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Defining DemocracyElectoral Reform and the Struggle for Power in New York City$
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Daniel O. Prosterman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780195377736

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195377736.001.0001

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The Perils and Promise of Democratic Reform

(p.1) Introduction
Defining Democracy

Daniel O. Prosterman

Oxford University Press

Defining Democracy begins at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair in Queens, and the popular exhibit “Democracity” serves as a metaphor for New York’s experimentation with a new system of democratic self-government during the 1930s and 1940s. The introduction provides an overview of the history of electoral reform movements in New York City history, with a chronological sweep that stretches from the good-government activism of the late nineteenth century to the anti-Communism of the early Cold War. This movement culminated with the installation of proportional representation (PR) voting in city council elections during the Great Depression. PR facilitated the election of legislatures of uncommon diversity, particularly in terms of gender, race, and ideology. The introduction argues for a shift in our understanding of democracy’s history in the United States, to place greater emphasis on how the structure of voting systems influences electoral outcomes.

Keywords:   New York City, democracy, 1939–1940 world’s fair, cold war, great depression, city council, voting, elections, proportional representation, good government

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