Elimination of open lists in Peru (proposed)

There was a debate in Peru about possibly eliminating the preference vote, and thereby changing from open to closed lists. I wonder if any readers have further information. The following news item (quoted in full) is from November, 2015:

La Comisión de Constitución del Congreso de la República inició esta mañana el esperado debate del proyecto de ley que elimina el voto preferencial para la elección de parlamentarios, sin embargo, pese al compromiso público de sus líderes, los legisladores de diversas bancadas, salvo la nacionalista, se pronunciaron en contra de la propuesta.

José León, de Perú Posible, planteó que la propuesta no sea sometida a votación hoy y que continúe el debate en el seno de la Comisión de Constitución. Dijo, incluso, que es una impertinencia cualquier intento de eliminar el voto preferencial, ya que en 20 semanas se llevarán a cabo las elecciones y ningún partido político está en condiciones de implementar todo un sistema de elección de candidatos al Congreso a través de lista cerrada.(Peru21)

The next elections are now quite soon; presumably the open list will, continue, for now at least.

‘Seat Product Model’–recent publication

{link corrected}

Time is running out to get your free download of this just-published article!

The Seat Product Model of the effective number of parties: A case for applied political science

Yuhui Li, Matthew S. Shugart

Electoral Studies 41, March 2016, pp. 23–34.


This paper extends Taagepera’s (2007) Seat Product Model and shows that the effective number of seat-wining parties and vote winning parties can both be predicted with institutional variables alone, namely district magnitude, assembly size, and upper-tier seat share. The expected coefficients are remarkably stable across different samples. Including the further information of ethnic diversity in the models hardly improves the estimate of the effective number of parties, and thus the institutions-only models are preferable on the grounds of parsimony and the applicability to electoral-system design or “engineering”.

‘Spring’ already?

Normally, the first signs of fruit trees getting ready to bloom would be a time of excitement. But when several trees are showing such signs on the 26th of January, it is more a cause of concern.

It would be one thing if the trees are almonds. We just had Tu Bi-Shvat yesterday, after all, and this Jewish ‘New Year for the Trees’ is suppose to be at roughly the time that the almond trees begin blooming in the Land of Israel. And much of California, including this location, has a ‘mediterranean’ climate type, as has Israel. Yet this year we will have a second month of Adar, inserted because Tu Bi-Shvat has come “too early”; the almond trees are not supposed to be in bloom yet, and we need to adjust the calendar to keep Pesach (Passover) in its proper season–the full flowering of spring. I am told by a contact that almonds already are in bloom in Israel. Mine are merely showing the very early signs of readying to bloom. However, several other trees that should flower after the almonds are gearing up. And that is a worrisome sign of a spring coming too early. We still have winter rains to get through–expected to be heavy later this week, and probably in much of February–and the ever-present danger of wintertime frost and freeze, which can wreak havoc on blooms and young fruitlets.

This is the ‘Flavor Delight‘ aprium. Look at all those red buds. It will be blooming soon.
‘Flavor Delight’

‘Flavor Delight’ tends to bloom early, but this is more than a week ahead of last year, when it was actually a warmer winter. This is a variety with an evidently low chilling requirement, so once the weather warms enough, it will bloom early. But this early? (I might have expected that in San Diego, but not this far north.) The first bud swell for this tree in 2015 was 3 February. Its current status is more than just early bud swell. Those are about to burst! A little over a week early may not seem like much, but I would have thought last year’s was early, and yet this year it is even earlier. I suppose we might have to get used to “early” blooming as the new normal, as the climate continues its general warming trend.

All three of my pluots are also showing signs of waking up. I have ‘Flavor King‘, ‘Splash‘ and ‘Flavor Finale‘ varieties. The first two of those began to show some bud swell around 15 February last year, but the whole tree was not showing swell till another week after that. The ‘Flavor Finale’ did not begin to show its very first bud swell last year till 22 February. So these trees are really early! One good thing is that maybe they will all bloom together. My cross-pollination was not good last year, because the ‘Flavor Finale’ did not really get going till the other two were nearly done.

Two pluots shown above. The first one is the ‘Flavor Finale’ and I believe the other one is the ‘Splash’

The pluots also did not have really full blooms last year, partly due to the youth of the trees, but probably mostly because the chill hours (or “chill portions“) in the area were quite low last year (which is an ongoing trend). This winter, December was quite chilly, but January so far has been rather warm. (Data summary below.)

As for the almonds, they have their buds swelling, too. Still, it is striking that they will not be substantially earlier to bloom than some of the fruit trees. Things are just a bit whacky this “spring” so far.

Our temperatures; look how cold December was in 2013 and how warm it was for the average overnight in 2014! Also how warm January daytime highs were in 2014. This month it has been cloudy most of the time (and raining!), so the the lows have been warmer at the same time as the highs have been cool. In the two prior years, January was essentially cloudless and dry.

Year Dec. mean low Dec. mean high Jan. mean low Jan. mean high Feb. mean low Feb. mean high
2013-14 31.7 59.1 35.9 66.8 44 63.2
2014-15 47.1 58 39 60 44.2 66.5
2015-16 39.5 55.1 43.7 55.1
January 2016 data through the 26th

Zambia Constitutional amendments

Last week, Zambia enacted a package of amendments to the constitution that has been years in the making.

Among the amendments are a number of significant changes to the presidency. In the last decade, two early presidential elections (2008 and 2015) were instigated by the incumbent’s death. In the wake of the cost and difficulty of organising these elections, there were calls for the institution of a vice-presidency elected as the president’s running mate and replacing the vice president on a permanent basis. This change was included in the amendments, replacing the previous position of vice president which was appointed by the President and only substituted him on an interim basis.

Another change was to the president’s dissolution power. Under the previous provisions, the President was able to call an early general election at any time, which would include both presidential and legislative elections. The new provisions stipulates that such a dissolution can only be effected “if the Executive cannot effectively govern the Republic due to the failure of the National Assembly to objectively and reasonably carry out its legislative function”, and must be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, which determines whether or not that is the case. This seems to me as rather ill-advised; whether or not parliament fulfils its role ‘objectively’ or ‘reasonably’, and whether or not the President is able to ‘govern effectively’, are fundamentally political questions, and getting the courts involved in that could seriously undermine their neutrality and independence.

Additionally, in response to widespread calls for such a change, the electoral system for president has been changed from plurality to two-round majority. The original draft presented to parliament several years ago also envisioned the adoption of Mixed-Member Proportional for legislative elections, but this was removed from the bill by the National Assembly.

Lastly, in what seems to be a growing trend in new or heavily-amended constitutions, the amendments introduce federalism (seeing as they include lists dividing up competences among national, provincial and local government which are entrenched along with the rest of the constitution), but call it a system of ‘devolved’ governance.

How liberals ended PR in the US

Proportional representation is a mostly left-wing cause in the US. Some see it as a path to majority-Democrat Congressional delegations. Others see it as a way out of the Democratic Party, period. Much liberal-wing anger centers on the party’s ties to Wall Street. If we had PR, the story goes, the liberal wing would seat its own party. If not, it might at least scare the Clinton wing into responsiveness. And the affinity between PR and left politics might draw on a myth, neatly summarized below:

Proportional representation systems were tried earlier in the past century and then discarded precisely because they favored minority representation (racial and left wing/socialist) too much.

I’ve found evidence that the most liberal Democrats were actually PR’s worst enemies. Yes, racially and economically liberal. I’m talking about the AFL and/or CIO and Young Democrats. At roughly the same time they were pulling the Democratic Party leftward, they were working to repeal PR in at least three of the cities that had it.

Let’s begin with New York City and Cincinnati, since the PR eulogy rests heavily on these cases.

In New York, all signs suggest repeal was about kicking the left off City Council. The CIO did take PR’s side there in 1947, but the Young Democrats opposed it.

What about Cincinnati? It’s said that repeal in 1957 was a reaction to desegregation, simultaneous events in Little Rock, and the success of a local black politician under PR. Another common argument cites Democrats’ bolt from a three-decade coalition deal. Everything we know about American politics implies these ought to have been (racially) conservative Democrats. And we’d expect the CIO and Young Democrats to have opposed them. Not so, and not so.

I argue here that the CIO-affiliated Steel Workers were critical to repealing PR in 1957. Stranger still, their leader was city council’s main advocate for desegregation and collective bargaining. He and the successful black politician were on the same side of every major policy initiative except one: a flat municipal income tax. What about the YDs? Although their role in 1957 remains unclear, they caused the 1954 attempt to repeal PR. Both efforts involved deals with a disciplined, conservative Republican Party.

We find the same basic pattern in Worcester, Massachusetts. Consider this slice of history, from December 1959:

Worcester AFL-CIO supports repeal of PR.I find archival evidence that the Worcester YDs began mobilizing against PR in 1955. This involved rapprochement with the former Democratic “machine.” YDs also tried to get control of the CEA nominating process. Finally, they tried to get the CEA to pull PR from its platform. CEA was the coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats that benefitted from PR in Worcester.

Make of this role what you will. It looks short-sighted in retrospect. It’s clearly ironic, given what we know. The very people you’d expect to clamor for PR today — starry-eyed activists and militant labor organizers — are largely why the working PR examples are gone.

The obvious question concerns motive. Maybe they saw Democrats on the demographic upswing and, in that, a chance to flush Republicans from city government for good. That only explains Cincinnati, however, if the Republicans were ignoring trends that the YDs and/or unions were not. Anticommunism is another big possibility. The problem is that Communists (or anything plausibly resembling them) only gained from PR in New York City and its suburbs. Clearly there’s work to do. Please share any insights.

Against ranked-ballot systems: But why?

No, I am not against them, but Joseph Heath, writing at In Due Course, is a skeptic.

Heath’s main concern with “instant runoff” (IRV), also know as the alternative vote (AV), is that it does not guarantee a Condorcet winner.* This is true, and well known. It is one of several methods that will guard against a Condorcet loser, however. Of course, if you want to guarantee a Condorcet winner when there are three or more candidates, you might still use ranked-choice ballots (but a different counting rule), but that’s not what motivates me to write this response.

The motivation is the following passage, which comes after a stylized illustration based on the recent three-way race for Toronto mayor, after which Heath suggests that under his hypothetical distribution of preferences among the voters, Ford supporters would have been better off strategically giving first preferences to a different candidate. He then says:

So it is absolutely and categorically false to say that IRV eliminates the incentive for strategic voting. All it does is invert it. (This is something that everyone should know from history as well – in 2002 too many French voters failed to vote strategically in the Presidential election — which uses a run-off system — leading the Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin to be eliminated in the first round, forcing them all to vote for Jacques Chirac to keep the far right out of power.)

That’s some sleight-of-terminology there. Yes, France elects its president with “a runoff system”, but not with an instant runoff. It is a top-two runoff on a later date, and indeed, coordination failure on the left in 2002 prevented Jospin from beating LePen for the second slot. However, can anyone seriously doubt that with IRV/AV, Jospin would have been one of the last two standing when things reached the final count? I don’t think so.

I do not know who the Condorcet winner was in France in 2002. It might have been Jospin, and had approximately the same distribution of first preferences been rendered under an IRV system, then Jospin would have won–if he rather than Chirac was the Condorcet choice.

I agree with what I take to be Heath’s broader point that proponents of IRV oversell it at times. However, if one prefers a system that enhances the electability of a Condorcet winner, it is a pretty good choice. If one wants to guarantee a Condorcet winner, well, that is a different conversation, and one Heath does not enter in to. Most of the rules that would do so have their own pathologies. For single-winner contests, I’m still sticking with AV/IRV as being a good enough solution.

It is also possible that Heath would be happier with the Coomb’s Rule variant of AV.


* A Condorcet winner is a candidate who would beat each of the others in a pairwise competition.

Canadian electoral reform–Trudeau’s comments

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau denies he wants electoral reform simply to entrench his party in power. It is not a good defense to have to be playing when you are committed to the next election being under a new system.

While he says he has no specific model in mind, it sure seems like he favors Alternative Vote, based on a few of the points in the linked article:

“During the Liberal leadership race, Trudeau expressed a personal preference for ranked balloting.”

“Trudeau said he feels “very strongly” that a reformed electoral system should not weaken a member of Parliament’s connection with and accountability to constituents in a specific riding.”

“I’m wary of disconnecting any MPs from specific groups of citizens or geographic location. I think that’s one of the strengths of our parliamentary system and as soon as you get into lists by parties or groups you have people who owe their election to the House of Commons to a partisan organization rather than to a group of Canadians.”

He also has not ruled out a referendum, but apparently prefers not to have one. Also, a weak position–it seems an admission that it would lose. I follow a discussion group about electoral reform in Canada, and it is striking how vehement the opposition is to a referendum among many of the people who frequent the discussion.

I don’t have a particular view on whether there should be a referendum or not, but I would be concerned that a system adopted without either cross-party consensus (which looks hard to achieve) or a referendum (or both) would be highly vulnerable to repeal if the Conservatives came back to power at a time when the question of the electoral system remained contentious.