Grumpy about the Brazilian election

From The Globe and Mail, regarding Sunday’s congressional elections in Brazil:

With 1.3 million ballots cast in his favour, a professional clown named Tiririca won more votes than any other candidate in Sunday’s elections. It’s the second-highest tally ever recorded in Brazil’s history. […]

He may not be able to serve, however:

The constitution requires that lawmakers be able to read and write, and the weekly newsmagazine Epoca alleged in a recent article that Tiririca is illiterate. A last-minute legal challenge failed to remove him from the ballot, but electoral authorities say he could still lose his congressional seat if his literacy is lacking.

In any case, his high vote total was enough to win at least five seats for his list:

The Chamber’s “open-list” system of proportional representation allocates seats to parties based on the total number of votes won by their candidates. Tiririca’s whopping victory means four or more fellow candidates from his Party of the Republic (PR) could ride into office on his coattails.

Critics complain that the open-list system favours celebrity or novelty candidates, but novelty is no guarantee of success. Adriely Fatal, a 23-year-old stripper who attracted some media attention, failed to win a seat in the Ceara state assembly. A member of the Christian Workers Party, Ms. Fatal had pledged to open a strip club in every town.

While it is nice to see a mainstream media account refer to the open-list electoral system, the kind of result reported in this account did not depend on the open list. As long as Grumpy advertised the PR as his party, on which he was number one on the list in Sao Paulo, his personal vote still would be sufficient to elect the same number under a closed list as under an open list.

A more interesting question is whether, in case he is deemed ineligible, the preference votes he brought to his list would be deducted from the votes of his party (given that the open list permits us to know just how many votes each candidate contributed)? I do not know Brazilian law, but one sentence in the report implies this could be the case. It says, “Whether Tiririca takes his seat could affect the power balance in the next Chamber of Deputies.” If his potential ineligibility affects only him, and not the total number of votes counted for the list, then the resolution of the case against him changes nothing. The list would elect the same number of candidates, only without its clown head.

24 thoughts on “Grumpy about the Brazilian election

  1. Does the Brazilian Constitution contain a clause like its US predecessor barring candidates from serving as federal legislators if they have previously practised witchcraft?

    PS: “give” seats – you mean five?

  2. Dear Matthew,

    Actually, according to Brazilian law (which can be very confusing sometimes) if the votes given to Tiririca are nulified, they are deducted from the party’s total, which means the representation of all parties in the district (São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest state) would change. So many candidates are apprehensive with this development right now.

  3. AM Carstairs (1984) recounted a case that occurred in Sweden back in the days when it used MNTV. A Liberal (IIRC) candidate in one of the larger counties was found be a few kronor short in his tax returns. This disqualified him from sitting in the Riksdag (tough, but fair)… it also meant every ballot showing a vote for him was deemed null. Which nullified all votes for the Liberal (plurality) ticket in that county, and flipped all two dozen seats to the second-largest party. Ouch.

  4. Dunno what Ireland does but in Australian Senate elections, a disqualified candidate is treated as eliminated on the very first stage so their preferences flow immediately (usually to a team-mate). Hence Irina Dunn vice Robert Wood in 1987-88 and Len Harris vice Heather Hill in 1998-99.

    It’s not treated as a casual vacancy (ie not filled by vote of the relevant State Parliament with the original Senator’s party having a constitutional right to veto whoever the Parliament elects). The difference in seat-filling methods is clearer for Senate elections but obscured for House elections, where the legal difference between a supplementary (re-run) election and a by-election proper is often missed by the media (and even by the Parliamentary Library!)

    Malta, I believe, also uses the same method (ie, countback) for both disqualifications and proper casual vacancies, eg if a prominent candidate is elected for two different constituencies and has to renounce one of them.

  5. Does anyone have data on the Congressional Election results for Brazil’s lower house? I can’t find it anywhere.

    Are there any talks of changing Brazil’s electoral system? Will Brazil break it’s large states up into smaller multi-member districts? or will Brazil move to a Mixed Member Proportionate model?

    Is the Brazilian system of open party list similar to the Finnish system?

    I heard that party switching is now banned once a candidate is elected.

    Has anyone suggested that Brazil changed it two round system of electing it’s president to an Irish/Australian preferential voting system?

  6. Thanks, Daniel, for the clarification on the law. So it will indeed make quite a difference to the result in the state if he is deemed ineligible.

    Suaprazzodi, there have been various proposals for MMP or other reforms, but they have never made it very far. I am not aware of any discussions of AV/IRV for presidential elections.

    The main difference between Finnish and Brazilian rules is that in Finland the voter must cast a preference vote, whereas in Brazil it is optional (but most do). In both cases, preference votes alone determine the final list order. In both systems, many lists are presented by alliances rather than single parties. Magnitude in Brazil ranges from 8 to 70 (or thereabouts), whereas Finnish magnitude ranges from 1 (Aland Islands) to 30-something.

  7. At least the Finnish system’s district magnitude is more manageable.

    I know that this is off topic, but I heard there were talks in Finland to consider adding a nation-wide top up list or a adjustment seats like what Norway, Sweden, and Denmark has for their systems of PR.

    Do countries that use PR in multi-member districts have a need for a nation wide tier to ensure proportionality? Are there cases of reverse plurality in multi-member PR without a nation wide adjust tier?

  8. Brazil appears to have a state imbalance problem as bad as, if not worse than, the United States.

    Of Brazil’s 27 states, the top five appear to account for 53% of the electorate (figures are approximate):

    Sao Paulo 22% (!)
    Minas Gerais 10%
    Rio de Janeiro 8%
    Bahia 7%
    Rio Grande de Sul 6%

    By contrast, the top five of the 50 states in the US account for 36% of the American electorate:

    California 12%
    Texas 7%
    New York 7%
    Florida 6%
    Illinois 4%

    Though granted, if you took the top ten states in the US, to account for the fact that there are almost double the number of states in the US than in Brazil, you also get to the 53% figure.

    On the other hand, the US has more micro-states. In the US, 19 of the 50 states each account for less than 1% of the population. There are only 5 or 6 Brazilian states in this category.

    With these imbalances, if you select the entire Congressional delegation by state (due to federalism), treating the state as a multimember district, you will get some very large multimember districts with low thresholds. I suspect this is what his happening in Brazil. Note that if the US used the same system it would have the opposite problem, almost 9% of the House of Representatives would effectively be one or two member plurality districts due to the large number of microstates.

    I think both the US and Brazil use the each state gets the same number of Senators regardless of population system, which creates additional problems.

    If countries with these federal set-ups are going to use proportional representation for their lower house, it seems just mandating that states use STV with three, four, and seven member districts would avoid these sorts of imbalances, retaining single member districts for states with one or two man congressional delegations.

    I don’t think the 16 states in Germany have the same degree of population imbalances, plus of course the additional member system functions differently.

    It does seem remarkably hard to get information on the Brazilian congressional elections.

  9. Brazil’s highest magnitudes would be even higher were it not for malapportionment. Based on population, Sao Paulo should have M of well over 100 instead of 70. By the same token, if there were not a legal floor of 8 for the smallest states, some of them would have fewer seats.

  10. Ed, I am confused by what you mean by. Let me go through each of the paragraphs so you can clarify.

    “I think both the US and Brazil use the each state gets the same number of Senators regardless of population system, which creates additional problems.”

    Why does equal state representation create problems in Upper House of Brazil, U.S, and Australia? Almost nobody questions equal state representation in the U.S. A few people do, but it is quite rare. There is some talk the 17th Amendment to be repealed, and have the states appoint Senators. I think that would not be good.

    Perhaps the U.S has too many micro-states, and needs a consolidation of states, and then this could be managed better.

    Do you think that the U.S and Brazil could move to an Indian style Senate representation by population? By the way, India’s states elects it’s Senate by STV.

    “If countries with these federal set-ups are going to use proportional representation for their lower house, it seems just mandating that states use STV with three, four, and seven member districts would avoid these sorts of imbalances, retaining single member districts for states with one or two man congressional delegations.”

    I didn’t understand what you meant me at first. Do you mean a country should use multi-member districts with even or odd numbers of representatives? I think the minimum number of representatives should be set at 3 members for a Federal State. Brazil seats it’s minimum to high at 8. Australia sets it’s minimum to a 5. Canada seats it’s minimum for Prince Edward Island to a 4. Of course the later two countries use singe member districts for their lower houses.

    “I don’t think the 16 states in Germany have the same degree of population imbalances, plus of course the additional member system functions differently.”

    Do you mean in the upper house of the German parliament or the lower house? The German upper house is based on population, but it is on a weighed system where smaller states get quite a bit of representation more so than bigger states.

    “It does seem remarkably hard to get information on the Brazilian congressional elections.”

    I guess Brazil doesn’t have much of a cohesive party system yet. It’s doesn’t have a two party or two bloc system.

  11. Point of order: Germany does not have an “upper house”. – I’m told. Apparently, German constitutional lawyers and theorists do not consider the Bundesrat to be a parliamentary chamber. Only the Bundestag is the “Parliament”:

    ‘… Foreign commentators sometimes tend to compare it to upper houses such as the US Senate or the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, even though the Bundesrat is not part of a bicameral body or part of the German parliament…’

    ( )

    To be this seems rather like Dick Cheney’s claim that the US Vice-Presidency was part of the legislative branch and not the executive, but hey, the Wikipédiste seems pretty definite on that point.

  12. Ed, if it makes you feel any better about Brazil and the US, Canada’s top two provinces hold 62% of the total population.

    Plenty of places do worse, though. Russia alone had over half of the population of the USSR, and Ukraine dominates the remainder. England, of course, has the vast majority of the population of the UK, I think about 80%.

  13. The equal votes for states in the Senate regardless of population thing is a problem for people who believe strongly in one man, one vote. If you don’t care about one man, one vote, why bother to elect the Senate at all? Or have Senators selected by corporations less artificial than states.

    If you introduce party list proportional representation for a federal body in a federal systems, with huge discrepencies in populations among states, and the states themselves are the multimember districts, then you also move away from one man one vote. Because some states will have so few representatives that they will effectivley be single member or double member districts, and other so many that the threshold for election will be much lower than the norm. The multimember districts shoule not be based on state boundaries, or the boundaries themselves should be completely withdrawn.

    The main problems with federalism in the US is not the imbalance of state populations. It is the tendency, unique in the world, for state lines to run through the centers of cities. Also a problem is the degree to which state boundaries were drawn to further the interests of a particular political party or interest group (most Americans don’t realize this). Brazil has seen something of the second problem, but at least not the first.

  14. > “unique in the world, for state lines to run through the centers of cities”

    Not unique. My campus office is about thirty feet from the Queensland/ NSW State border. It’s a muddy creek beside the Gold Coast airport (the line, not my office) and I doubt anyone who’s not a const lawyer knows or cares it’s there, other that the road quality noticeably deteriorates the moment one drives into NSW. Two or three decades ago, the border was probably more legally significant, but nowadays the most notable actions that used to be lawful on one side and illegal on the other (noticeably, being gay vs vilifying gays) are now regulated to an equal extent on both sides. It’s not like the Virginia/ DC/ Maryland drive where one puts down and the picks up the cellphone in mid-call as one crosses the State lines).

    Likewise Albury/ Wodonga (NSW/ Vict) and ACT/ Queanbeyan (okay, this one is noticeable – peace gardens outside the Japanese embassy on the Canberra side, motels with giant plastic boot logos on the NSW side).

  15. As to the Brazilian Congress totals, Daily Kos has taken a shot at it. As they say, this is not easy because parties are not monolithic and can sometimes shift allegiance out of political expedience. Within the governing coalition, they identify the “left wing” and the “centrist wing.” Under these headings, they list the individual parties (*Note: The PMDB is the largest party in the centrist wing of the governing coalition, however, there is also a minority “opposition wing” among PMDB members who side with PSDB. The author has not attempted to separate this group out numerically):

    Left wing 141 165 +24
    Workers’ (PT) 79 88 +9
    Socialist (PSB) 27 34 +7
    Democratic Labor (PDT) 23 28 +5
    Communist (PCdoB) 12 15 +3

    Centrist wing 156 146 -10
    PMDB* 90 79 -11
    Republic Party (PR) 41 41 nc
    Christian Social (PSC) 16 17 +1
    Republican (PRB) 7 8 +1
    Christian Labor (PTC) 2 1 -1

    Not as big a gain as I had expected.

  16. P.S. Note that, despite the strong Green Party presidential campaign, the Green Party has hardly benefitted in Congress:
    Green Party (PV) 14 15 +1
    And lost its only Senate seat in play:
    Green Party (PV) 1 0 -1

  17. Typical Brazil: large electoral separation of purpose. One should never expect a strong presidential campaign to have a big impact on co-partisan legislative lists.

  18. About talks of changing Brazil’s electoral system: yes, there is a lot of talk about changing it regarding Congressional elections – almost no-one defends it. The trouble is, the PT and its allies prefer a closed-list system, while the oposition proposes MMP. Up to now there has been no way to break this deadlock.

    There are, however, no talks about changing the two-round system for presidential elections. Everybody seems fine with it.

  19. Okay, everyone, drinking glasses at the ready…

    “Indeed, because of Brazil’s complex system of proportional representation, the party was able to use Tiririca’s votes to gain three more seats in Congress…”
    – Lilia M Schwarcz, “Politically Incorrect: Brazil’s Clown-Elect,” The New Yorker (14 October 2010).

    (The irony is that I can get the idea of a list-PR system like Brazil’s – or, a fortiori, like Israel’s – across to first-year politics/ law students in about 2 or 3 minutes. Explaining how the USA’s primaries work, though… now THAT’s a “complex system”).

  20. Here’s a handy list of the electoral alliances (Brazil calls them coalitions) for the election of federal deputies, state by state; taken directly from the electoral authority site.

    Note how the PMDB, the main centre-left party on whose support Dilma Rousseff relies, is allied with her PT in only 11 states. In 4 it was effectively on its own. In 7 it allied with the right. In 4 it was in a centrist alliance. In Rio, where 12 different alliances won seats, it was the largest centrist party in alliance with the PP and PSC.

  21. Dilma Rouseff takes office today as the first woman president of Brazil, along with her 37-member ministry, including nine women. Doesn’t sound like much to us, but it’s three times the number Lula had, and by Brazilian standards he was a feminist.

    Forbes Magazine lists her as one of the 16 most powerful people on the planet; the other two women being Angela Merkel and Sonia Ghandi. Hilary Clinton is their #20.

    Dilma’s ten-party coalition has 17 ministers from her PT (Workers Party), 6 from the centre-left PMDB (Democratic Movement, her vice-president’s party), 2 from the PSB (Socialist Party), and one each from the PDT (Democratic Labour), PCdoB (Communist), PR (Republic Party, formerly Liberal Party, centre-left), and PP (Progressive Party, centrist). Eight are non-party, while the Social Christian Party and two minor parties are not in the cabinet.

  22. To follow-up, and for the historical record, Tiririca (Grumpy) passed the literacy tests to the satisfaction of all relevant authorities, and was sworn in.

    Also, I would disagree with the above complaint that it’s hard to find electoral data on Brazil. It’s all centralized at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Portuguese), at

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