On ‘The Downballot’ talking about electoral systems

I was on The Downballot, a podcast at DailyKos, discussing electoral systems in the context of what reformers in the US should be thinking about.

It was a lot of fun to do, and I hope readers of this blog might enjoy listening to it. There is also a transcript (at the same link). It was auto-generated and thus contains a few errors, but the more egregious mis-transcriptions I mentioned in an earlier version of this post have been fixed.

6 thoughts on “On ‘The Downballot’ talking about electoral systems

  1. Cross off MMP, and STV for the US, so an open party list system would be used? What about a one vote MMP system? Could the US have adjustment leveling seats at the Federal Level like Norway does or is that unconstitutional?

    Couldn’t STV be adapted to rank parties rather than individuals?


    • Contemporary Australian above the line voting is, I think, STV “adapted to rank parties rather than individuals”. If you vote above the line, then you can number the groups, as many or as few as you like. It effectively gets transcribed into a below the line vote according to the order the group lists their candidate. The groups don’t need to be parties – they can be parties, coalitions, or independents who choose to run together.

      I’m reluctant to say it helps build party strength – perhaps it’s the low M or the fact that government is not responsible to the upper house, but it seems to be the case that senators/upper house parliamentarians are either capable of taking over the party (like Bob Day turning FFP from a pentacostalist party into an economic libertarian one) or willing to party hop or break away from a party and create a party based on themselves (since the 2016 double dissolution, Senate only: Lidia Thorpe, Cory Bernardi, Rex Patrick, Sam McMahon, Lucy Gichuhi, Tim Storer, Steve Martin, Rod Culleton, Fraser Anning, Brian Burston). And that list doesn’t contain people who were elected as independents or under a self-named party. The conventional wisdom is that parties do better in the upper house because of the electoral system, but really I find that a hard position to maintain when parties simply cannot maintain the loyalty of their parliamentarians. If there’s a falling out between Jackie Lambie and the Jackie Lambie Network, and they compete against each other at the next election, it’s Lambie not the party who will get up. I’d say there’s only three successful parties in the Senate – Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. The next closest, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, has really struggled to maintain the loyalty of its non-Hanson Senators (though she does well with Malcolm Roberts). But Hanson came close to losing her seat, and if she had, I think the relationship between Hanson, Roberts and the party would have been popcorn material. And the frequency with which elected parties have a person’s name in them should also tell you about how well parties do vs independently minded members.

      But I’m surprised if anyone thinks it’s possible for a party-wise electoral system to be adopted in the US. Even if parties are important for collective decision making. Aside from the fact that to get any kind of electoral reform through in the US, you’re going to need to the support of people who aren’t polarised, the people who vote it into being, accustomed as they are to a personal mandate, will want some kind of personal mandate. Obviously you can see from my previous paragraph that I believe they can get one under partywise STV, but … I don’t think anyone interested in American electoral reform will find my argument convincing and reassuring and aside from that, I think there’s something of a contradiction between my argument of strong personal mandates in partywise STV and a choice of partywise STV because it leads to clear party mandates and ambiguous personal mandates.


    • I think I said in the podcast that one-vote MMP is not a good option. However, given the format, elaborating on the point was not practical.

      Any viable PR system for the USA needs to foster pre-election alliances among parties, and two-vote MMP helps do so. With one vote MMP, either the parties in a (potential) alliance have to compete against each other in the single-seat districts, or else they have create a joint (and presumably closed) list.

      Too many of the benefits ascribed to MMP are lost if you do not have separate nominal and list votes.

      I might add that the main reason why pre-election alliances are especially needed in the US is that under any plausible reform, we will continue to have single-winner contests for the Senate, presidency, and many other offices. So reformers can’t focus on the House in isolation. But if the House electoral system helps distinct parties survive and earn their own votes, it likely facilitates the alliances needed for these other offices. Two-vote MMP, STV, and open-list all have this advantage in one way or another.


      • Would using one vote MMP using ranked choice voting with the first preference a vote for a party list work?

        A two vote MMP system using SMD and an open party list system might work?


        • Both of those have been discussed on this blog before, with rather extensive comment threads. On the first, I am skeptical. On the second, yes, but still runs into the issue I raised in the podcast.


  2. I’ve been interested in electoral systems since I was an undergraduate and discovered that anything besides ‘first past the post’ existed. (My high school civics teacher had alluded to ‘winner take all’ elections explaining features of American politics, but not elaborated upon alternatives) I am a little surprised and a little hopeful that reforms are attracting more than frivolous attention.

    In Philadelphia, there is a contested Democratic primary election for Mayor and the first independent poll of the race has just been released. It includes questions as to the opinions of those polled about, “ranked choice voting,” and how they might act in such a system. (https://www.surveyusa.com/client/PollReport.aspx?g=25ef4518-2905-426f-8cd0-ce19aa81acb0)

    Liked by 1 person

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