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Defining Democracy: Political Activism, Electoral Reform, and the Struggle for Power in the New York City, 1935-1947

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Abstract:

In 1936, New York City voters approved a radical change in local government. By a margin of nearly two to one, they chose to replace the corrupt Board of Aldermen with a legislature to be elected using proportional representation (PR). Rather than traditional winner-take-all elections between two candidates representing two political parties, PR mandated that candidates be nominated by popular petition rather than by party bosses, allowed voters to rank candidates on their ballots, and guaranteed victory to anyone polling more than 75,000 votes. This system soon threatened Democratic and Republican political hegemony by enabling the election of the most third-party representatives in the city’s history. Two coalitions formed over the issue of PR, with both sides framing the system’s fate as crucial to the survival of democracy amid a growing global struggle against totalitarianism. Following several unsuccessful repeal attempts, the election of two Communists spurred a groundswell of red-baiting that ultimately led to PR’s abolition in 1947.
In this poster, I will present the visual components of PR that many New Yorkers encountered during the campaigns of the 1930s and 40s. The poster will combine contemporary images from the debates -- photographs, cartoons, newspaper headlines, and pamphlets -- with illustrations of the PR voting apparatus, including ballots, voter instructions, and tabulation sheets. Raising historical questions about changing conceptions of democracy, this presentation will convey how New Yorkers struggled to control the design of democratic government during the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War.
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Name: American Historical Association
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http://www.historians.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p27369_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Prosterman, Daniel. "Defining Democracy: Political Activism, Electoral Reform, and the Struggle for Power in the New York City, 1935-1947" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p27369_index.html>

APA Citation:

Prosterman, D. O. "Defining Democracy: Political Activism, Electoral Reform, and the Struggle for Power in the New York City, 1935-1947" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p27369_index.html

Publication Type: Poster
Abstract: In 1936, New York City voters approved a radical change in local government. By a margin of nearly two to one, they chose to replace the corrupt Board of Aldermen with a legislature to be elected using proportional representation (PR). Rather than traditional winner-take-all elections between two candidates representing two political parties, PR mandated that candidates be nominated by popular petition rather than by party bosses, allowed voters to rank candidates on their ballots, and guaranteed victory to anyone polling more than 75,000 votes. This system soon threatened Democratic and Republican political hegemony by enabling the election of the most third-party representatives in the city’s history. Two coalitions formed over the issue of PR, with both sides framing the system’s fate as crucial to the survival of democracy amid a growing global struggle against totalitarianism. Following several unsuccessful repeal attempts, the election of two Communists spurred a groundswell of red-baiting that ultimately led to PR’s abolition in 1947.
In this poster, I will present the visual components of PR that many New Yorkers encountered during the campaigns of the 1930s and 40s. The poster will combine contemporary images from the debates -- photographs, cartoons, newspaper headlines, and pamphlets -- with illustrations of the PR voting apparatus, including ballots, voter instructions, and tabulation sheets. Raising historical questions about changing conceptions of democracy, this presentation will convey how New Yorkers struggled to control the design of democratic government during the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War.

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