Denmark’s election and PR with nomination districts

I have been meaning to post on the Danish election, which is 13 November, and on its interesting electoral system.

Espen beat me to the part on the electoral system (in a comment at another thread), so why don’t I just copy what he had to say here (with some minor editing that I hope Espen will not object to):

Although the parties have considerable flexibility in how they nominate and to what degree they give their own voters the ability to influence which candidates get elected, in most cases the following is true:

Each candidate is selected in one of 92 nomination districts (opstillingskrædse). They all compete for votes in larger electoral districts (now ten in number) where party proportionality applies (also subject to national compensation). Thus, voters are free to choose among candidates nominated in any district within the larger, upper-tier districts, or to simply vote for a party without indicating a preference. In most cases, party candidates are elected in order of personal votes, although some parties in some upper-tier districts instead will choose either to count votes given straight to the party as support for the candidate standing in the respective nomination district, or to establish a ranked list, which the voters may only influence by letting lesser candidates reach a certain quota of personal votes (party-wise Droop, I believe). There is no requirement that all nomination districts will get someone elected, but there certainly is an incentive in the system for local associations to nominate visible candidates who will seek out personal votes in order to get elected. This also may help counteract somewhat the tendency in open- and flexible-list PR for personal votes to be concentrated at the top of the list, among candidates who would be elected anyway. [MSS here: Such a tendency does not, by definition, exist under open lists: only those with the top s preference votes, where s is the number of seats a list has won, can be elected. But what Espen says about flexible lists appears to be a typical occurrence.]

The system is a relic from 1918, when Denmark (outside the capital) had MMP. To promote proportionality, the FPTP element was removed in 1920, but the nomination process was kept at a very local level, in the former single-member constituencies (although the parties were made free to nominate at-large instead). There was major redistricting around 1970 and 2006, tied to local government reforms.

The Slovenian electoral system has similar traits, though I am not sure of the exact details there. Such “soft MMP” (which is not MMP at all, of course) also applied to the Italian Senate from 1948 to 1993, but there voters were limited to choosing candidates from within the smaller, lower-tier districts (the Regions constituted the upper-tier districts). Curiously, the 1994-2006 system was voted in, by referendum, simply by abolishing the 65 percent hurdle for direct election in the lower-tier Senate districts. The Parliament then tidied up the system and established a roughly similar system for the Camera. But that is another story.

Thanks for that, Espen!

Regarding Slovenia, ((See the translation of a 1995 Parliament of Slovenia document describing the system, which I believe is unchanged. The most relevant portion regarding the nomination districts is at the end:

When the list of candidates is determined, so is the respective electoral district in which each will stand, since only one candidate from the list stands in any one electoral district. Candidates may stand in one electoral unit [i.e. the larger multi-seat districts used for interparty allocation] and appear on one list only.

The appendix to Gary Cox’s Making Votes Count (1997) also has an excellent summary of the system.)) the main difference is that parties do not have an option in how they structure their lists: they must nominate candidates in nomination districts, and voters are (as far as I know) able to cast votes only for those cast in their own nominating district. (Did I understand Espen correctly that even a party in Denmark that uses nomination districts must allow voters to cast a vote for a candidate in the larger allocation district if they prefer one of these to the one nominated in the local nomination (sub-) district?)

Indonesia also used (or attempted to use) a similar system–ACE Project calls it “proportional system with district characteristics“–in 1999, after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship. For the 2004 election, the system was changed to a more conventional flexible list. ((The ACE project says:

The restricted open-list system finally agreed requires voters to vote for one party and, if they wish, one candidate from that party. However, this will only result in the election of a particular candidate out of the order in which names appear on the party list if that candidate gains more than a full Hare Quota of individual votes—which made its likely effect minimal, as proved to be the case in practice in the 2004 elections to the legislature.


One could say the Danish/Slovenian nominating districts have a parallel (so to speak) in the list tier of the Japanese lower house mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system: Parties may choose to “clump” at the same rank on the list several candidates who are nominated in a single-seat district as well as on the list. In such a case, the final ranking of the clumped candidates is based on how close they came to winning the plurality in their single-seat race.

As for the election itself–in Denmark, that is–one of the interesting developments is the formation of a new political party by a Syrian immigrant, Naser Khader’s New Alliance. It may displace the anti-immigrant Peoples Party as a major partner in the upcoming coalition. (See the recent preview in The Economist.)

Jacob Christensen has posted graphs of the polling trends. He also has various other posts on the campaign that are well worth checking out. The New Alliance has actually been slipping quite a bit in polling late in the campaign.

10 thoughts on “Denmark’s election and PR with nomination districts

  1. Pingback: Jacob Christensen

  2. Re: “Did I understand Espen correctly that even a party in Denmark that uses nomination districts must allow voters to cast a vote for a candidate in the larger allocation district if they prefer one of these to the one nominated in the local nomination (sub-) district?”.

    Answer: Yes – the candidates gets the non-personal votes in their districts, so a candidate in a district where the party traditionally wins a large proportion of the votes will have an advantage against candidates in districts which are smaller or where the party receives a smaller proportion of the votes.

    Brother … this is one complicated system … !

  3. Which party will be the largest party? The Social Democrats or the Liberals?

    Is there a possibility that the Danish Peoples Party could emerge as (shocker) the largest party in the Danish parliament?

    The most likely outcome is probaly a hung parliament.

    This country is very Euroskeptic and at the same time the cartoon controversy lingers on the surface, and that neither of the two largest parties want a referendum on the EU constitution.

  4. You are of course entirely correct about open lists not having such a tendency, silly mistake there (although, one could technically have open lists and still allow the party to decide the order in which their candidates would appear on the ballot, which could reinstate the tendency somewhat – or is that in breach of your definition of open lists?).

    That’s right: no matter what intra-party method a Danish party chooses for a particular (upper-tier) electoral district, a voter may always choose a candidate from any nomination district within it, choose a candidate who happen to be nominated at-large, or just choose a party (roughly half of all voters will do the latter). On the ballot, the parties are ranked alphabetically according to their party letter (i.e. A, B, C, F, K, O, V, Y, and Ø, another exotic feature). Under each party appear all their nominated candidates within the upper-tier district (there will here be minor differences in how they are presented, but that is just to show which method applies for the respective party). Finally a few independents may be listed. A voter simply writes a cross beside one of any of these options.

    The methods differ only in how personal and party votes are counted when party seats are awarded to specific candidates. The system is very flexible, in that parties can practice everything from localism and democratic centralism to complete freedom of choice. But it is terribly complex, although the actual ballot paper appears simple enough.

    A small correction to Jacob: A party is free to choose whether or not party votes will count as support for the local nominee. In most cases they now are not counted as such.

    On another subject, the seat allocation formula at the (upper-tier) district level reverted to d’Hondt at this election, to partially counteract the increased district magnitude after the recent redistricting (outside the two-seater Bornholm this went from an average of 8.3 to 14.8). It has now become a little easier for small parties to gain district seats, and thereby also gain access to the 40 national levelling seats (which subsequently are distributed down to the districts). So the left-wing Unity List or (less likely) the Christian Democrats may still enter the Folketing even if they go slightly below the two percent hurdle, and have some luck. The national formula is still Hare/largest remainders.

    Looking forward to tonight!

  5. As expected, a very close election (at least, between having a workable majority for the present government, and not):

    The government coalition with supporters:
    Venstre (right-liberals), 46 seats (-6)
    Conservative People’s Party, 18 seats (0)
    Danish People’s Party, 25 seats ( 1)
    One Faroe seat (Sambandspartiet, “Union Party”, pro-association with Denmark, traditionally caucuses with Venstre)

    The opposition:
    Social democrats, 45 seats (-2)
    (25.5% of the vote, the worst score for over a hundred years, as far as I can tell)
    Socialist People’s Party, 23 seats ( 12)
    Radikale Venstre (left-liberals), 9 seats (-8)
    Unity List (left-wing), 4 seats (-2)
    Two Greenland seats (one Siumut, social democrat, one Inuit Ataqatigiit, a moderate left-wing nationalist)

    Not committed:
    The New Alliance, 5 seats (new)
    One Faroe seat (the Republican Party, a separatist party, generally left-wing, but which apparently did not pledge support for the Danish centre-left prior to the election. Will presumably continue in the separate North Atlantic parliamentary group with the members from Greenland)

    So, the centre-right bloc proper has 89 seats, one short of a majority, and will invite the New Alliance for talks. But strictly speaking, the government does not need the Khader party to avoid getting the majority against itself, and could expect support from the one Faroe seat. Less of a tight-rope for the government then, though they have an excuse to move a little towards the centre on some issues. Naser Khader seemed more than a little disappointed last night, but on the other hand he is only one defection (from among the government’s supporters) away from being back in the spotlight.

  6. Living and learning here: apparently, party votes play a minor role even when a party has chosen not to award them en masse to the local nominee. Instead, party votes in each nomination district are then assigned to the candidates of the party in proportion to how the personal votes were cast there.

    So, if, within a party, there are many personal votes in comparison to party votes in one nomination district, and few personal votes in comparison to party votes in another district, then the personal votes cast in the latter district have more influence than those cast in the former.

    This can skew the result somewhat, though hardly much. This really seems like a rather pointless complication.

    Other minutiae: if a party chooses the latter option, candidates are always officially nominated at-large (standing in parallel in every nomination district), but the parties can, and most often do, have a nominee for each nomination district and print him or her first among their candidates in that particular district – only a technical difference from having an official local nominee. If a party wants to establish a party list, however, it must simultaneously choose the option where all party votes go to an official local nominee – but even so, the list-order-breaking Droop quota is very difficult to reach.

    None of what I have added here really negates what I have stated earlier. Complicated system indeed. I love it, feels like going on a safari.

  7. Complicated is too mild a word here: It’s more like the kind of electoral system Rube Goldberg would have imagined. But what is fascinating is that the Danes have managed to dream up a system which:

    a) still has remnants of the single-member-FPTP system more than 90 years after that system was abolished in the form of (talk about path-dependency here!)

    b) actually has three levels of distributing seats (national, landscapes, electoral districts) and

    c) has no less than three different ways of distributing votes on candidates (even though most parties have agreed on the system which relies solely on personal votes)

    And the officials still manage to get it right in 2-3 days.

  8. Pingback: BC electoral reform options for referendum | Fruits and Votes

  9. Pingback: “Local PR” | Fruits and Votes

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