Open lists in MMP: An option for BC and the experience in Bavaria

One of the options for electoral reform in British Columbia is mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation. The criteria for the potential system allow for a post-referendum decision (if MMP is approved by voters) on whether the party lists should be open or closed. The guide that was sent to all BC voters shows a mock-up of a ballot that looks like New Zealand’s, with closed lists. However, the provincial premier has stated that, if MMP is adopted, lists will be open.

When it comes to lists, it is my opinion that citizens will elect all of the members of the legislature. They will select names that are representative of their communities.

I remain uncertain about the value of open lists under MMP. Is it worth the extra ballot complexity? What additional gain does one get from having preference votes determine order of election for those winning compensatory seats? The MMP Review in New Zealand after the 2011 referendum (in which voters voted to keep MMP) looked at this question extensively. It came down firmly on the side of keeping lists closed.

Nonetheless, the statement by the premier suggests he believes the system is less likely to be chosen if voters expect the lists to be closed. And, given regional districts on the compensation tier, as explicitly called for in the system proposal, the lists would not be too long and thus the ballots not too complex.

It happens that there is one MMP system in existence in which the lists are open. Such a system has been used in Bavaria for quite some time. I actually proposed such a model in a post way back in 2005, quite early in the life of this blog. At the time I had no idea that what I had “invented” was, more or less, the existing Bavarian model.

Of course, Bavaria just had an election. In the thread on that election, Wilf Day offered some valuable insights into how the open lists worked. I am “promoting” selections from Wilf’s comments here. Indented text in the remainder of this post is by Wilf.

The Bavarian lists are fully “open,” and the ballot position has no bearing on the outcome, except to the extent the voters are guided by it, especially seen in voting for the number 1 candidate.

Of the 114 list seats, 31 were elected thanks to voters moving them up the list, while 83 would have been elected with closed lists.

Did the first on the list always get elected? Almost. In the region of Lower Bavaria, the liberal FDP elected only 1 MLA, and he had been second on their regional list.

Did the open lists hurt women? I did not check most results, but the SPD zippers their lists, and I noticed in Upper Palatinate the SPD elected 2 MLAs, list numbers 1 and 3 (two women). Conversely, in Middle Franconia the SPD elected 4 MLAs: 1, 2, 3, and 5 (three men).

Little known fact: a substantial number of voters in Bavaria, being used to voting in federal elections where their second vote is just for a party, blink at the Bavarian ballot, look for the usual space to vote beside the party name, it’s not there, so they put an X beside the party name anyway. A spoiled ballot? No, they count it as a vote for the party. Not a vote for the list as ranked, it does not count for the ranking or for any candidate, but it does count in the party count. Just like Brazil, where a vote for the party is not a vote for the list ranking, except Bavaria does not publicize the option of voting for the party.

Among the more interesting new Free Voter MLAs:

Anna Stolz, lawyer, Mayor of the City of Arnstein; she had been elected Mayor in 2014 as the joint candidate of the Greens, SPD, and Free Voters; the local Greens said they were very proud of her as Mayor. The Free Voter delegates meeting made her number 5 on the state list, but the voters moved her up to second place as one of the two Free Voter MLAs from Lower Franconia.

From Upper Bavaria, the capital region, list #12 was Hans Friedl, with his own platform: “a socially ecologically liberal voice, an immigration law based on the Canadian model, no privatization of the drinking water supply, a clear rejection of the privatization of motorways”). The voters moved him up to #8, making him the last of 8 Free Voters elected in that region.

Note: the comments are excerpted, and the order of ideas is a little different from where they appear in the thread. I thank WIlf for his comments, and for his permission to make them more prominent.

19 thoughts on “Open lists in MMP: An option for BC and the experience in Bavaria

  1. The BC premier (or at least an advisor) may have been looking back to the 2007 Ontario referendum where a proposal for closed list MMP was voted by a 5 to 3 margin. Polls at the time found that 2/3 of voters liked the idea of 2 votes but only 16% liked closed lists. For what it’s worth, PEI turned down closed list MMP in a 2005 referendum and voted for open list MMP in 2016.

  2. One footnote: The biggest thing open-list MMP does for candidates is make all candidates and MLAs more independent. Evidence: Germany’s “Free Voters” Party has taken off in Bavaria, but got no traction outside Bavaria where regional list candidates cannot promote their personal platform. The core of the “Free Voters” movement is preferring local decisions to party politics, an ideology-free alternative to the established parties. They justify their lack of a clear position in the party landscape by the need to operate a pragmatic policy beyond ideological determinations. They therefore emphasize their interest in cross-party cooperation and demand no “whipped” votes from their representatives in the Bavarian state parliament, although this latter point may well change now that they have reached a coalition agreement, this Monday, with the CSU. The Free Voters will get three Ministers, to be sworn in next Monday: economy, environment and culture.

    • Whilst I’d agree that the Free Voters haven’t gained traction anywhere else but Bavaria, it’s worth noting that they are represented in one other Landtag (that of Brandenburg)… and also in the European Parliament.

  3. Why not a best loser system? Then there is more connection to the two systems. Which would you prefer for an MMP system; closed, completely open, semi open, or best loser?

  4. The Dual Member Proportional (DMP) option is very close to best-loser in the way “List” members are chosen. Think of it as best-losers with a limit of 1 top-up member per district.

    • Yes. While DMP is technically a two-tier closed-list PR system, I completely agree that its function would be quite similar to a best-loser MMP (but, as you say, with every district guaranteed one and only one “best loser” from some party)

      I discussed this in my first post on the BC proposals. I guess the one way in which it is not closed list (and perhaps also deviates from MMP to a degree) is the provision on independents, which I still don’t fully understand.

      • DMP is not anything like the old Chilean binomial system. What would be the difference between that and the old Chilean binomial system? Who would the top up member be in a DMP system, the 2nd most voted candidate or party? Under such a system, could multi members of the same party run and compete with one another.

        I would think instead of a dual member system, that a tri member system would be easier to understand. The first member is the most voted candidate, and the two members are the top up from the other parties, but then that might be an MMP system.

      • Is DMP really closed list? I was under the impression that the best performing runners-up would usually get their parties’ top-up seats. I know there is the “reserve,” but if I read the proposal in New Brunswick(?) correctly a candidate who was “lower” on the list but came just short of winning his district would still be preferred over a party leader who finished third in his riding.

      • Mark, the proposed DMP is closed list because the parties nominate two candidates and designate which of the candidates is to be elected based on local votes if the party wins the plurality. If that is not a closed list, I do not know what is. Voters are not given a chance to indicate a preference between the two candidates.

        The provision you refer to concerns the allocation of the compensatory seats. But that does not change the closed-list nature of the system any more than do the provisions of various “district ordered list” systems.

        To Rob’s point, DMP is indeed quite different from the former Chilean system, which was an open list system, and had no process for allocating seats based on votes outside the district. In other words, it was a simple districted PR system, not a two-tier system like DMP.

        (I would add that the provisions on independents in the DMP proposal do not change any of the above. An independent is simply a one-person party, thereby presenting a “list” with one name on it, and not able to participate in the compensatory allocation.)

      • I never considered DMP a list system in that manner. The second candidate in a district has very little chance of getting a seat if the first candidate wins a plurality in the district. I consider it somewhat different to closed list systems because in a traditional closed list, if a party is entitled to X seats, the first X candidates not already elected will be seated. I do not believe that happens in DMP and performance in local races affects seating priority

  5. In DMP all losing candidates in a mult-idistrict region are ranked according to percentage of district vote that they obtained. They are assigned top-up seats in the order of their ranking: a second place finisher will get their district’s 2nd seat unless higher-ranked candidates already have filled their party’s regional quota of seats. So, each losing candidate is in (indirect) competition with their party’s candidates in other districts.

    The “reserve” provision is meant to improve the chance that a minor party will have its strongest candidate(s) chosen, at the expense of mid-rank 2nd place candidates of a major party. However, it would not be enough to save a 3rd place “best loser” if the candidate in 2nd place ranked high among all losers.

  6. At the BC Symposium on Proportional Representation, we took a close look at the Bavarian option, and very clearly recommended it in our final report (see http://bcprsymposium.ca ). We also suggested that BC should consider two modifications to this system, both inspired by STV.

    Recall that in the Bavarian system, each ballot has two votes, local and regional. Each vote is for an individual candidate; the local one, for a candidate in your own district/riding, and the regional one, for a candidate in some other district/riding. For calculating target party proportions, both votes count equally, giving each ballot a total weight of 2.

    The first tweak we suggested was that if your choice of candidates wins at the local (FPTP) level, then for calculating party proportions, your local vote should have a weight of 2 and your regional vote a weight of 0. In STV, this corresponds to how a full quota of votes is used up by each winner. In strategic terms, it essentially eliminates any incentive to split your vote or create “dummy” parties.

    The second tweak is that if you vote for two different parties, and exactly one of them would get no seats (either local or regional) when calculating ballots without this rule, then party proportions are recalculated with the viable party getting a weight of 2 from your ballot and the nonviable one a weight of 0. In STV, this corresponds to cross-party transfers away from parties too small to win even one seat. In strategic terms, this reduces the strategic incentive not to vote for small parties (as long as you vote for a larger party with the other half of your ballot). With this rule, you could also leave the local portion of your ballot blank if you did not like any of your local candidates, and still get full voting weight for purposes of proportionality. Finally, this rule would reduce the distortionary effect of any explicit or implicit threshold. Looking at the problems such distortion has caused in Poland and Hungary, I think this is important.

    Of course, in order to implement these rules, the two votes would have to be physically on the same piece of paper, and the two rules combined could lead to up to 3 counting passes over the same set of ballots. I believe that this extra complexity in the ballot-counting process is relatively minor; certainly, it would still be very substantially less complex to count than full STV.

    • I am all for reducing incentives for decoy lists or even allied parties inflating their mutual totals. But…

      If, as I understand things, I vote for a candidate who gets more votes than needed in STV, either a fraction of my vote would move to my next choice or there’s a chance my whole vote would. In no case does my vote absolutely remain with a winning candidate unless he’s the last elected or I have no more choices indicated.

      Disregarding second votes of ballots cast for winning candidates can have other issues. Imagine a regional party contesting ten seats out of a 100 districts, with 150 total seats determined by MMP. The regional party wins three quarters of the vote in each district. The party picks up ten seats and every one of its votes chose a winning local candidate. By the system described above, all of their second votes are discarded. Assuming a rough equality of voters in each election district, the party has captured about 7.5% of the total vote and is owed one or two more seats. Which they cannot win because they technically have no second votes.

      • I’m unclear on how the 7.5% was calculated. In the example, suppose the 10 winning regional candidates captured 60% of the vote on average. That would mean 6% of the voters supported the regional party and their fair share of 150 seats would be 9 seats.

    • Taking a leaf from the Brexiteers’ playbook, we could call the tweaked system “Bavaria plus plus”

  7. My mistake — brain somehow failed to register the words “three quarters” in Mark’s example. As noted, the STV-ized Bavarian system would limit the regional party to 10 seats when it deserved 11.25 seats, a deficit of 1.25 seats.

    The number of seats going to a “decoy list” under conventional 2-vote MMP with no overhang correction would be (7.5/100)x(150-10) = 10.5 regional seats in addition to the party’s 10 district seats. An unmodified Bavarian system would assign the decoy list (7.5/200)x(150-10) = 5.25 regional seats for a net surplus of 4.0 seats.

    • What about a one vote MMP system? That would stop decoy lists in fact one could treat the SMD component as a 1 district List PR system, voters would vote for parties and when an MP resigned or die, the next person the list replaces them. It would also be wise in such a system to use a best loser system to assign the order for the multi-district List MPs.

      • One-vote MMP comes at the cost of losing many of the advantages of MMP. For one thing, parties have to run candidates in all districts to collect “list” votes. For another, voters who prefer a small party have to vote for that party’s candidate, even if he or she can’t win in the district, and are thus prevented from playing a meaningful role in selecting the local member.

        And, obviously, it would be rather difficult to do a one-vote open-list MMP. I won’t say impossible. But it would be a very odd system.

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