Cynthia Botteron, Shippensburg University – Qualified for Election

botteronWhat makes a candidate qualified for political office?

Cynthia Botteron, professor of political science at Shippensburg University, explores how other countries handle this question and whether Americans could learn a thing or two.

My research interests are in comparative politics with a focus on the processes of development and the democratization of former colonial states. I conducted research in India on their effort to save the Bengal tiger while tending to the development needs of the tribal community living in and near tiger reserves. I also conducted research in Pakistan on then President Musharraf’s changes to the nation’s constitution. The addition of the requirement that one must have a college degree or its equivalent to run for national office is what captured my interest.

The Constitution Qualifications Global Project is the only one in the world. It is yielding some interesting insights into the creativity and unique character of states because in the choice of requirements, a state is partially broadcasting needs, aspirations, and the nature of its political culture.

Qualified for Election

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Wedged between brief policy exchanges are the charges by both presidential candidates that the other is not qualified. Did this make you wonder how other countries thought through the issue of qualifications for office? It did me, years ago, and with a troop of graduate students, all constitutions of the world were coded for their requirements for national public office.

My colleague, Michael Greenberg and I, have worked to understand what we’ve come to appreciate is the central question of representative democracy: Who are we “allowed” to vote for?

What we found are approximately 70 requirements for office that range from the expected to the unexpected; such as, prohibitions against entrepreneurs, against citizens employed by labor unions, or those who do not belong to a named faith.

How might this study inform our thinking about current and future elections?

Used by 13% of countries is a ‘Good Character’ requirement where only the trustworthy, those with a good reputation, or of impeccable integrity need apply.

In that same vein, a number of countries prohibit former government officials from running if they were convicted of ethics violations while in office.

What might frustrate our current candidates is the requirement used by 20% of countries that before running, he or she must disclose property and income holdings. And 12% prohibit candidates with past or unresolved bankruptcies.

As for the “fitness” question, 37% have a ‘Good mental health’ requirement, while 6% express concerned about physical health and 8% have a maximum age limit, all 65 or older.

So, what do we take away from this study? First, seemingly easy to circumvent, a majority of countries have an independent agency that vets candidates. Second, countries are extremely innovative about crafting qualifications to suit evolving needs. The United States may look at this election and decide that for the sake of our representative democracy, change is needed.

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