Is Germany about to revoke or modify its provision on “overhang” seats? Evidently there has been a Constitutional Court finding today against the current practice, ((I vaguely recall someone might have mentioned this case in another thread here.)) and there is now a debate about how to respond.
All I know at this point is a not-very-detailed story from The Montreal Gazette that Rob Richie of The Center for Voting and Democracy sent me. (Thanks, Rob!) Here are some excerpts, with the usual journalese about “complex” electoral systems.
Germany’s highest court declared the country’s complex electoral law unconstitutional Wednesday and ordered for it to be overhauled before the next general election…
The current voting system was passed only last year by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition in an attempt to satisfy previous criticism by the Federal constitutional Court.
…the constitutional court again criticized that parties which win more seats than they would take under a purely proportional system can keep those seats — potentially skewing election results.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party gained an additional 24 seats this way in the 2009 general elections.
The provision is actually–dare I say it?–more complex than that. It is pretty much impossible under MMP not to allow a party that wins more than its proportional share to keep some if its resulting advantage. The only sure way would be to revoke a seat it had actually won in a single-seat district.
The German MMP (as also in New Zealand) adds further seats to the legislative chamber to “balance” these overhangs. These partially compensate other parties for the fact that some party is over-represented from its winning more single-seat districts than its proportional entitlement would be (based on its list vote, at the state level in Germany). It is not clear from the news story exactly which part of this process has been declared constitutionally invalid.
It certainly is the case that, even with the balance seats, the presence of overhangs means a “skewing” of results away from strict proportionality. Indeed, if one does not want this, one should use pure PR and not MMP. The potential over-representation for a party that performs especially well in single-seat districts is one of the ways in which MMP is a “mixed” or hybrid system, and not simply a proportional system.