Electoral Reform in Catalonia

Josep Colomer has a very interesting post about the work of the Commission of Experts for the Electoral Law of Catalonia, of which he is the chair. In fact, all the members of the Commission are political scientists, which Professor Colomer notes, is “an unprecedented achievement for the discipline in these latitudes.” Actually, is there any such precedent, anywhere? I suspect that idea of asking political scientists to study and propose electoral reform is even more radical than asking citizens (as in British Columbia, Ontario, and the Netherlands).

There are fifty proposals, which cover a wide range of the legal framework for elections, but I will highlight the proposed changes to districting and lists, quoting from Josep.

The Parliament of Catalonia is and would keep being elected by proportional representation rules. But its members would be elected in seven districts corresponding to the Catalan government’s territorial structure, instead of the four traditional Spanish provinces. The seat apportionment would maintain some overrepresentation for the scarcely populated territories but would increase the current proportion of seats for the overpopulated, underrepresented area of metropolitan Barcelona. […]

The current system of party’s closed lists, which are used in all elections in Spain (together with only Portugal and a few recent democracies such as Bulgaria and Romania), would be replaced with open lists, as in most European countries.

Based on that reference to “most European countries,” it appears that Josep actually means what are generally called flexible lists (as open lists–in which candidate-preferences votes alone determine the rank order of lists–are not common in Europe). Indeed, Josep goes on to explain the proposed procedure for counting preference votes:

the voter would have the possibility to select a number of individual candidates within the list (about 20 percent of the number of seats to be elected), and those candidates receiving a proportion of preferential votes higher than 5 percent of their party list votes would be elected in priority, independently from their position in the list.

I would be skeptical that this would result in a large number of members being elected on their preference votes, as five percent is actually quite a high intra-party threshold, at least for large districts.* Nonetheless, it should make parties more aware of the popularity of candidates than they need to be (especially beyond the top few ranks) under closed lists. Moreover, the bypassing of the original Spanish provinces for what is now a semi-autonomous subnational unit that subsumes those provinces can be regarded as a significant advance in Catalonian political institutions.

The proposals must be enacted by parliament, where they require a two-thirds vote.

* Based on seven districts and the current 135 seats in the parliament, the mean district magnitude would be over 19. (Currently the mean is around 34, and the Barcelona district has 85 seats; the smallest current district elects 15.)

0 thoughts on “Electoral Reform in Catalonia

  1. If you googled Professor Colin Hughes you’d find he is a former head of political science at the University of Queensland and a former Australian Electoral Commissioner.


  2. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

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