Proposals to change the electoral system in Chile are again on the table, writes Mariano Montes (in Spanish). With the first post-dictatorship presidency from the center-right (who is currently very popular), the previous veto by the right may be overcome. The center-left Concertacion has never liked the current electoral system, which was originally designed to
over under-represent them at the expense of the right.
The proposals would be to increase the size of each chamber, and simultaneously permit presidential reelection. These moves would require a constitutional amendment. With larger chambers, the district magnitudes would be increased, resulting in a more proportional system.
The current system actually is a proportional formula, continuing the pre-dictatorship system of open-list PR with D’Hondt allocation. What has made it mostly unrepresentative of political forces other than those grouped into the two big pre-electoral coalitions is that all districts currently have a magnitude of two. Rather awkwardly and imprecisely, this system has come to be known as the “binomial” system.
I am always somewhat amused by criticisms of the system that refer to its making possible districts in which one winning candidate has fewer votes than another who loses. Of course, this is precisely the sense in which it is not a “nominal” (or nomial?) system. Were it a nominal system, by definition, the two candidates with the most votes would be the winners in each district. Nominal systems are those in which votes are cast for candidates by name, rather than being first pooled by party or coalition affiliation. Nominal systems are top-M systems (where M is the district magnitude).
Chile’s system, by contrast, is a list system. That means the first criterion is the votes cast collectively for the candidates on each list. Then the open nature of the lists kicks in, where candidate vote totals matter. Rather than being a top-M system, at this stage it is a top-s system, where s is the number of seats each list has won. Obviously, when M=2, s can take only the values of 0, 1, or 2.
Given that it is D’Hondt, the list with the most votes will win two seats only if it doubles the vote total of the runner-up list. This is how all D’Hondt systems work, and D’Hondt is the most common of proportional allocation methods for list systems (open or closed). The difference is that most list-proportional systems that use D’Hondt have M>2 for most of their districts, and so the process continues beyond determining whether the largest list has more or less than twice the votes of the next list. But in any open-list system, it is always possible (in fact, typical) that some candidates who win seats are not in the top M. They merely must be in the top s of their own party’s or electoral coalition’s list.
It would make a lot of sense if Chile would revert to the pre-dictatorship system of larger districts, and thus greater proportionality. The current system over-represents the two largest list, but over-represents the one that is second in votes to a greater degree than the one with the most votes (because the second one often has many fewer votes in a district, but not only half as many). It also makes sense to expand the size of the chambers; Chile’s Chamber of Deputies is very under-sized, relative to its population (see the graph at a planting from more than five years ago on reapportionment in the USA).
Maybe Chile will finally have a more proportional electoral system. But, please, let’s not call the resulting system with its higher magnitudes a multinomial system!
Thanks to Greg Weeks for the tip.