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We document, based on twenty years of budget enactment data, that voters hold state legislators accountable for budget gridlock in US state governments, with gridlocked incumbents losing their seat more often than incumbents passing budgets on time.

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Based on established theories of party organization in American politics, we develop three competing theoretical hypotheses to guide our understanding of the observed patterns of retrospective voting. We find strong support for collective electoral accountability with voters punishing incumbent members of state legislature majority parties.


Toggle navigation David Dreyer Lassen. Irresponsible Parties, Responsible Voters?

Andersen, David D. The Constitution initially required that Congress must meet at least once a year on the first Monday in December unless a different date was set by law. Members would then work through to the following summer at which point they would adjourn until after the elections.

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  • In short, it was a lame duck. Growing concerns about corruption and allegations of vote-buying during lame ducks sessions fueled calls for reform.

    In , reformers alleged that President Harding purchased the votes to pass the controversial Ship Subsidy Bill during a lame duck session in the 67th Congress. Ratified in , the amendment requires that each new Congress be convened on January 3 after an election. The few weeks remaining between the election and the start of a Congress were deemed necessary to give new members time to get their affairs in order and settle in Washington.

    While Congress did not wholly disavow lame duck sessions after , members resorted to them only rarely and almost always during wartime or in response to an emergency.


    H.R. 28: United Nations Voting Accountability Act of 12222

    Yet in recent years, lame-duck sessions have become a routine occurrence. For example, there have been 21 lame duck sessions since the Constitution was amended to eliminate the practice. Only 13 of those occurred before But every Congress since then has reconvened to conduct significant, yet regular, business after an election. Lame ducks have become a near-permanent feature of the congressional calendar, one that members use intentionally for making controversial decisions after their constituents vote.

    Sunshine or Shield?

    This routinization of lame ducks devalues the role elections play in our democracy and makes it harder for voters to hold their elected officials accountable for the decisions they make during such sessions. Specifically, lame-duck sessions create an environment in which members are not seeking re-election, and who have already been replaced by their constituents, can vote for measures that, if signed into law, are legally binding on their former constituents.

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    • Yet voters are unable to influence those decisions because their members are no longer accountable to them. Lame duck sessions also make it harder for voters to assign responsibility for policy outcomes to those members who will continue to serve in the new Congress. During such meetings, controversial legislation is typically crafted by party leaders behind closed doors and forced through the House and Senate at the last minute.