Academic journal article Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy

Corruption and Voter Turnout: A Spatial Econometric Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy

Corruption and Voter Turnout: A Spatial Econometric Approach

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Each county Board of Supervisors in Mississippi has five members elected to concurrent terms of four years. Under the "beat system," which was in place in all but two of the state's 82 counties before the November 1988 general election, individual supervisors exercised nearly unconstrained administrative control of their individual, geographically defined subcounty districts or "beats." Voters in each beat elect their supervisor, each of whom is responsible for buying and maintaining county vehicles, handling contracts with suppliers, controlling inventories, and directing the activities of county workers. Because the county school board and the sheriff are responsible, respectively, for overseeing the public schools and the criminal justice system (Karahan et al., 2006), building and maintaining county roads and bridges account for most of the beat supervisors' attention. In that setting relevant spending decisions are taken unilaterally by each beat's supervisor, meaning that, at best, the line between legislative and executive power is fuzzy. Given few checks and balances on supervisors' budgetary discretion, the beat system is susceptible to corruption because resource-allocation decisions at the beat level do not require approval by the county's four other supervisors.

Under the alternative "unit system" decisionmaking is more centralized, and governing powers are separated more sharply: legislative functions clearly are the responsibility of the five-member Board of Supervisors, while executive duties are delegated to a professional county administrator. Supervisors still represent the voters in their individual districts, but the Board of Supervisors serves to a greater degree in a policymaking capacity, tasked collectively with establishing overall county budgetary priorities by simple majority rule. The unit system's centralization of county purchasing and personnel matters circumscribes individual supervisory discretion in contracting with vendors and in hiring and firing county employees. Supervisors are further limited by roadwork budgets, which must be approved by the full board, and by county road managers, who maintain day-today control of work crews (Karahan et al., 2006, pp. 1-2).

Following revelations of widespread corruption amongst county supervisors, the Mississippi legislature voted to place a referendum on the November 1988 national election ballot requiring simple majorities of each county's voters to choose one of the two systems of local governance: the beat system or the unit system. The impetus for that ballot question followed an FBI sting of Mississippi's county supervisors, code-named "Operation Pretense," which ran from March 1984 until late 1987. The investigation uncovered substantial corruption involving county supervisors, vendors, and other interested parties, which began in the wake of allegations from a Pentecostal minister, the co-owner of a construction supply business, that some county supervisors had demanded kickbacks from procurement contracts. Undercover FBI agents produced evidence of misuses of public office for personal gain by large numbers of the state's county supervisors (Karahan et al., 2006, p. 2). Operation Pretense led to convictions on various corruption charges of 54 county supervisors hailing from 26 counties. Joining those convicted supervisors were two state highway commissioners, a road foreman, and 13 vendors of equipment and supplies. Only one indicted supervisor was judged "not guilty" at trial (Karahan et al., 2006, pp. 2-3). Two other indicted supervisors escaped guilty verdicts: one died awaiting trial, and another was unable to stand trial because of his mental incompetence (Karahan et al., 2006, pp. 2-3). In return for cooperation with federal investigators, other vendors and public officials had the charges against them dismissed or dropped.2

In placing the beat-unit question on the 1988 ballot, the legislature warned voters that counties approving a change from the beat to the unit system would not be given a chance to revert to the beat system until 1995. …

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