First principles?

John Mark Hansen’s presentation this morning in the National Academy workshop brought to the table some fundamental questions about election reform — what are the basic normative or democratic principles we are trying to achieve with election reform? In his brief presentation, Mark mentioned three different basic normative principles: fairness, equity and legitimacy. Undoubtedly there are other basic principles we might consider when undertaking election reform.

This is an area that our colleagues in normative political theory can certainly help us with, but I’m not aware of any initiative to engage normative theorists in these discussions. What basic normative principles should we consider when we talk about election reform? Are fairness, equity and legitimacy the only core principles to focus on? Are there others to consider? How (and should) we order these principles? Are there trade-offs on these principles, or can we develop reforms that can achieve positive progress on all normative dimensions simultaneously? If there are trade-offs, how do we make these difficult choices? How can we measure and evaluate how various election reforms perform on any particular normative dimension? These questions about first principles are difficult to assess, but we should seek input from normative political theorists in the ongoing debates about election reform.