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2021 EDR Prize Winners Announced

The Elizabeth D. Rockwell Center on Ethics and Leadership at the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston has awarded a prize of $12,000 for the best 2021 article on ethics, leadership, and public policy. An award of $3,000 is given for honorable mention.


Shannon Portillo, Domonic Bearfield & Norma M. Riccucci , The Disenfranchisement of Voters of Color: Redux, Public Integrity (2021)
Focusing on recent legislation restricting voting access and its impact on people of color and low-income whites, this article explores the ethical obligations of public election administrators who are called upon to implement laws with overtly partisan, undemocratic implications. Public administrators are meant to serve as stewards of governance, ensuring democratic principles are carried out in effective, efficient, and equitable ways. Restrictive election laws create an ethical dilemma for elections administrators as they are challenged to find a way to serve as stewards of our democratic values while remaining neutral in the partisan policy-making process. While public administrators have an obligation to be non-partisan, the authors argue that they also have an obligation to uphold equity in voting. They conclude that the traditional view of public administrators as having a responsibility to remain strictly neutral without directly advocating for policy change is too constrained.

The “Disenfranchisement of Voters of Color: Redux” exemplifies rigorous empirical scholarship while raising important ethical questions with real-world relevance. The scholarship is original, written in a clear and accessible way, and addresses a timely public policy issue. The prize committee determined it would be an excellent article to teach in ethics and public administration/public policy class because it engages important issues about the role of administrators in implementing policies that seem, on their face, undemocratic.


Andreas Schmidt, Getting Real on Rationality—Behavioral Science, Nudging, and Public Policy, Ethics 2019
Nudging seeks to improve people’s decisions through small changes in their choice environments. Researchers have found, for example, that by placing healthy foods at the top or bottom of menus, they can increase the amount of healthy food people order. Nudge policies are often justified on the grounds that they compensate for the biases and blunders that are built into people’s automatic or intuitive response systems. Some critics, therefore, object that nudging treats people disrespectfully as irrational. Schmidt defends nudging against these objections. He argues that these objections against nudging rest on a heroic understanding of rationality which associates it with universal prescriptions, slow and careful deliberation, and attending to all relevant information. He instead defends an ecological model of rationality that considers a decision as rational when the combination of a person’s psychological makeup and their decision-making procedures allow them to reliably achieve their ends in a given environment. From this perspective, nudging not only is compatible with the rational agency but can even support it. Accordingly, Schmidt argues that a concern with rationality speaks for more rather than less public policy nudging. He concludes that public policy nudging can play a significant role in helping people to behave more rationally by adjusting choice environments to people’s psychological makeup and their decision-making procedures.

“Getting Real on Rationality—Behavioral Science, Nudging, and Public Policy” draws on behavioral economics, psychological research, and philosophical argumentation to defend a more widespread use of nudge policies by policy-makers. The article moves from detailed analytical arguments to real-world examples to raise questions about the justifiability of policies that encourage or discourage various behaviors. The prize committee found the article to be an exceptionally clear and readable and important addition to debates about economic rationality and standards of liberalism, and also identified it as an excellent article to teach in ethics and public administration/public policy class.