Volume 108

The Life of Administrative Democracy

by Joshua Ulan Galperin

Today, the USDA’s elected farmer committee system is made up of over 7,700 elected farmers sitting on over 2,200 county committees. The elected farmer committees are charged with real administration and implementation of federal law, not mere advice-giving. They make and enforce policy and adjudicate disputes that impact the rights and obligations of people outside the government. And they are elected. As such, they represent the most important, and apparently the only, example of genuine electoral administration. This Article will explore the elected farmer committees in detail and provide the first and only complete look at the committees in the legal literature. One of the important conclusions that this Article will reach is that although these elected farmer committees fly a banner of “administrative democracy,” meaning they purport to administer laws based on direct democratic engagement, their democratic bona fides are questionable and they are better termed, at best, “electoral administration” because majoritarian elections are their closest connection to a meaningful understanding of “democracy.”

The first Part will describe the general administrative structure of the county committees. Part II will describe the history, authority, and responsibility of the committees over time. Part III will try to understand the committees better by looking at several competing philosophical and ideological justifications for their existence. The penultimate Part IV describes the modern trajectory of the committees and argues that there has been a (perhaps inevitable and expected) failure to meet the aspirations of administrative democracy and that the committees, as structured, are unconstitutional. The Article’s final Part V concludes by briefly pondering some of the lessons of electoral administration.

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