Posts tagged electoral systems

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.
He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.
Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.
It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.
To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.
“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]


US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.
Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.
Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

Via theatlantic:

Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours

BERLIN — It’s the day before the German election, and Stefan Liebich, a member of the Bundestag for the far-left Die Linke party, is standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection, smiling and shaking hands. He has a boombox and an assistant who fills up crimson balloons that say “Really Red” — to differentiate them from the slightly-less-red balloons being inflated by their rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who have a similar setup just a few feet away.

He’s in peak campaigning mode, yet he takes a 45-minute break to talk to a group of foreign journalists, including me, who can’t vote and don’t speak German.

Liebich’s casual arrangement seems fitting for someone running for, say, student council in the U.S., but he’s actually just a few thousand votes from losing his seat in parliament if Die Linke doesn’t garner a large enough percentage in the upcoming election. He says he is “excited” to see whether or not he makes it in.

It may seem barebones, but this is a typical last-day campaign event for a parliamentarian in Germany, where campaigns get government funding, parties are allocated TV advertising time, and microtargeting of voters is unthinkable.

To Americans who rarely get a respite from partisan vitriol, fundraising requests, and attack ads during campaign season, it’s almost enough to make you want to brush up on the college German and head to the visa office.

“It is completely different from the States,” Liebich said. “And I’m happy about it.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

US political campaigns are extremely expensive. And also inefficient (in terms of educating voters about issues and/or platforms). Why do so many other countries do it better? One reason: electoral system. The main difference isn’t just Germany’s campaign finance laws. After all, politicians vote for campaign finance laws. But in proportional representation systems, politics tends to focus less on personalities and more on party platforms. This is especially true in proportional representation parliamentary systems, where there isn’t a president on the ballot.

Note 1: Germany has a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, which does include single-member district candidates elected in plurality (or “first-past-the-post”) elections, just like in the US. But the whole system tends towards proportionality because of how the remaining seats are awarded. And Germany’s politics is even more “personalized” than politics in most other list-proportional systems.

Note 2: Germany does have a president, but this person only acts as head of state (like Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II). Germany’s head of government is the Chancellor (currently Angela Merkel), who is elected by the legislature, not voters. Hence, Angela Merkel was elected by a majority coalition of German parties. Merkel’s alliance (CDU/CSU) won 49.4% of the vote, effectively reelecting her. But to govern, she’s seeking a coalition partner (either SPD or the Greens).

Via shortformblog:

nbcnews:

BREAKING: Supreme Court strikes down a key part of 1965 Voting Rights Act
(Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters, file)
Live SCOTUSblog offers latest details.
Continue reading

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his opinion on the case: “Nearly 50 years later, [the rules laid out by the Voting Rights Act] are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”
Thoughts?

Here some of my (brief) thoughts. Let’s ignore the specific issue at hand here (about whether certain jurisdictions should/shouldn’t need federal oversight to make changes to their electoral laws) and ask ourselves a simpler and much more fundamental question: How could we better run our (federal) elections? Just once, I’d like to see the news media stop and simply ask that basic question: Hey, how do other countries manage their elections?
That question allows for a comparative perspective. We can look at other countries and see how they resolve these kinds of issues. Because while our basic electoral framework is quite old (more than two centuries now), it might be useful to update it to a more modern design. And if we’re concerned with the need to look at how federal (as opposed to unitary) states do this, here’s a long list of federal countries that impose unified federal election procedures across the country:
Canada
Mexico
Argentina
Brazil
Venezuela
India
Germany
Switzerland
Belgium 
Australia
Malaysia
Pakistan
Surely from among that list, there must be some useful models for how to conduct elections in federal countries, yes? 
If anyone asked my advice, I’d start by setting up a federal electoral court. This would be more than the Federal Electoral Commission, which has few real powers. A number of countries have electoral courts, including Mexico. In fact, Mexico’s Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) is often praised for its professionalism and has become a model for electoral courts across the Americas. Across most countries, electoral courts are technically part of the judicial branch, but with tremendous executive authority. They oversee the printing of ballots, the timing of electoral calendars, the number/size/shape of electoral districts, etc. Electoral courts also determine whether candidates are qualified to run for office, verify campaign spending and all other campaign regulations, etc. And they do so for all national elections.
But the real issue isn’t whether there’s a court or not. The most important difference is that even in other federal countries, federal-level elections are managed by one single body using a uniform set of standards. 
Why should elections for federal offices in the US (president, Senate, House of Representatives) be managed at the local level? Why should governors have the right pick the date of special elections to fill vacant seats? Why should county clerks have the right to determine the shape/format of presidential ballots?
One way to resolve the whole Voting Rights Act would be to simply draft a law that makes all federal (not state or local) elections fall under the direct oversight of the federal government. It could standardize ballots, election dates, procedures, etc. It could also be tasked with periodic redrawing of districts (rather than leaving it to the whims of state legislators and their own agendas).
Then we wouldn’t have the dilemma of whether Alabama or Ohio can make up their own voting requirements and whether these are discriminatory or not. They would simply have to use the rules set up for the entire country. Over time, those rules would alter behavior at the local level. 
Want an example? Switzerland. Swiss women won the right to vote in federal elections in 1971 (yes, 1971). But some cantons (federal units) didn’t grant women the right to vote until much later. Women in Appenzell Innerhoden didn’t win the right to vote in local elections until 1990 (yes, 1990). So women in Appenzell Innerhoden could go to the polls and cast ballots for federal officers, but couldn’t cast local election ballots. 
Would such a law be constitutional (in the US)? I think so. Article I, Section 4 reads (emphasis mine):

The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

I would interpret this to mean that Congress could alter this at any time by making a new law. It would be much nicer (and probably less expensive) to simply have one national solution for all federal elections and simply impose it on states. After all, these would be elections to federal offices. So it’s not really the federal government telling the states what to do in local affairs. It’s simply telling states what to do in order to participate in federal politics. And there’s a long, long precedent for that kind of federal authority.

Via shortformblog:

nbcnews:

BREAKING: Supreme Court strikes down a key part of 1965 Voting Rights Act

(Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters, file)

Live SCOTUSblog offers latest details.

Continue reading

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his opinion on the case: “Nearly 50 years later, [the rules laid out by the Voting Rights Act] are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”

Thoughts?

Here some of my (brief) thoughts. Let’s ignore the specific issue at hand here (about whether certain jurisdictions should/shouldn’t need federal oversight to make changes to their electoral laws) and ask ourselves a simpler and much more fundamental question: How could we better run our (federal) elections? Just once, I’d like to see the news media stop and simply ask that basic question: Hey, how do other countries manage their elections?

That question allows for a comparative perspective. We can look at other countries and see how they resolve these kinds of issues. Because while our basic electoral framework is quite old (more than two centuries now), it might be useful to update it to a more modern design. And if we’re concerned with the need to look at how federal (as opposed to unitary) states do this, here’s a long list of federal countries that impose unified federal election procedures across the country:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Venezuela
  • India
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Belgium 
  • Australia
  • Malaysia
  • Pakistan

Surely from among that list, there must be some useful models for how to conduct elections in federal countries, yes? 

If anyone asked my advice, I’d start by setting up a federal electoral court. This would be more than the Federal Electoral Commission, which has few real powers. A number of countries have electoral courts, including Mexico. In fact, Mexico’s Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) is often praised for its professionalism and has become a model for electoral courts across the Americas. Across most countries, electoral courts are technically part of the judicial branch, but with tremendous executive authority. They oversee the printing of ballots, the timing of electoral calendars, the number/size/shape of electoral districts, etc. Electoral courts also determine whether candidates are qualified to run for office, verify campaign spending and all other campaign regulations, etc. And they do so for all national elections.

But the real issue isn’t whether there’s a court or not. The most important difference is that even in other federal countries, federal-level elections are managed by one single body using a uniform set of standards. 

Why should elections for federal offices in the US (president, Senate, House of Representatives) be managed at the local level? Why should governors have the right pick the date of special elections to fill vacant seats? Why should county clerks have the right to determine the shape/format of presidential ballots?

One way to resolve the whole Voting Rights Act would be to simply draft a law that makes all federal (not state or local) elections fall under the direct oversight of the federal government. It could standardize ballots, election dates, procedures, etc. It could also be tasked with periodic redrawing of districts (rather than leaving it to the whims of state legislators and their own agendas).

Then we wouldn’t have the dilemma of whether Alabama or Ohio can make up their own voting requirements and whether these are discriminatory or not. They would simply have to use the rules set up for the entire country. Over time, those rules would alter behavior at the local level. 

Want an example? Switzerland. Swiss women won the right to vote in federal elections in 1971 (yes, 1971). But some cantons (federal units) didn’t grant women the right to vote until much later. Women in Appenzell Innerhoden didn’t win the right to vote in local elections until 1990 (yes, 1990). So women in Appenzell Innerhoden could go to the polls and cast ballots for federal officers, but couldn’t cast local election ballots. 

Would such a law be constitutional (in the US)? I think so. Article I, Section 4 reads (emphasis mine):

The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

I would interpret this to mean that Congress could alter this at any time by making a new law. It would be much nicer (and probably less expensive) to simply have one national solution for all federal elections and simply impose it on states. After all, these would be elections to federal offices. So it’s not really the federal government telling the states what to do in local affairs. It’s simply telling states what to do in order to participate in federal politics. And there’s a long, long precedent for that kind of federal authority.

From pritheworld:

A New York City Council hearing reviewed a proposal that would give legal immigrants the right to vote. New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored the bill. He is a democrat, and represents District 25 in the city, including the immigrant-rich neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. http://ow.ly/kVs6X 

A number of countries (including Chile) give resident immigrants the right to vote. The logic is simple: They pay taxes, so they should have representation. Besides, another argument is that voting rights will make them stakeholders in holding government accountable.

From pritheworld:

A New York City Council hearing reviewed a proposal that would give legal immigrants the right to vote. New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm sponsored the bill. He is a democrat, and represents District 25 in the city, including the immigrant-rich neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. http://ow.ly/kVs6X 

A number of countries (including Chile) give resident immigrants the right to vote. The logic is simple: They pay taxes, so they should have representation. Besides, another argument is that voting rights will make them stakeholders in holding government accountable.

Voting Rights Act, in comparative perspective

The oral arguments have started in the Supreme Court on a new challenge to the US Voting Rights Act. In particular, the challenge is to the provision that requires certain jurisdictions (mostly southern states) to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to voter ID laws or redistricting. The New Yorker has an interesting take on this, focusing on some of Justice Scalia’s interesting arguments

Apparently, Scalia wonders whether it’s improper (or even unconstitutional) for the federal government to treat some states differently. I agree with the counter argument that voting rights protections are not an “entitlement” (as Scalia defines them), and that the history of racism and segregation justifies such protections. 

Instead, I’m willing to concede Scalia’s argument to him, but with a (comparative) caveat. And I’m drawing here on the example of Switzerland.

For all of its reputation as a “liberal” country, Switzerland is actually rather conservative. In fact, it was one of the last countries in the world to grant women the right to vote, in 1971 (for comparison, women won the right to vote in Iran in 1963).

But there’s an interesting twist: Because of Swizterland’s unique form of federalism, individual cantons have tremendous political autonomy—even on issues of rights. Some Swiss cantons didn’t give women the right to vote for many years after 1971. In fact, the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden didn’t grant women the right to vote until 1990.

So what happened between 1971 and 1990? Well, fairly simple: Women in Appenzell Innerhoden could vote in federal elections, but not in local elections. Why? Because federal elections in Switzerland (and in most countries) are managed by federal agencies, while local elections are managed by local agencies.

Perhaps you see where I’m going with this. See, in the United States, even federal elections are managed by local bodies (either at the state or country level). That’s why we have so many different ballots (remember Florida 2000?) and types of voting machines across the country on presidential elections. But why should local agencies run federal elections? There’s no real reason for it. Certainly not any spelled out in the US Constitution (at least not that I’m aware of). 

So one solution to the Voting Rights Act (at least for the purposes of federal elections) would be to simply announce that federal offices (elections to the House, the Senate, and the Presidency) will be managed by a single federal agency that would proscribe a single, universal voting system for all the offices (a uniform ballot, etc.). States would be free to elect their local offices with whatever rules they choose (subject to some federal oversight to protect civil liberties, of course). This might also require the federal government (not states) to draw the district lines for House seats. Or, more to my liking, we could move to either a list-PR or SNTV system using multimember districts. 

Either way, it simply doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense (to me) for states to have such a significant impact on how federal elections are handled. If they want autonomy from the federal regulations, then the simplest way is just to hand over those responsibilities to a federal electoral authority. After all, most countries (even federal ones) have one. They seem to prefer professional, impartial election management staff to running things by ad hoc assortments of partisans and amateurs. 

Beyond this being a fascinating story about immigration, I’m interested in what this says about electoral institutional dynamics (broadly defined). Can politically engaging young people (even those too young to vote) alter the voting behavior of adults? Seems worth looking into. There’s definitely a good thesis/dissertation project in it.

From 18mr:

The Ali Family, Midlothian, VA
Grandparents Mohammed and Safia Ali have been voters for over 25 years. But in 2008, the enthusiasm of their children, Razi with wife Sumayra, and daughter Nadira, had Grandpa and Grandma not only voting but volunteering! Their grandchildren, Tayyib and Raihaan have already heard many thoughtful and passionate political debates and seen their parents and grandparents proudly wear “I Voted” stickers from many elections.

The Ashraf Family, Brookfield, WI
Dad Ashraf has voted in many presidential elections, Mom Ashraf voted in her first in 2000 after becoming a US Citizen. Both parents voted casually - making decisions based on campaign ads or coworker opinions. But after daughter Zainab became politically active in college, she educated her parents on the importance of state and local elections and the need to really know candidates’ positions before casting their ballot. Today, Mom and Dad Ashraf are volunteers for GOTV efforts in every election and attend every political rally they can get into. 

The Khaja Family, Charlottesville, VA
Minhaj and Maryam want public education for their son Musa to better than their own. They want more creative teachers, more diverse classrooms, curricula that consist of real-world preparation and the People’s history over the textbook company’s history. They are both actively engaged in school board discussions and extremely educated about every city council member’s position on public education. And Musa will come with them to the voting booth every year until he’s ready to cast his own ballot.

The Akthar-Khaleel Family, Washington, DC
Newlyweds Wajiha Akthar and Awais Khaleel both come from hardworking South Asian immigrant families who wanted the best for their children. What they got was a political dynamic duo, Awais a lawyer and Wajiha a PhD candidate in public health, who are not only voters but activists in the fields of civil rights and mental health.

Studies show that when children have parental assistance with homework, they perform better in school. I would bet that when parents have children’s assistance with voting, they feel better about life in general. South Asians typically come from close knit families where parents offer plenty of motivation to their children to do well in school. Today, in 2012, we are learning that children are motivating their parents to get involved civically, to become a part of the American political process, to vote.

Many South Asians came to the US in the late 1960s and 1970s with the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Highly skilled, these folks came to the US in search of economic opportunity and stability. After obtaining citizenship, they built wonderful lives for their children, the first generation South Asian Americans. We reaped many benefits this country had to offer the middle class - quality housing, great education. But we also felt the pains this country could inflict - institutionalized racism, social disenfranchisement.

After working so hard and after contributing so much to the economy, why were we still not seen as an integral part of American society?

While our parents were busy establishing their careers, building stable homes, and guaranteeing us many privileges, they were forgetting the importance of the American political process. They wanted our schools to be the best, but they did not vote for school board.  They wanted our neighborhoods to be clean, but had no idea when city council elections were held. They bought into the American Dream with such fervor - we control our own success, if we work hard enough we will make it - they didn’t realize that actually, elected officials and their policies strongly controlled our paths to success too.

The good news is, us kids, the first generation South Asian Americans, figured this out. We are educating our parents and taking them to the polls. We are questioning their lack of involvement and challenging them to vote - not just for President - but for state and local offices as well. And we are raising kids who will hopefully be even more politically engaged than we are, who will run for office and win and create policies of fairness and equality and continue to educate us, like we did our parents, on how to be real, true, citizens of this American democracy.

Fatima Ashraf is currently a Virginia 18 Million Rising Fellow and a former Senior Policy Advisor on Health and Education to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in New York City. She is currently mobilizing voters in Virginia for All Hands On Deck, a national organization committed to amplifying progressive youth voices in the political process.

In any other democracy, voters nationwide would have cast their votes on the same kind of balloting equipment, subject to the same rules.


The parties would have had a minimal role in supervising the election, and certainly would not have been allowed to ask for rule changes as the vote occurred.

The voting would have been overseen by a national election commission, not by local judges, who might be nonpartisan — but who very well might not.

Americans worry more about voter fraud than do voters in other countries, because they are the only country without a reliable system of national identification.

In no other country, including federal systems such as Germany, Canada and Australia, does the citizen’s opportunity to vote depend on the affluence and competence of his or her local government.

In every other democracy, the vote is the means by which the people choose between the competing political parties — not one more weapon by which the parties compete.

The United States is an exceptional nation, but it is not always exceptional for good. The American voting system too is an exception: It is the most error-prone, the most susceptible to fraud, the most vulnerable to unfairness and one of the least technologically sophisticated on earth. After the 2000 fiasco, Americans resolved to do better. Isn’t it past time to make good on that resolution?

David Frum, America’s voting system is a disgrace - CNN.com (via dendroica)

—this is completely true (Politicalprof)

This is also why those of us who study electoral systems want to tear our hair out every election day

One of these weeks I should make a list of countries with low voting ages (some go as low as 15 years old). How would lowering the voting age affect political campaigns? Would we start to focus more on education—and in different ways?
From breakingnews:

Argentina lowers voting age to 16
BBC: Argentina’s Congress has approved a law to lower the voting age to 16. The move will take effect for key midterm elections next year.
Critics say the change is designed to boost President Cristina Fernandez’s party’s chances in the 2013 polls. Supporters say it will widen political participation.
Voting is obligatory for those aged 18 to 70 in Argentina. It will be optional for those who are 16 and 17.
Photo via AFP

One of these weeks I should make a list of countries with low voting ages (some go as low as 15 years old). How would lowering the voting age affect political campaigns? Would we start to focus more on education—and in different ways?

From breakingnews:

Argentina lowers voting age to 16

BBC: Argentina’s Congress has approved a law to lower the voting age to 16. The move will take effect for key midterm elections next year.

Critics say the change is designed to boost President Cristina Fernandez’s party’s chances in the 2013 polls. Supporters say it will widen political participation.

Voting is obligatory for those aged 18 to 70 in Argentina. It will be optional for those who are 16 and 17.


Photo via AFP


2012 Greek Parliamentary Elections (from themonkeycage.org):
This is a historic low for the two dominant parties ruling Greece since the collapse of the Junta in 1974, PASOK and Nea Demokratia.  Together they garnered only 33% of the vote. The result was hard to anticipate—especially the second place for the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), with 16,77%. Less unexpected was the electoral success of Independent Hellenes (10,6%) on the right and Golden Dawn on the far right (7%). A coalition government seems highly unlikely at the moment if one considers tonight’s statements by party leaders. It is interesting to note that more than 19% (!) of the vote was garnered by parties that did not ultimately make it to the parliament. These include: Popular Orthodox Rally-LAOS, Democratic Alliance, DRASI (Action), Dimiourgia Xana (Recreate Greece), Social Agreement (Koinoniki Symfonia), and the Green Party (Oikologoi Prasinoi). Finally, 35% of the Greek electorate—more than 3 million people—did not go to vote. These people may now be regretting their choice to not participate.

There are many messages that one can draw. People voted against the two-party system—that can no longer fulfill its side of the “patronage contract”—and against austerity measures. Yet, they voted—at least nominally—in favor of a European future. Another thing that is apparent is that the current electoral law produces odd and hardly representative results. For instance New Democracy received 2 percentage points more than the Coalition of Radical Left but this difference resulted in 56 more seats for the former party. Moreover, as a result of fragmentation of the party system, parties that did not make it to the parliament have collectively received a higher percentage than the first party, which receives 108 seats!
The European leaders are numb and will probably wait and see whether a government can be formed before they react to the result. This electoral result was not really expected and it increases the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Eurozone since a stable government in Greece seems unlikely. If we combine the Greek result with Hollande’s victory in France—and the expected friction in Franco-German relations—the markets will most likely react negatively and remain volatile until things clear out.

This is a good overview of the recent Greek elections. As well as an excellent example of the impact electoral system has on results. Case in point: The largest block of votes went to parties that won no seats in the legislature, and equal to 102 seats for the first place part.

2012 Greek Parliamentary Elections (from themonkeycage.org):

This is a historic low for the two dominant parties ruling Greece since the collapse of the Junta in 1974, PASOK and Nea Demokratia.  Together they garnered only 33% of the vote. The result was hard to anticipate—especially the second place for the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), with 16,77%. Less unexpected was the electoral success of Independent Hellenes (10,6%) on the right and Golden Dawn on the far right (7%). A coalition government seems highly unlikely at the moment if one considers tonight’s statements by party leaders. It is interesting to note that more than 19% (!) of the vote was garnered by parties that did not ultimately make it to the parliament. These include: Popular Orthodox Rally-LAOS, Democratic Alliance, DRASI (Action), Dimiourgia Xana (Recreate Greece), Social Agreement (Koinoniki Symfonia), and the Green Party (Oikologoi Prasinoi). Finally, 35% of the Greek electorate—more than 3 million people—did not go to vote. These people may now be regretting their choice to not participate.

There are many messages that one can draw. People voted against the two-party system—that can no longer fulfill its side of the “patronage contract”—and against austerity measures. Yet, they voted—at least nominally—in favor of a European future. Another thing that is apparent is that the current electoral law produces odd and hardly representative results. For instance New Democracy received 2 percentage points more than the Coalition of Radical Left but this difference resulted in 56 more seats for the former party. Moreover, as a result of fragmentation of the party system, parties that did not make it to the parliament have collectively received a higher percentage than the first party, which receives 108 seats!

The European leaders are numb and will probably wait and see whether a government can be formed before they react to the result. This electoral result was not really expected and it increases the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Eurozone since a stable government in Greece seems unlikely. If we combine the Greek result with Hollande’s victory in France—and the expected friction in Franco-German relations—the markets will most likely react negatively and remain volatile until things clear out.

This is a good overview of the recent Greek elections. As well as an excellent example of the impact electoral system has on results. Case in point: The largest block of votes went to parties that won no seats in the legislature, and equal to 102 seats for the first place part.

Teaching About Electoral Systems

This semester I had a chance to develop and teach a seminar on electoral systems and party systems. The course has been heavily metrics based, with a strong emphasis on how to calculate a number of metrics used in the study of elections and parties. 

So far so good, with most of the students successfully learning how to calculate the effective number of parties and electoral volatility. They were tested on this on the midterm: I was pleased that, given a table of data (for a fictitious country, Oz), they were able to calculate both measures in under an hour (while also working on a short essay question).

For the final exam, I’m upping the ante: Given a table of election results, they’ll have to calculate the seat distribution using a “largest remainder" system (Imperiali) and a "highest average" system (pure Sainte-Laguë). They’ll then have to also decide wether a 7% electoral threshold would alter the seat distribution in any way.

You know, the saying in France is that in the first round you vote for your friends, you vote for your heart, and in the second round you vote against your enemy. That is to, say what motivates to you go to vote is to eliminate the candidate that you really do not want to see as a president.

Justin Vaisse, Brookings Institution, on President Nicolas Sarkozy taking second place to socialist candidate Francois Hollande in France’s first-round elections Sunday. (via newshour)

A great explanation of the two-round voting system used in France. I wonder how well it applies elsewhere?