One of the most creative theories advanced about legislative organization in recent years is Katz and Sala's linkage of the development of committee property rights in the US House of Representatives to the introduction of the Australian ballot. Katz and Sala argue that the Australian ballot – a government-printed ballot cast in secret that replaced a party-produced ballot that was cast in public – gave members of the House an incentive to pursue personal constituency votes. This, in turn, led to the rise of committee property rights as members sought to keep their committee assignments from term to term because of the potential electoral benefits they derived from them.
In this Note we use the state legislative committee membership dataset collected by Hamm and Hedlund and their colleagues to test whether committee property rights appeared in American state legislatures at roughly the same time as Katz and Sala find they emerged in the US House. State legislatures were, of course, exposed to the same electoral innovation at the same time. But, while in some ways state legislatures were much like Congress as organizations, in other ways they were very different. Our cross-sectional data and the variance in important institutional variables they provide allow us to test a critical proposition about the importance of membership stability rates in mediating the rise of committee property rights. We also go beyond Katz and Sala's analysis by testing to see if differences in Australian ballot design (office column and party bloc) across the states influenced the behaviour of legislators in the way their theory suggests.