Germany electoral system change?

Apparently the parties in Germany’s current governing coalition have agreed a package of reforms to the electoral system. The article is behind a paywall and thus I am unable to translate it. Someone on Twitter said it keeps the size of the Bundestag at 598 and “eliminates Überhangmandate.”

I am guessing this actually means that it would change the rule on how to compensate other parties when one party has won more total seats via nominal-district victories than its list vote in a state would entitle it to. It is those wins that over-represent a party that I understand as “overhang” seats, although sometimes the term refers instead to the additional seats used to compensate.

I hope someone has the details and can enlighten me.

UPDATE: See first comment. This is a big deal. I’d understand this proposal as Germany being prepared to abolish MMP. It is not a mixed-member system if it’s possible for a candidate with the most votes in a nominal district not to win the seat.

The Ranked Choice Voting Elections of 2022 in Alaska and Maine

Maine, which became in 2018 the first state in the U.S. to adopt Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for federal elections, was joined last year by Alaska, where RCV was rolled out as well for state elections. Moreover, in 2022 RCV tabulations were carried out in both states for races in which no candidate won an absolute majority of first preferences (no RCV counts took place in 2020, as all federal races in Maine were decided on the first count). However, the Alaskan implementation of RCV, while broadly similar to that of Maine, has a number of differences which influenced the outcome of the election in the former.

Maine

In many respects, the U.S. House of Representatives election in Maine’s CD-2 was a rerun of the 2018 race. Congressman Jared Golden ran again as the Democratic nominee in the district, while Republicans nominated Bruce Poliquin, who had represented the district from 2015 to 2019, when he lost the seat to Golden. Meanwhile, Tiffany Bond ran again as an independent candidate. As in 2018, no candidate won an overall majority of first preferences, and Golden won once more after Bond was eliminated and her second preferences (along with those of voters who backed write-in nominees) were redistributed among the remaining two candidates.

That said, there were a number of differences with respect to 2018.  In 2022, Golden outpolled Poliquin in the first preference count, and went on to win the second count and the election by a larger margin than in 2018, when he narrowly beat Poliquin in a come-from-behind victory. Moreover, Golden won not only an absolute majority of valid second count votes but also of all votes cast, including blank, exhausted and invalid ballots. In addition, a narrow 50.3% majority of CD-2 voters casting valid ballots in the first count ranked at least two candidates (77.7% among Bond voters, 64.3% among Golden voters and 31.1% among Poliquin voters – largely in line with the respective 2018 figures for the same candidates). And It should be noted as well that by 2022 Poliquin accepted the validity of RCV, which he had unsuccessfully challenged in court four years earlier.

That said, the 2022 election results in CD-2 revealed some disconcerting patterns. In the first count, overvoted ballots, invalidated by voters indicating a first preference (or second preference with a skipped first preference) for over one candidate more than doubled since 2018, from 435 to 1,020, although they remained a small fraction (0.3%) of all votes cast. At the same time, while ballots with just one candidate ranked were fewer than those with at least two candidates with valid rankings, the number of ballots with one candidate assigned all rankings grew exponentially, from 7,706 in 2018 to 54,610, of which a large majority (42,985) were cast for Bruce Poliquin. However, voting in that manner is wrong, as clearly spelled out by how-to-vote instructions, which indicate that duplicate rankings have no bearing in the election outcome:  in the cited cases only the first preference would be counted as a vote for the indicated candidate, and the increased frequency of such ballots would seem to indicate that many CD-2 voters still don’t understand the workings of RCV.

Alaska

Ballot Measure 2, narrowly approved by Alaskan voters in a 2020 referendum, not only introduced RCV for federal as well as state executive and legislative offices, but also replaced the existing partisan primaries with a non-partisan blanket primary, in which the top four candidates – chosen by plurality voting – advanced to the general election.

The rules governing RCV counts in Alaska are largely identical to those of Maine, except that Alaska appears to treat differently ballots with duplicate rankings for candidates. Specifically, it’s impossible to replicate from cast vote record data the results of successive RCV rounds in the official reports issued by Alaska’s Division of Elections unless lower duplicate rankings are treated as skipped, which results in a small number of ballots deemed exhausted on account of two or more consecutive skipped rankings.

The new arrangements had an early debut in the summer of 2022, when a special election was held to fill the state’s at-large U.S. House seat, vacant since the sudden death earlier that year of Don Young, who had represented Alaska in Congress for nearly fifty years. In the blanket primary the top four candidates in decreasing order of votes were former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin (Republican); Nick Begich (Republican); Al Gross (Independent); and Mary Peltola (Democratic). However, Gross subsequently withdrew from the race and endorsed Peltola, a former state representative.

Although Peltola placed a distant fourth in the special blanket primary, she went on to secure a first preference count plurality in the August special election, ahead of Palin and Begich, and narrowly defeat Palin after Begich was eliminated and his second preferences were transferred. A majority of Begich first preference voters chose Palin as their second preference, but a substantial number either chose Peltola or exhausted their ballots, indicating no preference for either of the two remaining candidates, which in turn prevented Palin from overcoming Peltola’s first preference lead. However, Begich would have prevailed over Peltola in the final round of counting had he managed to outpoll Palin in the first preference count.

Peltola, Palin and Begich also qualified for the general election in the regular blanket primary held in August alongside the special election. They were joined by Libertarian Chris Bye, who came in fifth place, but was allowed to take part in the election following the withdrawal of Tara Sweeney, who placed fourth in the race. In the general election, Peltola won the largest number of first preferences votes once again, just short of an absolute majority, securing an expanded lead over both Palin and Begich, who once more arrived second and third. Peltola won a decisive victory over Palin in the final round of voting, in which Begich was eliminated, and would have also defeated the latter by a substantial margin if he had managed to win more first preference votes than Palin.

Meanwhile, in the blanket primary for the U.S. Senate contest, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican, topped the poll, followed by Kelly Tshibaka, a conservative Republican, and Patricia Chesbro, a Democrat. Buzz Kelley, a Republican who came in fourth place, subsequently withdrew from the race and endorsed Tshibaka, but remained on the ballot. In the general election Murkowski narrowly outpolled Tshibaka in the first preference count, and went on to win a clear majority in the final count, following the elimination of Chesbro and the transfer of her second preferences.

Although RCV was also implemented for state elections in Alaska, in the gubernatorial election incumbent Mike Dunleavy, a conservative Republican, won an absolute majority of first preferences and consequently no RCV tabulation was carried out for that contest; nonetheless, the cast vote record data furnished by Alaska’s Division of Elections includes the rankings for the gubernatorial race.

In the special election 72.4% of voters casting a valid ballot indicated preferences for at least two candidates, but in the general election the figure dropped to 66.7% (64.3% in the U.S. Senate contest and 66.9% in the gubernatorial race). However, unlike in Maine’s CD-2 in either 2018 or 2022, all U.S. House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates had a majority of first preference voters casting their ballots in that manner, with Kelly Tshibaka having the lowest share (55.9%) and Nick Begich the highest (80.6%) among major party statewide candidates.  Interestingly enough, among Peltola first preference voters that figure dropped from 72.8% in the special election to 58.1% in the general election, while among Palin voters it increased slightly between both events, from 64.7% to 69%. In fact, preference combination statistics – available in State of Maine 2018 / 2022 and State of Alaska 2022 Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) Election Data – indicate that in the general election voters who ranked Peltola first and skipped all other rankings constituted the largest single group (52,732) for the U.S. House contest.

While both Palin and Tshibaka conceded defeat in their respective races, both cited RCV as a major factor in the adverse outcomes. That said, it’s by no means certain either would have prevailed under the arrangements previously in place in Alaska. Both might have won traditional partisan primaries, but Palin’s evident unpopularity among many Begich voters would have remained a liability under plurality voting in the special election and particularly the general election. Meanwhile, Senator Murkowski might have opted to run as a write-in candidate had she lost the GOP nomination in a traditional primary, and possibly prevail as such in the election, as she did back in 2010. Moreover, in the case of the U.S. House contest it’s worth noting that in recent years the late Don Young had been re-elected by noticeably reduced percentage margins – down to mid-to-high single digits – which suggested the seat might have become very competitive even under plurality voting once he was no longer the GOP nominee.

Nonetheless, Peltola’s upset victory in the special election reinforced the view among many Republicans that RCV is designed to deliver an unfair partisan advantage to Democrats, and that perception is likely to foment resistance to its adoption in other states. In addition, it’s not clear that the success under RCV of Republican candidates like Gov. Mike Dunleavy in Alaska or Sen. Susan Collins in Maine will help to dispel that notion (all the more so since both won outright in first preference counts, where the absence of RCV tabulations might lead some voters to erroneously assume such victories were achieved under plurality voting). Even so, in 2022 Nevada voted to switch to RCV, although that change won’t become final until confirmed by voters in a second referendum, scheduled to be held in 2024.

Finally, some early RCV advocates in the U.S. have since moved on to push for the adoption of other electoral systems such as party-list proportional representation. However, at the present time such proposals have yet to gain any traction, and what momentum exists for electoral reform appears to be in favor of RCV.

Belize to correct its egregious malapportionment

The Supreme Court of Belize has brokered a consent order that will lead to a redistricting to correct the country’s extremely high malapportionment.

Co-Counsel Michelle Trapp stated that [Sean P.] Trende’s report, among other things, found at the time it was written, only five of Belize’s 31 electoral divisions met the international standard deviation of registered voters, generally between five to 15 percent with allocation made for sparsely populated areas.

Trende’s report itself indicates some districts have around five times the voters as some others.

The country has had some lopsided results in the past, including 2020 when a party with almost 60% of the votes won 26 of the 31 seats. Of course, FPTP in a very small assembly will tend to do that, but presumably it has been exacerbated by the malapportionment. (By the cube root law, Belize would be expected to have around 75 seats in total given its population.) Several other elections have been similarly lopsided.

Farther back, it even had a majority reversal. In FPTP systems, plurality reversals happen from time to time–defined as when the party with the plurality of votes does not win the plurality of seats–but majority reversals are rather unusual. Yet in 1993 the People’s United Party won 52.1% of the vote but only 13 of the 29 seats parliament then consisted of. The UDP-NABR alliance won the other 16 seats, despite just 48.7% of the vote.

Looking at the 2020 election at district level, I see one constituency, Ft. George, that had only around 1,500 votes cast (and the PUP nabbed with just 983) while Stann Creek West has over 7,600 votes cast and several others have more than 6,000. There is another around the voter base of Ft. George, as well as several in the mid two thousands or around three thousand. So it is indeed severely malapportioned.

The 1993 majority reversal did not take place under malapportionment this severe, but it was substantial. At that time Stann Creek West was among the relatively lower-population districts (just over 2,000 votes cast) while a few other districts had over 3,000. There were others with only around 1,500. So the problem is not new, but has got worse. And there seem to have been some really significant internal population shifts in the past thirty years. Fortunately, this will be corrected. They still should increase the size of their assembly, too–or adopt some sort of PR. But at least they will improve their small-assembly FPTP.

Finally, now that I’ve poked around Wikipedia pages on Belize constituencies a bit, I want to go see the Belize City Swing Bridge, one end of which is in Ft. George constituency, and which requires four operators to manually crank it.

When does a coalition partner have a veto?

Does entering into a coalition government imply that a political party is a “veto player”? Some scholars would say yes, while others raise cautions about such a generalization. I would side with those who sound the caution and say that it depends.

The issue arises because in Israel, the Otzma Yehudit party leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, has issued another demand that is gumming up the process of forming what in theory should be a highly compact minimum winning coalition of the right–orthodox bloc in Israel.

According to the Times of Israel, Ben Gvir said “We want a deputy in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation” and without this, “we can’t form a government.” The news update notes that a spokesman has clarified that he means that veto power is his intention with this demand.

As the article notes, the rules of procedure for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation are subject to each government’s internal agreements. It is not as if law specifies who sits on this committee and what each member’s powers are. The issue raises the more general point in the questions at the top of this entry. Does a coalition partner possess a veto by the very nature of coalition government or must it be agreed to explicitly?

Tsebelis, in his work on “veto players” would say that in a unicameral (or effectively so) parliamentary system like Israel’s, the veto players are the parties in the government. The implication is that no policy is changed without the consent of all veto players–all cabinet parties. Let’s leave aside cases of minority governments, which complicate the discussion (but are important to understand!) or oversize cabinets.1 I will focus on the simplest case of coalition–one in which there are two or more parties whose personnel populate the cabinet, the parties together command a majority, and there are no extra parties beyond what is needed for that majority. This is essentially what the emerging coalition in Israel will exemplify.2

In the situation resulting from the election and the bargaining positions of the various parties, each party that is expected to enter the incoming cabinet indeed would appear to be a veto player. There would seem to be little need to codify this in the operating procedures of a key cabinet committee. Nonetheless, I do not believe it is by definition the case that any cabinet coalition partner has a veto. It depends on the circumstances, and those can vary across governments within a country and could even vary across time within a government. The latter, of course, is a reason a party leader with extreme policy demands (like Ben Gvir) might insist on both personnel (a deputy chair of a key cabinet committee) and rules to codify the veto.

As a general rule, however, cabinet membership should not automatically make a party a veto player. Many cabinets will let a partner vote no on something without bringing down the government or categorically blocking the passage of a bill. In fact, this is arguably the purest form of “consensus” “majoritarian” democracy–one in which legislative majorities are sufficient to change policy (no minority veto/super-majority rules), but legislative coalitions need not be the same as the cabinet coalition on every piece of legislation. Policy-enacting majorities can “cycle” from one set of majority-holding parties to another, depending on the issue and the bargaining strengths of a wider set of parties than those that comprise the cabinet. See works of McGann & Latner, Li, and others on this point. 3

The reason Otzma is probably a veto player in the emerging government is that there appear to be scant options for the leading party, Likud and leader Benjamin Netanyahu, to construct legislative coalitions that replace one or more of his coalition partners with votes (let alone influential posts) from parties outside the cabinet. The current divide is stark–pro-Netanyahu vs. the rest–such that cross-bloc votes could not be counted on. That could change, of course, depending on various events that change the incentives of various parties. (Benny Gantz, Defense Minister in the outgoing government who is currently ticketed for opposition, hinted as much yesterday.)

Thus the veto player potential of a coalition partner depends on the degree of fluidity of blocs in parliament. It should not, it seems to me, be assumed from the mere role as a coalition partner. I doubt Ben Gvir has read much political science, but he seems to be learning fast, and to get the basic point. He does not trust Netanyahu and Likud to follow through on policy promises in their coalition agreement: he says that it “may be that they don’t really want to pass what they promised us.” Of course, a deputy committee seat within the cabinet and a codified veto will not help him pass anything that he wants. But it would give him leverage by allowing him to block things Likud might want, and bargain (logroll) for things he wants.

Again, however, if a government decides to change its internal rules it always can. And if Ben Gvir pushes too hard with his vetoes–codified or not–and the PM sees an opportunity to strike a more flexible deal with another party initially outside the government, such options remain at least potentially open. The veto is only conditional, not guaranteed by cabinet partnership or even by specific deals struck at the government’s formation.

____

1. A minority government is one whose component parties (whether one or more) do not collectively have a majority in parliament. An oversize coalition is one that has at least one party that could leave without depriving the rest of the government of a majority in parliament. The former may give vetoes to parties lacking cabinet-level posts, and the latter may or may not give vetoes to all cabinet-member parties, depending on factors discussed here, as well as others that may be specific to that type of coalition or to institutional settings in which they commonly occur.

2. Essentially, because there is one mathematically superfluous party that has signed an agreement with Likud–the very unpleasant one-man band that is Noam, which won a seat on the same alliance list as Otzma Yehudit and the Religious Zionism party. Technically, Noam will not be a cabinet party, as its member’s post will be only a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office.

3. The title of the McGann and Latner piece says it clearly: “The Calculus of Consensus Democracy: Rethinking Patterns of Democracy Without Veto Players.” The piece it a rejoinder both to the Tsebelis point, and to Lijphart’s definitions of “majoritarian” and “consensus” democracy. Li’s book is about how “cycling” majorities are democracy-preserving, and require majority rule in a dominant legislative assembly.

Additional note: In thinking about these issues, I have benefitted greatly from communication with JD Mussel who frequently comments on, and writes for, this blog. But he bears no responsibility for whatever aspects I am getting wrong!

Further note (19 Dec.): It took me a whole week to realize I had called the cycling majorities possible under parliamentary coalitions the purest form of consensus government. Obviously I should have said majoritarian! That is, majoritarianism can be thought of as a situation in which elected representatives of an actual majority rule–rather than a manufactured one that is typical of Westminster-type systems referred to by Lijphart and others as “majoritarian”–but that majority need not consist of the same set of parties on every bill passed during the tenure of a given government. Lijphart would call any parliamentary system with coalition governments as its norm as tending towards the consensus pattern. Other scholars–including me when not suffering from a brain cramp–would say that multiparty coalition government is–or can be–more meaningfully majoritarian than the sort of system in which the party with the majority of parliamentary seats has been elected by less than half the voters, yet can rule alone.

Bilateral bargaining in multiparty coalitions

This is just a follow up to the previous planting. As I noted there, the incoming Israeli PM’s party (Likud) will sign separate coalition agreements with each of five partner parties (three of whom ran on a joint list in the election but maintain their separate “faction” status in the Knesset).

I believe this is typical of multiparty coalitions in parliamentary democracies: that when there are multiple partners, each one signs its own bilateral deal with the incoming cabinet head. I know it is the way it has been done in Israel for as long as I have been paying attention. It is also how it has been done in recent bargaining in New Zealand. I actually do not know if other counties with coalitions uniformly do this, or if there are cases where coalition agreements are joint among all the parties entering government. (There are some cases with no public agreements; that seems to be rare nowadays.)

Maybe someone knows of a case.*

The bilateral deals raise the specter for a party that a deal with another partner contradicts something in their own deal. Presumably the government-leading party seeks to avoid contradictions that will only cause headaches later. But some contradictions can’t be avoided, presumably, and some may even be strategic. This is precisely why parties also care about who gets junior ministers and committee chairs–the stacking vs. checking I talked about in the earlier entry. The agreements often contain a clause that they cover only the areas explicitly mentioned in the text, and do not preclude the PM’s party from striking agreements with other parties (presumably on different policy topics, but each party cares about more issues than those it gets in its own agreement). This is also why most coalitions create additional mechanisms, like coalition coordinating committees or inner cabinets, to work out inevitable disagreements.

The alternative agreement strategy would be to do a grand multilateral bargain. But that would be extremely complex and unwieldy to hammer out! But I wonder if there are countries, or specific governments, where that approach is taken.

A humorous (to me, anyway) aside is there was a report during the past weeks that Benjamin Netanyahu proposed having a single agreement with all parties. This was quickly shot down by his proto-partners, and presumably for good reason, from their perspective. He also went so far as to ask them to simply agree to form a right-wing government and delegate to him the personnel decisions for awarding each partner with posts. Naturally, that went over like a lead balloon. Nice try, though.

___

* I since have been told that in Belgium and the Netherlands, they do multilateral coalition bargaining and agreements.

Stacking vs. checking: Otzma Yehudit in the emerging Israeli coalition

In a recent publication (details below), Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and I investigate when parties “check” partners in coalition governments and when they “stack” via the committee overseeing a ministry. Here’s a clear case of stacking in the incoming Israeli coalition: Otzma Yehudit reportedly will get both the ministry it most wanted as well as the chair of the parliamentary committee overseeing that ministry as part of the new Israeli government.

Broadly put, when coalitions are bargained, the parties forming the government have a choice of “stacking” whereby they agree to give one party full control over certain policy portfolios, or “checking” whereby two parties are given organizational bases from which to check one another in a given portfolio. There is considerable literature in political science on questions such as these, mostly focused on the degree of authority delegated to cabinet ministers. For instance, Laver and Shepsle (1996) famously developed a model to predict which cabinet deals would form, based on the policy preferences of the parties to the deal, and with the theoretical claim that the holder of a portfolio was a “policy dictator” in that policy domain. Within the cabinet coalitions literature, this has been challenged by the observation that often junior ministers are appointed from a different coalition party than the one that gets the (senior) minister in order for one party to “keep tabs” on the other (see Thies 2001). These views of the process are in direct tension with one another. The first assumes that what makes a coalition “work” is that all parties understand they get to do whatever they want in their portfolios and thus the bargain is credible (everyone knows this up front, so they won’t intervene in each others’ domains over the life of the coalition). The second assumes that what makes it work is the parties can have agents monitoring other parties to be sure they stick to compromises reached at formation of the coalition (the junior observes some “ministerial drift” and reports back to his or her own party).

In recent years, more attention has been turned to how parties might use parliamentary committees and their chair positions as part of the overall coalition bargain (e.g., Martin and Vanberg 2004, 2011). The notion of stacking vs. checking can also be applied here. For instance, the coalition agreement could see the party that gets a given ministerial portfolio also get the chair of the parliamentary committee that is charged with overseeing the ministry. That would be stacking. Alternatively, the committee chair could be from a coalition partner, creating an opportunity for checking within the coalition. (A third possibility is that the chair is from an opposition party. Most parliaments in coalition-based systems parcel out the chairs proportionally to all parties, so some committees will be allocated in a way that facilitates “monitoring” by the opposition.) All of these combinations assume chairs have some authority. That is generally true–they have agenda power within the committee. Even though a majority of the committee typically can override decisions of the chair, everyone’s time and attention is limited, and thus chairs should be in a privileged position in terms of hearings to schedule, witnesses to call, etc. And, at least among coalition partners, they may prefer to resolve things quietly rather than let conflicts erupt in the open. The ability of the chairs to acquire information on behalf of their parties serves to keep partners in line, or so the argument goes for checking. For stacking, it’s the opposite: the chair may be able to bury information that would raise the ire of a coalition partner or the opposition.

The deal first reported last week between Likud, the party of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, offers a clear-cut case of stacking. Ben Gvir will be named Minister of National Security, in charge of the national police and various other functions. It is a newly expanded ministry and portfolio, and thus a plum position for the far-right party leader. In addition, a member of his party is expected to be named chair of the Knesset Public Security Committee. Thus Otzma Yehudit gets both the policing ministry and the parliamentary committee chair responsible for domestic security policy and related matters.

The stacking, and evident cession of considerable autonomy to Otzma, in the area of public security grants Ben Gvir one of the aims he most regularly called for during the campaign leading up the recent election. He said repeatedly that he would demand the policing portfolio. And he got it. While this might not quite make him a literal “policy dictator,” that he also has the associated legislative committee surely limits the risk that he gets stymied by Likud or other partners.

In addition some reports had said he, or a member of the party, could obtain the agriculture ministry. I never would have imagined a far-right ultra-nationalist (and, frankly, racist) party being the defender of Israeli famers, but I’ve been informed that this is also related to his public-security interests. Theft of animals and equipment has become a serious issue in parts of rural Israel, and the politics around the problem is often tinged with racism. I wonder if his emphasis on this issue during the campaign actually earned him votes in the farm sector. The agreement does not grant Otzma the agriculture ministry, but it does transfer from that ministry to the new super-ministry Ben Gvir will head certain agencies responsible for the sector.

Ben Gvir is notorious for a history of racist comments and convictions for incitement against Arabs, along with admiration for the late Meir Kahane. In this election, his Otzma faction was part of a joint list with Religious Zionism. Together the RZ alliance list won 14 seats out of 120. Six of those elected from the list were Otzma candidates. The parties had declared their alliance a “technical bloc” and, as planned, formally split shortly after the election. Thus the two parties (plus a third, Noam, with just one of the electoral alliance’s seats) have been bargaining separately with Likud. This has made Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party), with 11 seats, technically the second largest party in the emerging coalition. It also means there will likely be five separate coalition agreements between Likud and a partner (Otzma, RZ, Noam, Shas, and the other Haredi party, UTJ) . It will be interesting to see which of the major ministries each partner gets will be “checked” by a coalition partner and in which portfolios the party will be granted “stacked” control via the committee chairs allocation.

The question of stacking and checking is a major theme of my paper with Itzkovitch-Malka. We find that stacking is quite common in Israel. We suggest that this may be due to the need of parties under conditions of high party fragmentation to make credible commitments that a partner, having been given a privileged position over the portfolio (via the minister) will be more able to deliver by also having the committee chair (given agenda control over proceedings, which Israeli committee chairs definitely have).

An interrelated theme of the paper is the expertise of the Knesset Members who obtain committee seats and chairs (expanding the party personnel research). Expertise is a subordinate, but still important, consideration that Israeli parties use. We do the first–to our knowledge–statistical analysis of any parliamentary system’s committee assignments to combine data on individual member attributes with an indicator of the partisan relation of chairs and ministers. Parties are somewhat more likely to appoint someone with pre-legislative experience to chair a committee when the party also has the associated minister, especially, we show, in “public goods” policy areas (like health and education). We suggest this is a further form of stacking–ensuring that the chair overseeing a co-partisan minister also has expertise in related policies. I am not sure yet which Otzma legislator is getting the Public Security committee chair in the new Knesset; I will take note of whether it is someone with any expertise in the policy area.

As for Ben Gvir himself, I suppose having been arrested and convicted on security matters counts as “expertise” of a sort in policing and public security, although not quite in the way I normally would code it.

The paper mentioned above is:

Committee assignment patterns in fragmented multiparty settings: Party personnel practices and coalition management, by Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and Matthew S. Shugart, Party Politics, 2022. Abstract:

This paper addresses the way parties assign members to parliamentary committees in fragmented multiparty settings. Thus, it analyzes how the two most central institutions of parliamentary politics––political parties and parliamentary committees––interact with one another. To the best of our knowledge, no research into this subject has systematically explored the intersection of considerations based on individual legislator characteristics and coalition management in committee assignment. Using Israel as our case study, we show that legislators’ expertise modestly shapes committee assignment patterns. However, parties in coalition often have another set of considerations to take into account when assigning members to committees. We show that parties in coalition do not only bargain on ministerial positions or committee chairs––they also bargain on their members’ assignment to committees and use this resource to allow (or hinder) each other to augment influence and control in a given policy area, or to perform affective monitoring.

Works cited in this entry:

Laver M and Shepsle KA (1996) Making and Braking Govern- ments: Cabinets and Legislatures in Parliamentary De- mocracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2004) Policing the bargain: coalition government and parliamentary scrutiny. American Journal of Political Science 48(1): 13–27.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2011) Parliaments and Coalitions: The Role of Legislative Institutions in Multiparty Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thies M (2001) Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments. American Journal of Political Science 45(3): 580–598.

This is a short list of important works in the topic. Many more are cited in the article.

Coordination failure under nationwide PR: Manufactured majority in Israel 2022

The votes are not yet final from the 1 November 2022 Israeli general election, but the outcome is quite clear. The right-wing bloc of parties supporting current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu will have won a manufactured majority. Media are calculating the bloc’s combined seats at 65 out of 120. Yet the bloc currently has just 48.1% of the votes.* That is actually lower than the clear majority of the vote they got in April, 2019, yet at that election the result was deadlock while this one will produce a majority coalition government. What explains the difference? Coordination.

The reason for the manufactured majority in this election, despite a nationwide proportional representation electoral system, is coordination failure. The strategic choices of political leaders and voters in both the left and the Arab political camps have made Netanyahu’s impending return to government possible. On the left, Labor has barely cleared the 3.25% legal threshold, with 3.56% as of now (around 20:30 Israel time), while Meretz is below, at 3.19% (and its percentage has declined in recent hours as more votes are counted*). Even if–as appears unlikely–Meretz ultimately clears, and thus wins 4 seats instead of zero, it would not drop the right below 61 seats. For that to happen, it would also be necessary that all three Arab lists in this election cleared the threshold. But Balad is sitting on only 3.03%, so that looks at least as unlikely.

Had Balad stayed in alliance with the remnant Joint List (i.e., Hadash-Tal, which won 3.93%) and had Meretz either won just enough to clear the threshold or formed an alliance list with Labor, as Interim PM Yair Lapid openly encouraged, the additional seats won by these camps surely would have blocked Netanyahu from winning. Then there either would have been some unexpected coalition possibilities emerging, or another election next spring, with Lapid of the Yesh Atid party remaining Prime Minister during that time (and until a new government eventually formed). Thus it is hard to exaggerate just how much the left and Arab political camps blew it–assuming blocking the return of Netanyahu was important to them. (Frankly, I doubt Balad’s leaders care, although many of their voters must, and leftist leaders and voters alike surely do.)

I should add here that the third piece of the former Joint List, Ra’am, which backed the outgoing government, cleared the threshold easily with the highest vote percentage of any of the three Arab lists (4.34%). This appears to be vindication for leader Mansour Abbas’s consistent message over the last two years of normalizing Arab participation in national governance; in 2021 Ra’am had 3.79%. I will count this as one piece of good news from the election.

In some respects, this year’s outcome is a mirror image of the first of this recent run of frequent elections, in April 2019. In that first of two elections in 2019, the right suffered a coordination failure when New Right fell just below the threshold, with 3.22% of the vote. In that election, the combined right-wing vote was 55.4% if we include Yisrael Beiteinu or 51.44% if we do not. But the non-Likud, non-Haredi right was splintered: Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.70), Kulanu (3.54), New Right (3.22), and Zehut (2.74). Thus the right bloc had only 60 seats, or with Yisrael Beiteinu (4.01% of the vote) included, 65. Had New Right cleared the threshold, the combination without YB would have been 61 or 62, depriving YB leader Avigdor Lieberman of the pivotal position. (It was only after the election that he earnestly said no to the coalitions with Haredi parties that he had willingly been part of up to a few months before.) Thus coordination failure on the right probably prevented a right-Haredi government from forming in 2019, and kicked off the four-election cycle of deadlock and attempted “unity” governments.

In this year’s election, coordination on the right returned in a big way. The non-Likud, non-Haredi right was almost entirely consolidated on one list, that of Religious Zionism, which won 10.31% of the vote and probably 14 seats. There will be much consternation and condemnation over the prominent role that RZ leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir will play in the likely new government. Much of it will be deserved. They are genuine extremists. However, it will be portrayed as a far-right surge when it really only is the non-Likud, non-Haredi electorate converging on its only viable option. Consider that in the 2021 election, RZ won 6 seats (5.12% of the vote) and Yamina won 7 seats (6.21% of the vote). That is 13 seats and just over 11% of the vote. This time the remaining option will have actually lost vote share while picking up (apparently) one seat. It is not a far-right surge, it is a right-wing coordination success. To these votes we could also add Jewish Home, now led by Ayalet Shaked, which won 1.16% of the votes–far below the threshold, but suggesting the combined vote share for this more-rightwing-than-Likud flavor of politics basically did not change.

It is quite striking how much of the movement from utter coordination failure on the right in 2019 to smashing coordination success in 2022 is the story of Naftali Bennet and Ayalet Shaked and their supporters. Their gambit in 2019 was that there was political space for a strongly right-wing option that is less tied to the old religious Zionist parties, represented at the time by the Jewish Home alliance (in which both were prominent figures and Netanyahu coalition partners). But for a very small number of votes, they could have been vindicated, but instead the last three and a half years turned this on its head, with the list of Religious Zionism commandeering this segment of the vote in 2022. On the way here, Bennet and, more reluctantly, Shaked tried another gambit, teaming up with Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Ra’am, and Yisrael Beiteinu (among others) on the “change” government. Bennet was at the time leader of Yamina, which did not even run in this election. We could say it was hardly a party at all, in terms of the disciplined outfit we’d expect of a party providing the prime minister, as it did for the initial period of the government formed in 2021. It only shed members of Knesset and voters from the moment it announced the coalition. And now its voters have a home and a government, in the form of the most hardline party to have entered any of Netanyahu’s cabinets to date.

As for the left, Labor and Meretz refused to forge an alliance. This is understandable, but also blew up on them in a big way. They had run on an alliance list in the March, 2020, election and won only 7 seats and less than 6% of the votes. Compare that to 11 seats (and over 9% of the vote) in September, 2019, for their separate lists and then in 2021, 13 seats (and combined 10.7% of votes) for their again separate lists. Thus they have reason to believe that together they are worth less than the sum of their parts–conditional on their two separate parts clearing the threshold! In this election they combine for only 6.75% of votes and 4 seats–8 if Meretz ultimately squeaks over the threshold as now seems unlikely. It was a gamble, and it looks to have failed.

There are already recriminations against Lapid for not properly “managing” the center-left bloc (see under “cannibalistic pig“). But he tried to encourage a Labor-Meretz alliance and was rebuffed. I am not in position to say whether he could have done more to prevent center-left voters from choosing him over his threshold-challenged partners. It seems to me that’s not really the bigger party leader’s job, even though it was obviously in his interests that both win seats. Once the Labor and Meretz leaders concluded they could clear the threshold running alone, it was incumbent on them to deliver their votes.

Frankly, it seems that Labor and Meretz are yesterday’s news, and they should either merge or fold. The future of the center-left is Yesh Atid. Over seven elections in just under a decade, Yesh Atid has proven it is not just another centrist flash in the pan, but a serious option with staying power and organization. It is, nonetheless, unlikely ever to be the head of a center-left/Arab government. As the 2021 experience shows, you need a party of the right to cross over and make that a majority (or you’d need Ra’am or some other cooperation-minded Arab party to supplant Hadash-Tal and Balad). It is not clear where another right-wing splinter could come from; it won’t be from the right of Likud, and there just isn’t a “soft right” anymore to its immediate left. Maybe after Netanyahu finally leaves the scene there will be. The future of the center-left is thus probably mainly as a potential coalition partner to a post-Netanyahu Likud, and it would be better for it to be one strong partner than to be fragmented into Yesh Atid and two minnows farther to the left (if they both could clear again in a future contest), plus whatever becomes of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. (The latter is the real “soft right” in the current party system, but is already firmly tied to the center-left as of now.)

Many supporters of proportional representation in the US, Canada, and elsewhere speak as if PR means no need for strategic electoral behavior. The Israeli experience of 2019 through 2022 shows the folly of such belief. Coordination is still important, especially if there are any significant contra-proportional features to the PR system. And usually there are–sometimes in the form of moderate district magnitude, and sometimes–as in Israel–in the form of a moderately high legal threshold, despite nationwide PR. The right had the coordination this time that it lacked in 2019, whereas the left and Arab sectors in this election did not. And thus a bloc will have the parliamentary majority and government despite not having won a majority of the vote.

___

Update: With around 99% counted, it is now 64 seats (53.3%) on 48.4% of the vote. Meretz shrank farther from the threshold and is at 3.16%.

Denmark 2022

In addition to Israel, there is also a general election today in Denmark. I don’t really know much about Danish politics, but I hope readers who are more informed might have comments as results become known.

One particularly interesting feature of the campaign that I will note is that former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen is leading a Moderate (with a capital M) Party in this election that is campaigning outside the left and right blocs. If neither bloc wins a combined majority of seats, and his party does particularly well, it might attempt to lure the relatively more moderate (with a small m) parties from each bloc to split and form a center-spanning coalition. Otherwise, he could just be the “kingmaker“–a term I dislike, but which fits better than usual in a case of a party that has campaigned with indifference towards left or right and could strike a coalition deal with either. (That second link is actually about the first scenario I mentioned, and not the real “kingmaker” scenario.)

The incumbent government is a single-party minority cabinet of the Social Democrats, reliant on outside support from the Red–Green alliance.

Also, that second link notes the same point I made with respect to Israel: “Exit polls in Denmark can differ significantly from the final results.”

Israel 2022

Ah, yes, we are doing this again: Another Israeli general election. I am not going to pretend to know what will happen. As I type this, ILTV is making it seem as if the right-wing bloc has a majority with 61 or 62 seats. That would be a government of Likud, the two Haredi parties (Shas and UTJ), and the Religious Zionist list, returning Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime ministership.

HOWEVER, this is based on exit polls. These have been off before. It is downright misleading of media to treat these as if they are indicative of real results. On the other hand, it would be in no way a surprise if the final results were to confirm these exit polls. We just don’t know yet.

I won’t get into other possible coalition scenarios till we have actual results, other than to note that there are interesting possibilities, BUT none of them look much like the outgoing government. The bottom line on that broad yet narrow coalition is that voters who voted for the right-wing parties that joined the government did not like it. So much so that Yamina, the party formerly led by ex-PM Naftali Bennet, kept losing its affiliated Knesset members and did not even contest this election and the no. 2 on that list in 2021 (Ayelet Shaked) is leading a different list that is not expected to clear the 3.25% threshold. (The other right-wing splinter that enabled the “change” coalition, New Hope, led by ex-Likud member Gideon Saar, merged with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White for this election.)

Yamina in 2021 gave us a rare and interesting case of what might happen to voter perceptions of a relatively extreme and quite small party heading government. Alas, it won’t be around in the next wave of voter surveys for us to know.

So, for the results and coalition scenarios, we wait and see.

The output indicators for Italy 2022: Yes, MMM in a smaller assembly really mattered

In the pre-election planting I pointed out how much more disproportional Italy’s electoral system would be, given the substantial reduction in assembly size. The current allocation rules and balance between single-seat districts and list-PR seats remained unchanged since 2018, but the assembly size was cut from 630 to 400. (Here I will be referring only to the Chamber of Deputies.) The system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM).

Assuming I calculated things correctly–and I think I did, but the party vs. bloc calculations can be a little confusing, so caveats apply–here is how the change mattered.

I will report effective number of seat-winning parties (NS), effective number of vote-earning parties (NV), and deviation from proportionality (D2, the Gallagher index also known as the Least Squares Index). I will report both by individual party and by pre-electoral bloc. I believe that for an electoral system like this, the bloc figures are more meaningful, but here you have both and can decide which one works for your analytic purposes.

2018 Party2018 Bloc2022 Party2022 Bloc
NS4.322.905.582.40
NV5.103.366.623.44
D2 (%)3.985.027.3011.74

The change is pretty dramatic. Taking that last line first–disproportionality–we see an increase at the bloc level from around five percent to nearly twelve percent. The 2018 bloc-level figure is a level just below what we might see in a moderately proportional system like Estonia (5.3% in 2019) or Spain (5.37% in 2016) or Luxembourg (5.20% in 2013). The 2022 bloc-level figure is closer to what we might find with a majoritarian system, such as Canada (11.3% in 1988) or the UK (11.8% in 2019) or to take a “brotherly” MMM example, Japan (11.5% in 2000). Thus the increase is quite consistent with how I characterized the system in the previous post, as having changed from an effective seat product just over 900 (consistent with moderate PR) to one of 650 (the same as the value for the UK) solely due to assembly-size reduction.

The effective number of seat-winning blocs is certainly in the ballpark of expectations under a majoritarian system, with 2.90 in 2018 and a drop to 2.40 in 2022 when the assembly size reduction makes it even more majoritarian. The reduction in 2022 occurs in spite of a slightly increased fragmentation of the vote, even at the bloc level (from 3.36 to 3.44). That is, of course, why the disproportionality is so high in 2022.

The bottom line result is that the center-right bloc obtained 59.3% of the seats on 43.8% of votes–a classic majoritarian outcome. In 2018, for comparison, it had 42.1% of the seats on 37.0% of the votes. Its votes grew by 6.8 percentage points, but its seats by 17.2. Some of that is due to the bigger gap between the top two two blocs this time around, which in turn was a product of the center-left’s less complete alliance formation, but a lot of it is the lower number of single-seat districts resulting from the cut in the Chamber size.

Based on the seat product model, by which we expect NS=(MS)1/6, and using the numbers reported earlier for effective seat product, we should expect the 2018 system to yield NS=3.12 and the 2022 system to yield 2.94 (based on effective seat products of 920 and 650, respectively). These are “politics blind” expectations, based solely on the systems’ fundamental design features–district magnitude of the basic tier and the sizes of the tiers that comprise the assembly. We can see that in both elections the actual outcome by blocs was a little less fragmented than these expected values, but not to any extraordinary degree. The calculation of effective seat product for these complex systems gets their impact on the assembly party system about right.

As I mentioned, I do think these indicators are more meaningful when calculated on party level for a system like this. The parties within a bloc coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, and the contest over who will form the post-election government takes place between blocs. Thus the blocs are the meaningful units. On the other hand, nothing commits the parties within a bloc to continuing to work together, and they agree that the votes for list will determine which one gets the prime ministerial post if the bloc wins a majority. The parties thus remain relevant and competitive actors, too. The outcome at party level was a little less “blocky” overall this time, with more parties gaining significant vote and seat shares despite being outside a bloc.1 But even at the party level, what is likely to matter most–at least in the short run–is that the largest party within the largest bloc has a majority of its bloc’s seats (119 of 237 for the Brothers), despite only 26% of the overall vote for parties.2

All in all, the the key take-home outcome is that the MMM system strongly rewarded the parties that had coalesced to form the biggest bloc, and the largest party within that bloc. That is just as we would expect MMM to do, particularly with such a reduction in assembly size.

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  1. Five Star was in this category both elections. In 2018 it won 32.7% of votes and 36% of seats. This time it dropped to 15.4% of votes and 13% of seats. In addition, Action–Italia Viva in this election had 7.8% of votes and 5.3% of seats. More to the point, the three biggest blocs (counting Five Star as one of the “blocs”) had 92.5% of the votes in 2018 but just 85.4% in 2022.
  2. Quite different from 2018 when the League had just 47% of its bloc’s seats–which were in any case not a majority of the Chamber. The League’s party vote in 2018 was 17.4%.

Italy 2022

Italy votes in general elections today. The Brothers of Italy is expected to be the largest party, in a pre-electoral alliance with the League and Forza Italia that may end up with a substantial majority of seats in both houses.

The electoral system is similar to that used in 2018 in that it is mixed-member majoritarian despite having just over 60% of seats elected in the party-list proportional component of the system. In an important sense, however, this year’s version is even more majoritarian–the size of both chambers has been reduced substantially. Other things equal–as they are–a smaller assembly is less proportional (or “permissive” to small parties). And when you combine a relatively majoritarian system with a smaller assembly, you get a more majoritarian system overall. The new Chamber of Deputies, at 400 seats, is closer to the cube root law expectation for a country the size of Italy, but nonetheless the impact would be to favor more substantially than before the largest party or pre-electoral alliance, relative to the 2018 system which had a Chamber size of 630. The size of the Senate has been reduced correspondingly from 315 to 200 seats.

How is the system mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) and not mixed-member proportional (MMP)? This question has been asked before. The answer is straightforward: the seats a party wins in the list component are simply added on to those that it wins in the nominal component (single-seat districts decided by plurality). There is no compensation mechanism, not even a partial one like in the 1994–2001 version Italy used.1 There is a single vote, but whether voters can split their votes between nominal and list components has no bearing on the classification, which depends entirely on whether the list seats are allocated so as to compensate for deviations from proportionality arising from the district results (as under MMP) or not (as with “parallel” allocation under MMM).

The results from 2018, aggregated by pre-election alliances that coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, certainly made this clear. The center-right alliance combined for 37% of the votes. This alliance won 42% of the seats, which is not terribly disproportional. However, we have to remember that more than three fifths of the seats are elected by PR. The nature of the system can be seen by looking at the detailed breakdown. The alliance won 111 nominal seats (out of 232, for 47.8%). Thus they were over-represented in this component of the system, as expected from single-seat plurality. If the list component were compensatory, as under MMP, the share of list seats won by this alliance should have been lower than its share of the vote. Yet it won 39.1% of them (111 of 386). It should have ended up with somewhere around 233 seats were these seats compensatory, but instead won 265 (including 3 seats for Italians overseas).

If we take the largest opposition force, the dynamic is even clearer. This was Five Star, which ran on its own, not as a part of any pre-electoral alliance. It won 32.7% of the vote, and 93 of the 232 nominal seats. That is 40%, so it is also slightly overrepresented in this component. To this it added 133 list seats, which is 34.5%, ending up with 227 seats total (including 1 abroad), or 36.0%. That the system was MMM becomes clearer still if we consider the second largest opposition alliance, the center-left. It had 22.9% of the vote, and won 28 nominal seats. This is only 12.1% of these seats–sever underrepresentation, as expected for a third party under single-seat plurality. Its list seat total was 88, which is 22.8% of the list component. Yes, 22.8%, so it got near-perfect proportional representation. However, it got this proportional result only in the list seats themselves. Overall, due to the punishment in the nominal seats, it was underrepresented, ending up with 122 seats (including 6 from Italians abroad), which is 19.4%. It was not severely underrepresented in the final result because–again–the list component is so large. However, were the system MMP they should have had approximately 110 list seats instead of just 88, in order to make their overall seats proportional to list votes. And, as already covered, the other alliances and parties would have had their list seats cut somewhat due to a compensation mechanism, if it were MMP. Thus the system is MMM, albeit with a large list component. I should also add that when I say “list votes” I mean votes aggregated from the nominal contests, given there is only a single fused ballot and not separate list and nominal votes (as there are in the MMM systems of Japan and Lithuania, or in the MMP systems of Germany and New Zealand).

Because polling for today’s election shows the Brothers of Italy in the lead and the combined center-right alliance clearing 40% of the vote while the second place center-left alliance looks to be under 30%, the system likely would provide a substantially larger boost to the center-right this time around than last, even if the rules were unchanged. However, assembly size is a core defining characteristic of an electoral system. If the rules for how seats are allocated are unchanged, and the balance in an MMM system between nominal and list seats is also unchanged, the key variable in how majoritarian it will be overall is assembly size. As already noted, both houses are half as large in the 2022 system as they were in 2018. This change promises a further boost to the winning alliance. There are only 147 single-seat contests in the Chamber of Deputies this time (around as many as in the Australian House of Representatives) and only 74 in the Italian Senate (about as many as in Liberia’s first chamber), it will be even more “work” for the list-PR component allocation to offset, despite its size relative to the nominal, given it is non-compensatory.

In terms of effective seat product, my estimations have it at 920 in the 2018 election. The goal behind the effective seat product is to allow us a rough approximation of what simple electoral system a given complex system is most similar to, in terms of its impact on the party system. Simple, single-tier systems with seat products in the 900–1000 ballpark include Luxembourg (900) and Greenland (961). The former has an assembly about ten percent the size of Italy’s in 2018, yet in terms of impact of the party system, the design of Italy’s system made it more like the simple PR system for the 60-seat assembly of Luxembourg than like other assemblies with 600+ seats and PR allocation (e.g., Germany’s effective seat product is currently around 1800 and Italy’s under its old PR system prior to the early 1990s was around 9800). As for Greenland, they get an effective seat product of 961 from an assembly of only 31 seats by allocating in a single territory-wide district. In other words, while Italy 2018 was a system of MMM, the large assembly and large share of seats allocated in the list component make the Chamber system of 2018 similar to a small-assembly PR system. But what about 2022?

The calculation of the effective seat product for the new Chamber of Deputies system would be around 650. In other words, roughly the same effect on a party system as Britain’s FPTP system, despite the election of over three fifths of deputies in a PR component. This is a fairly substantial reduction. It is based on the “as if” calculation of (1) an MMP system with same parameters as Italy’s new system, which would be an effective seat product of around 2860, and (2) a FPTP system of the actual size of Italy’s nominal component (147). For MMM, we take the geometric average of these two values, which is (rounded) about 650. This is very slightly less restrictive than the MMM system that was in use from 1994 to 2011 (for which the effective seat product could be said to have been around 660). Applying the same procedure to the Senate electoral system of 2022 would yield an effective seat product of around 370, implying roughly the same impact on the party system as the FPTP system of the Canadian House of Commons has.

In conclusion, Italy now has the most restrictive and thus plurality-favoring electoral system it has had in the post-WWII era.2 Despite still having a fragmented multiparty system in which parties enter pre-electoral alliances, it has an electoral system that is more like FPTP in the UK (in the case of the Chamber) or Canada (in the case of Italy’s Senate) than like a PR or MMP system. If the largest alliance clears 40% of the votes, as expected, it should obtain a substantial bonus in seats, due to the relatively majoritarian design of the system.

____

Notes

  1. That system was also MMM. It was often mis-classified in various sources as MMP. The misunderstanding was somewhat more justifiable than for the current one, because of the partial compensation mechanism, which was based on adjusting party-list votes according to nominal seat performance (rather than allocating list seats with regard to nominal seats won as is done under MMP). Even with the partial-compensation mechanism, that former system also should be classified as MMM.
  2. All of Italy’s post-war electoral systems have been complex in one way or another. Above I mentioned that the system in use as of the early 1990s had an effective seat product around 9800. That was a remainder-pooling PR system and Italy has not used a PR system since then. The mixed-member system put in place in 1994 had an effective seat product around 660. The bonus-adjusted system from 2006 through 2013 comes out to around 1325 (but this is a more challenging system to estimate because of its unusual features). In all cases, these numbers refer only to the Chamber. Also, the calculation of effective seat product for the 1994–2001 system does not take the partial compensation mechanism into account. Perhaps it should, which would increase the effective seat product of that former system to some (small) degree. However, it is not clear how one would carry out such an adjustment, given the unusual nature of the mechanism. I do not think it is necessary or worthwhile to attempt.

The effects (or their lack) of fused presidential–assembly ballots

A question that has arisen* is whether fused ballots–a single vote electing president and assembly, i.e., with no opportunity for ticket-splitting–suppress the number of parties, particularly when the president is elected by plurality and assembly by PR.

A challenge in addressing this question is that fused ballots are rather rare. Moreover, they may be adopted/abolished by ruling parties/coalitions based on expectations of advantage. In other words, the direction of causality between party-system outputs and rules is more ambiguous than usual. With such caveats reiterated, here is what I find.

This is for pure presidential systems, only because I am not aware of cases of semi-presidential systems that fuse presidential and assembly votes. (In parliamentary systems, the option does not arise, or in a sense the vote is always fused. I did not include the brief case in Israel of separate and direct election of an executive who was still responsible to the parliamentary majority.)

My outcome of interest is the ratio of expected effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) or seat share of the largest party (s1) to the expectation, given the seat product of the assembly (first chamber) electoral system.

For NS, the ratio in non-fused cases is 1.13, for fused it is 0.927. This looks like good news for the hypothesis that fused ballots restrict party systems more than the separate vote does. However, the difference is not close to significant (p=0.12).

For s1, the ratio in non-fused is 1.012, and in fused it is 1.047. Obviously that’s not significant. (Also, the seat product model is pretty good–even for presidential systems!)

Note that for NS, the mean assembly party system in a presidential democracy tends to be more fragmented than expected from its electoral system. Probably not what most people expect. Perhaps this is driven by the unusually fragmented case of Brazil. If I take it out, the ratios in non-fused are 1.083 for Ns and 1.031 for s1. So not much impact.

Perhaps one should drop Uruguay from the set of fused cases. Not because ballots are not clearly fused, but because the electoral system is so different. Before 1999, parties could present multiple presidential candidates (and pool votes at party level for determining which party would win), and since then the fused ballot is only for the first round of a two-round presidential election. However, if we do this, we have only four cases left, so it is kind of meaningless. For the record, we would then have about a p=0.1 signifiant result in the expected direction. But I would put no stock in a result comparing four elections (in two countries) in one group to over 150 in the other group!

This is the list of cases with fused ballots that I am using. If I missed some, please let me know. (Angola, the case that prompted me to investigate this, is not in the dataset, nor are other countries that are not generally classified as democratic.)

      country   year  
Dominican Rep   1978  
     Honduras   1993  
     Honduras   1997  
     Honduras   2001  
      Uruguay   1989  
      Uruguay   1994  
      Uruguay   1999  
      Uruguay   2004  
      Uruguay   2009  
      Uruguay   2014  
      Uruguay   2019  

To this list could be added Bolivia. However, I did not include it because elections for president were not direct before 2005 (congress chose from top three if the popular vote did not yield a majority) and since 1997 the fusion has been only between the presidential vote and the party list vote of an MMP system.

(* A version of this text was originally posted as a comment in a thread on Angola, but it seemed to warrant a place in the center row of the virtual orchard.)

Chile’s constitutional referendum

It seems Chile’s voters are quite decisively rejecting the proposed new constitution. Turnout was high.

Such a result would be quite an indictment of the entire process. Others may know better than I would, but I would imagine it is unusual in a democracy for a constitutional-replacement project to result in failure at its final stage. The constituent assembly evidently did a poor job at looking down the game tree and discerning what the public would accept.

In an earlier thread, there has been a discussion ongoing about the constitution, and a link to the draft (both Spanish and English).

Fifty Shades of Republic | Part 3: constitutional amendment rules

This post is part of Fifty Shades of Republic, a series of overviews of US political institutions at the state level

While the Federal Constitution is arguably the world’s oldest national constitution, the states were the ones that began the practice of having ‘written’ constitutions – entrenched laws with a higher status than regular laws, establishing the main features of the system of government. Since I’ve been doing some work on constitution amendment rules (of both national and US state constitutions) for my dissertation, I thought I’d do this topic next (it is also closely related to the topic of a podcast I am currently preparing for Leviathan’s Couch).

The amendment procedure has far-reaching effects. John Burgess, one of the 19th century pioneers of political science, argued it to be the most important part of a constitution. Constitutional amendment procedures entrench written constitutions, making them harder (or, at least, different) for politicians to change than regular laws. Entrenchment is meant as a means to provide the system of government with stability and to protect basic rights from change by temporary majorities. However, it also often leads to the constitutional entrenchment of various policy measures that do not pertain to the state’s basic institutions, either as a result of opportunistic coalitions seeking to protect legislation from future change or because restrictive provisions in the constitution make the incorporation of contradictory provisions into the constitutional text the easiest way of passing certain policies. Lastly, entrenchment is also an important driver of the power of the judiciary (to whom enforcement of the constitutional hierarchy is delegated).

Most US states have two or more of the following tracks to initiating a constitutional amendment: by the legislature, by a voter initiative, or by constitutional convention. The final stage is almost always ratification by voters in a referendum.

Map 1: legislative and voter initiative tracks to amendment – click for full size

Proposal

Supermajorities – 28 states today require a supermajority for passage in the state legislature. 22 only require regular majorities (simple or absolute) before going to referendum.

Of those only requiring approval by one legislature:

  • 10 states (turquoise) require a majority in both houses
  • 9 states (blue) require 3/5 in both houses
  • 16 states (dark blue) require 2/3 in both houses.

Of those requiring intervening elections:

  • 11 states (pink) require a majority in both houses before and after the elections
  • 3 states (red) require a 2/3 supermajority at one stage but not both. In Tennessee, the votes after the election must be by 2/3 in both houses; in Vermont, the amendment must be supported by 2/3 before the election, although only in the state Senate. South Carolina (dark red) requires 2/3 in both houses, after which the amendment is put to the voters at the following election. The referendum, however, is not final; it the amendment is approved, the newly-elected legislature must ratify it by majority vote in both houses.
  • Delaware (green) requires 2/3 in both houses both before AND after the intervening election, with no referendum requirement.

Intervening elections – 15 states require approval by two legislatures separated by intervening elections (shown on the map in various shades of red). A few of those states allow this requirement to be bypassed by supermajority support in the legislature (shown by a blue asterisk, with the shade of blue corresponding to the required supermajority (in states without intervening election requirement – see below) – only exception being Connecticut, where ¾ is needed to bypass the intervening election requirement). Since main idea behind this institution is often said to have been to allow voters input on constitutional amendments through the election process, many states that had this feature in earlier constitutions removed it when introducing ratification of amendments by referendum, but many have kept it nonetheless.

Initiative – Currently, 17 states allow voters to propose amendments to referendum by petition (indicated by a capital letter I on the map). The exact signature requirements vary widely from state to state. This provision originated in the Progressive era, although a few states introduced it later.

Ratification

Referendum – the referendum requirement became a near-universal feature by the time of the Civil War. In states that did not have it to begin with, it often replaced requirements for intervening elections and/or assembly supermajorities. Referendums today require a majority to ratify in almost all states; the denominator is sometimes simply the number of valid votes on the respective amendment question, but in some states it is the more demanding number of people voting at the election, so that ballots left blank count as a ‘no’. In a few states a supermajority is required for some or all amendments, e.g. in Colorado, 55%, in New Hampshire, 2/3.

Legislative vote – today, Delaware (in green) is the only state not to require voter approval for constitutional amendments – the second round of 2/3 vote in the legislature makes an amendment part of the constitution. As noted above, South Carolina does require voter approval, but an amendment approved by voters is still subject to a final (majority) vote by both houses.

Map 2: constitutional convention track to amendment (or replacement) – click for full size

Legislative convention call – In 6 states, the legislature can directly order the election of a constitutional convention (without needing voter approval) by either majority (light green) or supermajority (green) in both houses.

Legislative convention proposal – In 30 states, a convention call by the legislature must be ratified by voters. In some states the proposal can be made is by a majority (light purple), in others by supermajority (purple) in both houses. In Pennsylvania, there is precedent for this, even though the state constitution does not provide for it.

Ambiguous, referendum required – In 3 states, the constitution requires the summoning of a constitutional conventions to be approved by voters, but is silent on whether the legislature can propose this (pale blue).

Automatic ballot question – In 14 states, a convention proposal must be placed before voters at least once every certain number of years. This is indicated on the map by the specific number of years in each case.

Initiative – In 17 states, voters can initiate the summoning of a convention, either by the constitution’s explicit provision or by virtue of the possibility of proposing one using the procedure for initiating amendments. This is indicated by a capital letter I on the map.

No provision – in 11 states, the constitution does not provide for the calling of a constitutional convention (grey) nor does the state have any established practice. De facto, each of these state legislature could summon a convention by means of the regular amendment procedure.

Constitutions are usually silent on the conditions for conventions’ proposals to be made or ratified, with the exception of requiring a referendum as on ‘regular’ amendments. A few noteworthy exceptional provisions include Illinois’ requirement for 60% voter approval for any kind of convention proposal to be successful, New Hampshire’s requirement for amendments to be proposed by 3/5 vote of the convention, and Minnesota’s requirement for 60% voter approval to ratify any amendment proposed by a convention.

International comparisons

While explicit constitutional recognition of a convention route is somewhat unusual, state constitutions’ regular amendment procedures in state constitutions are very comparable to those of many national constitutions around the world. Here are a few essentially exact parallels:

  • Minnesota, Rhode Island – Ireland (majority + referendum)
  • Texas, Maine – Japan, Romania (2/3 + referendum)
  • Oregon, Arkansas – Switzerland (majority + referendum, initiative option)
  • New York, Virginia – Denmark (majority + election + majority + referendum)

However, there are some clear differences, as well. Around the world, amendment procedures that do not require direct voter approval are far more common than among US states. In fact, most democracies today do not require a referendum at all. Meanwhile, many other democracies have a referendum as just one potential method of ratification – an alternative to a legislative supermajority (so not an absolute requirement), or required for some changes but not all.

Meanwhile, it’s internationally rare for referendums to be combined with an intervening election requirement (especially when further combined with supermajorities). I just gave the example of Denmark, but I think it’s the only one, at least for the main amendment procedure; Spain has a procedure for 2/3 legislative vote before and after an election, followed by a referendum, but this procedure is reserved for amendments to the chapters on fundamental rights and the Crown.