Should candidates be allowed to run simultaneously in the single-seat districts and on the party lists of mixed-member proportional (MMP) systems? Such dual candidacy is sometimes seen as a problem with MMP, in that a candidate can “lose” in the single-seat district (SSD), yet still win a seat based on a high ranking on the party list. Make My Vote Count has a thoughtful post on this question.
In Japan, where the electoral system is mixed member, though not proportional (because the SSD and party-list seats are allocated in “parallel” rather than to ensure overall proportionality, as with MMP), they have a term in the political lexicon for such losers-yet-winners: ZOMBIES. That such a term is used suggests the potential political problem with dual candidacies.
At least for MMP, supporters of the system and of dual candidacy can argue that the very concept of calling candidates who fail to obtain the plurality of votes in the SSD in which they were nominated “losers” is misleading. After all, MMP is a PR system, and in PR systems, the priority is on proportionality and parties, not on the SSDs or the candidates. (Parallel systems are different: There really is a premium on parties’ having strong SSD candidates, so if they lose, one could argue that they are indeed ‘zombies’ who ought to be considered “losers.”)
Nonetheless, I think we MMP advocates have a PR problem–that is, public relations–if we argue in favor of dual candidacy, particularly where MMP is being considered for adoption in a political culture grown up around the idea of SSDs and thus clear winners and losers.
Fortunately, the problem is easily fixed, and does not require a ban on dual nominations. (Even if one sees no problem with such bans, or limits, for obvious reasons, politicians–such as those on New Zealand’s 2001 MMP review committee mentioned in the Make My Vote Count post–are an obstacle to implementing them.)
The solution is to combine MMP with open lists. There is no reason why MMP has to be in the paradigm of SSD and party vote, where the party vote is for a closed list (i.e. one in which parties themselves determine the order in which candidates not elected in an SSD will be elected off the PR list). All MMP systems in use currently do have closed lists, except for a couple of German states (the details of whose rules I do not know), but it need not be that way.
I would recommend the following ballot design, in which voters give two candidate votes. These votes would be clearly indicated as one for the district representative, and one for a party representative. The latter vote would be counted for the party, just as the party vote is in Germany or New Zealand. The difference is that these votes for party representatives would determine not only the overall partisan balance, but also the order in which candidates not elected in an SSD are elected off the list.
I would further advocate that the party-representative portion of the ballot include the names of candidates for the party througought the region in which proportionality is applied, except the candidate who is also nominated in the voter’s SSD. In this way, candidates who are “hedging” on a possible loss in their SSD would have an incentive to make themselves known outside their SSD, because only from party voters on the outside could they obtain votes that would assist their ranking on the party list.
Obviously, this proposal would work well only where the magnitude of PR allocation is relatively small–unless one is willing to tolerate extremely long lists of candidates for party representative. It would not be practical where the PR lists are as long as in New Zealand (50 plus) or the larger German states. However, there are ways to have national proportionality while having smaller regional lists that would make campaigning feasible. (In fact, even with its closed lists, Germany does this, having both state party lists and nationwide proportionality.)
The critical part of the proposal is the ban on a candidate for party representative being listed in the district in which he or she is also a candidate for district representative. Well known party leaders would be able to run both in a district and outside it, and could win in either, because they are well known. But candidates who are lesser known would be encouraged to accept only one kind of nomination, in order to focus their efforts. Thereby the public relations problem of zombies would be eliminated, because SSD losers would either win based on being known outside the SSD where they lost, or would also lose the party-representative race–or would not have run for party representative in the first place.