Voting in City-County Consolidation Referenda

Voter acceptances of city-county consolidations have been few. Since the end of World War II, consolidation has been attempted twenty-four times and has succeeded only in Baton Rouge, Nashville, Jacksonville, Columbus and in three Virginia areas. The difficulty of obtaining voter support for consolidation has now become part of Political Science conventional Wisdom.

The case-study literature on city-county consolidation has offered many reasons for its lack of success. Among reasons offered were: lack of grass-roots support, participation of few mass-based interest groups, voter apathy, and the relative satisfaction with existing governmental arrangements and services. Public officials and the “power structure” are rarely the initiators of city-county consolidations. The case-study literature also offers contradictory reasons concerning factors which affect support levels in consolidations.

Although the case-study literature offers many reasons for lack of voter support for consolidation, there have been few systematic comparative examinations of consolidation referenda. In fact the literature indicates that unusual and situational factors accompanied the successful consolidations. Brett Hawkin’s study shows that non-transportable circumstances made the Nashville-Davidson success sui generis. Nashville’s raising of taxes, aggressive annexation policy, and the institution of a “green sticker tax” on all automobiles using city streets all contributed to consolidation success. Grand jury indictments of ten local officials and the disacreditation of the local schools triggered success in Jacksonville-Duval. Thomas Scott has argued that each successful consolidation must be treated as a deviant case and that abnormal circumstances were involved in the successful consolidations.”

Published in Political Research Quarterly | V. L. Marando | 1973