Public bureaucracy finds itself in a strange place at the intersection of political science and public administration. Political science finds that, within representative democracy, discretion granted to bureaucrats threatens the nature of democracy by subverting politicians who represent the will of the people – bureaucracy vs democracy. At the same time, public administration holds that, in the interest of promoting democracy, bureaucracy should be objective in its implementation of policy in a way that eliminates the influence of politics from decision-making – politics vs bureaucracy. Those positions are seemingly contradictory in nature. From one perspective, bureaucracy is undemocratic because it is outside of politics, yet an overreach of politics into the bureaucracy yields undemocratic outcomes.
Bureaucracy can facilitate democracy outside of politics. This study looks to empirically test whether local bureaucrats, who should be willing to act in-line with influential co-partisans, might still promote democratic outcomes for their constituents with their discretionary decision-making. Florida provides an empirical backdrop for testing bureaucracy’s impact on democracy with a natural experimental scenario created with the passing of new early voting limitations in 2011. Florida’s Republican (R) lawmakers passed House Bill 1355 (HB 1355), which was signed into law by Governor Scott (R), that dramatically limited the early voting days allowed for federal elections. HB 1355 changed the early voting (EV) period from fourteen (14) days to eight (8) days and eliminated the last Sunday before Election Day as well. The move was widely seen as a political calculation aimed at stifling the participation of Democrats in the 2012 General Election. In seeming lockstep, local Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) from both parties utilized their statutory discretion over the location of early voting sites to alter the distribution of sites before the 2012 General Election.
I find that Republican SOEs did not distribute early voting locations in a way that negatively impacted early voting participation rates (EVPR) for their local precincts. Furthermore, I find that, all else equal, their decisions did not statistically impact EVPR differently than the EVPR in communities managed by Democrats. Republican SOEs did not add new costs to voters in their communities. I provide new evidence that demonstrates that bureaucrats can indeed limit the impact of undue politics from their influential co-partisans to promote more democratic outcomes.