American Government and Politics

American Government and Politics

Do Reserved Seats Work? Evidence from Tribal Representatives in Maine

Cameron DeHart Stanford University
,
Elliot Mamet Duke University
Abstract
Do reserved seats yield substantive representation for traditionally marginalized groups? To answer that question, we examine reserved seats for Native American tribes in the Maine legislature. Tribal representatives, who can participate in debate but lack a vote, have represented tribes in Maine's predominantly white legislature since statehood in 1820. We take advantage of a 1995 rule change that allowed tribal representatives to initiate legislation, and an original dataset of pro-tribal bills, to estimate the effect of reserved seats on the production of pro-tribal bills. We find that once tribal representatives were allowed to write bills, they produced over half of all tribal-related legislation during a 35-year period. Legislators with tribal constituents sponsored fewer relevant bills after the reform but continued to cosponsor pro-tribal legislation. Although our results are promising, we caution that reserved seats are not a panacea for improving indigenous representation.
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