innovations illustrate both the capacity of local governments to restructure basic features of their political organization and their interest in doing so. Local political innovations also test the scope of local legal authority under home rule. Local innovation may be challenged as either unauthorized by state law or, more commonly, as inconsistent with and thus preempted by state laws governing local structure and elections. This paper examines local political innovations, their reception in state courts and the implications for home rule and political reform more generally. It finds that to a considerable degree state courts have upheld local innovations either by recognizing the dominant local interest in questions of local government structure or by determining that state laws do not preclude local departures from state-prescribed models. These political innovation cases suggest techniques that may be used to expand local legal autonomy. More generally, local political innovations show localities – as well as, if not more than, states – can be laboratories of democracy. A significant benefit of local freedom to innovate under home rule can be the local introduction and testing of political reforms than can national benefits.


Constitutional Law | International Law | Law | Law and Politics