California 2020

We Californians are known for our ballot propositions. Twelve of them in this election. Too many!

I voted last week. Or at least I think I voted. The ballot went into a box that looked legitimate. I’ve never been fond of absentee/mail voting (except for those who have no other choice). In fact, I have never done it, being committed to the idea of going to an actual polling place. But, this year is… different.

I have some thoughts on a few of them. I don’t usually do “endorsements” in part because I wonder why anyone would actually care how I would vote (unless perhaps if it was an electoral system measure). But I want to mention a few of these that I feel somewhat strongly about.

Yes on 18. Back in the year I turned 18, I was of age to vote by the time the general election came around, but I was not able to vote in the primary. I remember at the time, there was talk of a change to allow those who will be 18 before the general election to vote in the primary even if their 18th birthday was between the elections. That is so very sensible. Finally, we get to vote this change into the state constitution.

I am genuinely puzzled that so many newspapers across the state have advised a no vote on 18. I understand why the GOP is against–it is an anti-democratic party (and an anti-republican one), so one of its core principles is: more voters = bad. But I can’t imagine any good argument against this, especially now that we no longer have primaries (except for presidential-nominating delegates). We have a two-round general election. If you are eligible to choose from among the final two, you should be eligible to vote to winnow the initial field. Simple as that.

I voted no on Prop. 22 (re app-based services). At the outset I sort of leaned yes. But the more I learned, the more strongly I was against. Whatever the merits of the policy proposal, the following is a real deal killer: Amendments by the legislature would take a 7/8 vote. I am against super-majority requirements for detailed policy provisions on principle, but usually such requirements are 3/5 or 2/3. But SEVEN EIGHTHS. Absurd! 

I also generally oppose initiatives that are mostly about one interest group trying to convince voters to do what it has already lost in both the legislature and the courts. (Which suggests the proposal is probably not good on the merits, either.) In this case, it is mostly a carve-out for a few specific companies. It’s not about the drivers, despite the slick advertising prominently featuring people of color and single mothers. It is about some companies that are obviously doing quite well if they are able to afford all this advertising. 

Here are some example of their advertising in the form of mailers we have received. See what I mean by their prominent featuring of individuals who are clearly intended to invoke progressive sympathies?

As I said, the measure is not actually about the drivers. It is about some companies trying to bypass the regular policy-making process. (Yes, an initiative is also part of the legitimate policy-making process, but we voters don’t have to go along!)

Also–going out of order here–I decided to vote yes on 15. The advertising from those against has really been over the top.

“Wrong side of history”? And scare tactics are always a nice touch: “homeowners are next.” So if someone comes back with a later proposition that will hurt homeowners, what can we do? Oh, I know. We can vote no on that (highly hypothetical) measure.

In the case of both 15 and 18, these are things I have been waiting to vote for my entire voting life! Prop. 15 creates a split roll for property taxes (a long overdue fix to Prop. 13 of 1978) and Prop. 18, as discussed above, lets 17 year olds vote in the first-round election if they will be 18 by the time of the November second-round election.

For any voters who have not yet made their decisions, I highly recommend the California Choices website. It has links to details of all the propositions, and scorecards of endorsements from newspapers, political parties, non-profits, and unions.

Republic of Barbados?

Barbados may begin a process of transition to a republic. The representative of Queen Elizabeth II, Governor General Sandra Mason, announced such a plan in her throne speech in September. Of course, that means it is the government’s program to abolish the monarchy.

An article about this in The Economist mentioned that such plans do not always go smoothly. It cites the case of Trinidad and Tobago, already a republic since 1976, where the head of state (a president selected by parliament) got to “pick the winner” in a situation (1997) that saw two parties tied for the plurality of seats. The author concludes that “fears of a similar confrontation [between president and sitting prime minister] may have led some Caribbean leaders to reconsider their support for republicanism.”

However, there is no necessary reason why the roles of head of state and head of government need to be separate. Nor must it be left to discretion by the head of state when there is an unclear result of the election. These states could adopt something like the Botswana and South Africa models: The parliamentary majority elects a single individual to serve in both roles. Call the person the “president” or the “prime minister” as you wish. But as long as he or she, and the cabinet collectively, depend on confidence of the majority, it is still a parliamentary democracy (albeit maybe not a Westminster system).

In the most recent election (2018) the Barbados Labour Party won all 30 seats. It was a huge win in votes, too, with 72.8%. (In only two of the single-seat districts did Labour win less than 60%.) Still, it would seem that perhaps a more pressing matter might be not the head of state but electoral reform to avoid total sweeps like this.

Ecuador’s 2019 Local Elections

On March 24, 2019, Ecuador held sectional elections to elect 23 provincial prefects, 221 mayors, 867 city councilors, 438 rural councilors, 4,089 members of rural parish councils, and seven councilors of the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), a social regulatory body. The elections had a little bit of everything: complex electoral rules and a mixture of systems, bickering over how to count votes, and results that reinforce what political scientists know about electoral systems’ impacts on party systems. I was fortunate enough to observe these elections as part of the Organization of American States’ Electoral Observation Mission (EOM). Given that the EOM’s final report was finally presented to the OAS Permanent Council until June 19, 2020, I can now offer some political science-based reflections on the experience. 

I’ll describe the array of electoral rules and then highlight three noteworthy factors:

  1. the difficulty in counting null votes in a plurality-at-large election;
  2. the political party atomization that “pluralitarian” and free list proportional representation produced; and
  3. the persistence of ballot order effects in plurality-at-large elections, even with order randomization.

It should be noted that Ecuadorian legislators finally passed a bill in December 2019 to switch from free list PR to closed and blocked lists for multi-member elections, among other changes.

Electoral Systems

Since 1998, elections in Ecuador have been cognitively demanding due to the complexity of the electoral lists and rules governing voting.  2019 was no exception. Despite being a national process, not all voters cast the same number of votes or even used the same number of ballots: voters in urban areas received six ballots to elect representatives at four levels of government (prefect, mayor, urban councilor, CPCCS representatives), while voters in rural areas received seven ballots for five levels of government (prefect, mayor, rural councilor, rural parish boards, CPCCS representatives). Moreover, the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE) employed three different electoral systems across these five different offices:

  1. Prefects: First-past-the-post
  2. Mayors: First-past-the-post
  3. Urban and rural canton councils: Free list PR (5 ≤ M ≤ 15)
  4. Rural parish councils: Free list PR (M=5 or 7)
  5. CPCCS (three different ballots): Plurality-at-large, Plurality-at-large, First-past-the-post

The free list, which Tom Mustillo and I have written about and which is sometimes called “panachage” or “open ballot”, is a unique variation of the open list where voters can: 1) cast preference votes for candidates; 2) cast multiple preference votes; and 3) distribute preferences across multiple lists. Alternatively, voters can cast a single list vote. To determine seat distribution, votes are pooled at the party list level (an important detail that distinguishes the free list from plurality-at-large). For national legislative elections, only Switzerland, Luxembourg, Honduras, and El Salvador now use this system, although it is more common at a subnational level in Europe. This system presents a number of complexities for voters (since there are so many candidates from which to choose and so many votes to cast) as well as vote counters (because each voter’s number of votes varies by district magnitude and voters are not required to cast all their votes).

There is a lot of “choice” available to voters.  Here is a 2019 ballot for urban councilors from a district in Quito with M=5 that demonstrates it nicely. Voters in this district are allowed to cast up to five votes within or across the 22 party lists, or five out of 110 total candidates.  It is no surprise that voters often opt for list votes (plancha, in Spanish) or use only a portion of their preference votes.

Figure 1. Ballot for urban councilors from a district in Quito

 

Still, Ecuadorian voters should have been accustomed to the free list: before legislators phased in out in late 2019 in favor of closed lists, voters had been using it for 17 years in both national and local elections.

Being tapped with the civic responsibility of working a polling station is a lot of work for elections like these. Poll workers had to tally votes manually, recording not just the choices on six or seven ballots, but counting all M votes on the free list ballots and finding the three choices on the men’s and women’s CPCCS ballots as well (something I explain in greater depth below). The four-person team at the table I was assigned to “quick count” took more than seven hours to tally all of their 250-300 voters’ votes (see the photo below as they were just beginning).

Figure 2. Poll workers sorting ballots before counting votes

 

1. Counting Null Votes under Plurality-at-Large

Despite the complexities of the free list, the most compelling ballot in this election turned out to be the one used to elect CPCCS representatives.  After a 2018 plebiscite turned this appointed seven-person body into an elected one, electors were supposed to be given seven votes to be distributed however they wanted across the entire ballot (e.g. plurality-at-large/MNTV/block voting). However, in February 2019, the CNE stipulated that to maintain gender parity and minority representation, it would divide the single ballot into three separate ballots:

  • A “men’s ballot”, from which voters could cast three votes (plurality-at-large);
  • A “women’s ballot”, from which voters could cast three votes (plurality-at-large), and;
  • A ballot with indigenous/Afro-descendent/ex-pat candidates, from which voters could cast one vote (SMD plurality).

How to count the votes—or in this case, the non-votes—dominated pre-election discourse.

The CPCCS is an autonomous entity responsible for appointing authorities of the Ombudsman’s Office, the Office of the Comptroller General of the State, and state superintendencies, as well as influencing the designation of certain electoral and judicial authorities.  Many politicians and civil society organizations long decried the CPCCS and argued that it should be eliminated as a political body.

Paragraph 3 of Article 147 of Ecuador’s Code of Democracy states that elections can be nullified, “when the null votes exceed the totality of the candidates’ votes, of the respective lists, in a specific circumscription, for each office”. Predictably, there was a current of public opinion in these elections that exhorted voters to cast a null vote as a way to protest the body and demand a national plebiscite on its existence. However, counting the null votes for an office where the voter can cast up to seven votes between three ballots turned out to be more complicated than it may first appear.

Specifically, there is no way to satisfy the “one person, one vote” principal stipulated in the Ecuadorian Constitution if electoral authorities count votes instead of ballots. There are two basic scenarios:

  • Scenario 1 (original proposal): A null vote on a plurality-at-large ballot (M=3) is equal to a single vote, meaning that a null voter is only able to cast 3/7 of a null vote (1/7 + 1/7 + 1/7 on each of the three ballots) while a valid voter can cast 7/7 of a vote (3/7 + 3/7 + 1/7)—effectively disenfranchising the null voter.
  • Scenario 2 (counter-proposal): A null vote on a plurality-at-large ballot (M=3) is equal to three null votes. This way, both valid and null voters get to exercise a full vote (3/7 + 3/7 + 1/7 in each case). The problem is, the system does not permit cumulation voting, which means a) that the null voter is effectively casting three cumulation votes while a valid voter cannot do the same thing; and b) that anyone using fewer than M valid votes per list ends up using fewer votes than the null voter (e.g. a single blank on the first ballot would give the voter 2/7 + 3/7 + 1/7 = 6/7 of a vote).

Electoral authorities were divided on the interpretation, but eventually settled on the first counting rule. Regardless, the null counting method would not have mattered, since just over 20% of the ballots registered null votes against 50% of valid votes (more than 20% of the ballot for CPCCS were also left blank). 

2. Personal Voting and Party System Atomization

Low entrance barriers and guaranteed public financing gave rise to the participation of a whopping 278 political parties, movements, and local organizations. However, all three electoral systems also incentivize the personal vote at the expense of the party. The results were predictable, with extreme party system fragmentation and a lack of mandate for most elected officials.

To just take the FPTP elections, 19 different parties and 10 local political movements split up the 23 prefectures (most of them as part of electoral alliances), with the Social Christian Party winning the most with eight (35%).  Eight parties or movements won just a single prefecture.

There was greater atomization at the level of the elections for mayor. There, 42 parties or movements gained political representation in the 221 mayoralties. Sixteen different political parties won ten or more mayoralties, with the most successful party, the Social Christian Party, earning just 43 mayoralties nationwide (19.5% of the national total). The largest party in the preceding twelve years, President Lenín Moreno’s Alianza Pais (“Country Alliance”), managed only 27 mayors nationwide, falling to the fourth position at national level. The excess of municipal and provincial movements led to the formation of various electoral alliances; in fact, multi-party electoral coalitions won 112 of the 221 mayoralties.

These results suggest that without significant changes, the 2021 general elections are likely to be contested by a panoply of parties with weak roots and limited national ambitions, akin to what we see in some other Latin American countries, like Peru.

3. Ballot Order Effects

A third interesting pattern to emerge was a ballot order effect for the CPCCS elections.  Recognizing the advantage that candidates near the top of the ballot hold over those placed toward the bottom, the CNE decided candidate placement on each of the three CPCCS ballots in February 2019 via lottery, on national television and in the presence of a public notary.

The 28-candidate men’s CPCCS ballot looked like this, with the women’s ballot and minorities’ ballot organized a similar way:

Figure 3. The CPCCS ballot for men

 

Despite the lottery, which quite literally randomized candidate placement, there is evidence that candidates towards the top of list enjoyed a distinct advantage over those toward the bottom. The figure below is a scatterplot of CPCCS ballot placement and votes. Red circles represent women candidates (11 nominations), squares are the men candidates (28 nominations), and the diamonds the minority candidates (4 nominations); for each list, I also included the best fit line to show the relationship between ballot position and votes received. In all three cases, there is a clear negative relationship.

Figure 4. Scatterplot of CPCCS ballot placement and votes

 

This relationship is statistically significant for two of the three lists (men and women; there were only four candidates on the third list). To test the relationship suggested in the figure, I ran a linear regression of the effect of candidate on electoral performance. Employing list fixed effects, the results are consistent with the scatterplot. For each change in position, the mean CPCCS candidate lost around 18,126 votes (p<0.05), or a total of 507,528 votes (18,126) over the range of the 28 positions on the men’s list.  Despite placement randomization, then, this vote is just one more example of the pervasiveness of ballot placement effects; given financial and technical constraints (e.g. inability to randomize candidate placement for each paper ballot), it’s hard to imagine how the CNE could have avoided this problem.

Sectional elections in a small country like Ecuador are not often on the radar of international analysts.  However, the multitude of electoral systems, debate over null vote counting, and ballot order effectd make it as compelling a case study as many national elections in larger countries that grab international headlines.

The strategic voters’ nightmare that is US Democrats’ “proportional” system

With a “front runner” who so far is not mustering more than a quarter of the vote in polling aggregates (e.g., both Fivethirtyeight and Economist), and four other candidates in the 10%–20% range (here with some variation between different aggregators), it is a good thing the Democratic Party uses proportional representation to choose its nominating-convention delegates. Right?

Well, not this “proportional” system. I will now leave aside those zany rules of the Iowa caucus or the marginally more rational rules of the Nevada caucus, and focus on the closest thing we will get to a national primary: “Super Tuesday”. Specifically, I will focus on California for the the obvious reason that it is the biggest. And happens to be where I live and vote. Other states have broadly similar systems, but for smaller numbers of delegates.

This is one awful example of “proportional representation” (PR). Why? First, because it is not really PR due to the high threshold. Second, because it is ridiculously complex. Third (and flowing from the first two), because it is nearly impossible to know how one should make effective use of one’s vote.

My premise is to assume a voter wants to vote against Sanders. (Any resemblance to any particular actual voter may be coincidental. Or not.) With so many candidates still in the mix, one could at least feel good that it in a big state with a lot of delegates, the proportional allocation will mean your vote is not wasted. It could help select some delegates for whichever non-Sanders candidate the voter selects.

But that is not the case at all.

First, there is the threshold. It is set at 15%, which is extremely high. It is all the worse when, as noted already, so many trailing candidates are at risk of falling below 15%. It is not out of the question that all of California’s delegates could go to Sanders even if he has just 32% of the vote, as in a recent PPIC poll. That poll has Biden in second with only 14%. A delegate sweep is not the most likely outcome (8% are undecided, and many might be weakly supportive of their current choice and thinking strategically, like our hypothetical voter), but it is possible. One hundred percent of the delegates on a third of the vote certainly would not be a  “proportional” outcome!

Then there is the districting. Obviously, we know from studies of electoral systems for actual proportional representation systems that having many districts, and low-moderate district magnitude (number of seats–here, delegates–per district) reduces proportionality. On the other hand, if a candidate is just below 15% statewide, the districting might help that candidate, to the extent that there is regional variation in support. Failing to clear the statewide threshold does not preclude getting delegates in a district, as long as the candidate is above 15% in any given district, and that the magnitude of that district is large enough for the candidate to get a delegate with whatever his or her vote share is in the district.

The statewide delegates amount to around 35% of all the delegates awarded in California: 144 of the 415 total. In electoral system terms, the allocation is in parallel, not compensatory like many two-tier proportional systems. That is, a candidate who clears 15% gets a “proportional” share of the statewide delegates and adds on to this whatever number of delegates he or she has won in districts.

A statewide district of M=144 seems huge, right? Well, this being the Democratic Party, they have to make it further complicated. There are two statewide districts, in parallel with each other as well as with the many sub-state districts. The magnitudes are still large, at 54 and 90. (The former are the PLEO, or pledged leaders and elected officials.)

The districts for delegate selection are the state’s districts for the US House. They vary in magnitude for delegate purposes according to recent Democratic voting history in the district. California has 53 districts, and they vary in magnitude from 4 to 7. There are only two districts (numbers 12 and 13) that elect 7. The mean magnitude is 5.1. See the California Democratic Party Delegate Selection Plan (pp. 14-15 of the linked PDF) for the number per district.

(The Plan has no description of the specific allocation formula that I could find, but maybe I missed it; see also GreenPapers.)

So what should our totally hypothetical anti-Sanders voter do? Ideally, figure out which of the other (acceptable) candidates is above 15% in his or her district. Better yet, figure out which one might be marginal for a delegate. That would be a strategic vote based on local support and the district’s magnitude. But it is not as if such information is widely available. One can guess off district demographics, or noisy signals like local offices for the campaigns or yard signs, etc.

The PPIC poll has a regional breakdown within California. But the “regions” are blunt categories–Los Angeles, Other Southern California, SF Bay Area, and Other. There is some considerable variation, even with the caveat that we have 53 districts but four regions. Sanders leads in Los Angeles with 36% and the next up is Biden, at 16%. In Other Southern California they are on 41% and 15%, with Buttigieg also on 15% (the latter supposedly has just 9% in LA). SF Bay Area also has Sanders leading with only 31% and the next closest is Warren at 18% and then Bloomberg at 14%. If, like me, you are in “Other” it is really a mess! We have Warren 18%, Biden 17%, Sanders 16%, Buttigieg 14% (also 11% unknown, higher than other regions). Of course, a lot of these are in the margin of error of the threshold, and each other, and further district-level variation within each region is likely.

So maybe the best is just to figure out which ones are likely to be close to, or “securely” above 15% statewide. Forget the district, and focus on those two large magnitudes at the state level, in which small vote shifts for above-threshold candidates actually could change the delegate totals.

The previous numbers are based on only one poll, of course. There is too little polling of this state. The FiveThirtyEight estimate for California is a little different: 27% Sanders, 16% Bloomberg, 14% Biden, 11% Warren, 10% Buttigieg. (The total for all listed candidates gets us to 89%, so 11% undecided.) Given the paucity of polling, these estimates are based not only on polls, but also on national trends adjusted for state demographics. And, as noted earlier, it risks no one but Sanders being over the threshold, even if that is not in the end a likely scenario, in part because allocating or removing undecideds likely puts at least a couple of other candidates over 15%. Plus, as mentioned, there will be some degree of regional variation that can make a sub-15% candidate statewide be well above that level in a district. But also, remember: many districts have a magnitude so low that even 15% locally would not be enough for a district delegate!

Or there’s voting sincerely. What a concept. Since I don’t like any of these candidates, that would mean staying home. But I don’t want to do that!

Some thoughts on Peru’s midterm election

After the Constitutional Tribunal ruled them legal, Peru held extraordinary legislative elections on 26 January. President Vizcarra dissolved Congress on the grounds that Congress had voted no-confidence in his cabinet (although not directly) twice. This was the first use of this provision since Peru’s 1992 constitution was promulgated, and as such it was the first time when legislative and presidential elections were not held concurrently.

However, the election did not merely lack a presidential contest. Almost uniquely, President Vizcarra, despite having been elected as part of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s party (previously Peruanos por el Kambio, now Contigo), chose not to endorse any party for the elections, merely advising voters to inform themselves. This reluctance was seemingly not due to any concern that Vizcarra’s endorsement would be a weakness for any party: at the time of the election, his approval rating stood at 58%.

Peru’s unicameral Congress is elected using open party-list proportional representation in 26 regions, with a 5% threshold applied at the nationwide level. The average district magnitude of 5 makes this a relatively moderate form of proportional representation, which explains why Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular was able to win a comfortable majority of 56% of the seats in Congress at the 2016 election despite only winning 36% of the vote.

The results of this election, however, were extraordinarily fragmented. The largest party, Accion Popular, got only 10% of the vote, and nine parties made it above the 5% threshold to enter Congress. More than a quarter of votes went to parties below the threshold, and in four provinces the leading party will receive no representation in Congress.

I will leave it to Peruvian experts, which I most certainly am not, to discuss what this result means for Vizcarra’s ability to pass his agenda. However, the results are interesting for other reasons.

Since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, Peru’s party system has remained quite stable (at least in terms of numbers, the identity of the parties has changed quite a lot). It has also remained quite close to the number of parties that the Seat Product Model (Shugart and Taagepera, 2017) would predict.

These elections are thus extremely unusual, and are perhaps indicative of the high importance of presidential elections and presidential endorsements in imposing structure on legislative elections in presidential countries. A fact particularly suggestive of this is the disastrous result for the two leading parties in 2016, both of which were affiliated to presidential candidates. Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular fell from 36% of the vote and 78 seats to 7% and 15 seats, while Peruvanos por el Kambio/Contigo fell from 16% and 18 seats to 1% and no seats.

Ecuador list-type change

Ecuador will travel a somewhat rare path in electoral reform: Abandoning a highly candidate-centered system in favor of a highly party-centered one.

In recent elections, Ecuador has used a free list system, in which voters could cast up to M votes (where M is the number of seats in the district) for candidates on one or more different party lists. Any vote for a candidate also counted as a vote for the list for purposes of inter-list allocation. Broadly speaking, a form of the “panachage” systems used in Luxembourg and Switzerland, as well as in recent years El Salvador.

A newly passed reform will switch Ecuador’s list type to closed-list PR.

It is unusual for countries to make a move like this. Japan moved from SNTV to MMM in its first-chamber elections, so that is another example of abolishing intra-party choice. But MMM is still quite candidate-centered, given single-seat districts. (In addition, the optional procedure in the Japanese variant for ranking lists based on district-level performance also preserves a candidate-centered feature, even though candidates on the list do not compete directly with one another for votes.) Colombia moved from de-facto SNTV to a list system, with parties having the option to present either an open or closed list. But I doubt anyone has moved from free list to closed list before. Even a move from open to closed lists must be very rare.

At the same time, Ecuador’s inter-list allocation will move from D’Hondt to “Webster” (Ste.-Laguë).

Even if you do not read Spanish, the linked news item is worth a visit, as it shows a simulation of how the party seat totals would have been different at the last election had Webster already been in place.

I have one concern with the change, if the video also at the linked item accurately portrays what the new ballot will look like. Voters might still tend to mark candidate images in different lists, as the ballot depicted is almost identical. That would make it impossible to tell which one list the voter would favor. But maybe this is not what the ballot really will look like. One must hope not.

Thanks to John Polga for the tip.

El Salvador presidency 2019–a president from a different party?

El Salvador holds the first round of its presidential election today. If no candidate obtains more than half the votes, a runoff between the top two will be held on 10 March. El Salvador holds nonconcurrent elections (usually), with the presidency elected for five years and legislative assembly for three. The expected winner of the presidency comes from one of the smaller parties, the optimistically named Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA). Given that there will not be a new assembly election till 2021, the new president may have some difficulties governing. While no president has had his party in a majority in the assembly since the 1980s (before the settlement of the civil war), all presidents since the mid-1990s have come from either the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) or the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Thus El Salvador may be entering a new political era.

It might be misleading to call the expected winner an “outsider”, as Reuters did. Not only is Nayib Bukele the candidate of one of the existing (smaller) parties, but also he is the mayor of San Salvador, which would be considered the second most powerful and visible elected post in the country. He was originally elected mayor as the FMLN candidate, but was expelled from the party. He joined GANA to bolster his presidential ambitions. So some degree of “outsiderness”, perhaps, but it is not as if he’s not held important office before or is running on his own campaign vehicle apart from the party system. (The Wikipedia article says he tried to register a new party but was barred from doing so.)

So what about GANA, the likely next president’s adopted party? The most recent assembly election was in 2018, and GANA won only 10 of the 84 seats, although its 11.5% of the vote was its highest to date. GANA resulted from a split from the ARENA, which occurred after the FMLN won the presidency for the first time in 2009. It remains an essentially right-wing party, and I wish I knew more about the policymaking process under two FMLN presidencies to know what sorts of policy compromises the formerly radical-guerrilla left and a right-wing splinter made. Whatever their alliance might look like in substantive terms, it was strong enough politically that GANA did not even put up a presidential candidate in 2014.

In the 2018 election, the parties of the ruling alliance (FMLN and GANA) lost seats, as is entirely predictable from a late-term election. Thus President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has spent the past year of his term in quite a lame-duck situation, with his own party having only 21.4% of the seats and the erstwhile ally with another 11.9%. I say “erstwhile” because, while I do no know what, if any, legislative alliances the president has been working with in the last year, it is evident that GANA and the FMLN have split up their alliance: the latter party has its own candidate in today’s presidential election. (There are four candidates, including one for an alliance of ARENA and the Christian Democrats and the really old ruling party, PCN.)

A problem with an electoral cycle like the one El Salvador uses is that it allows some presidents a honeymoon election, while others do not get an assembly election till near or after the middle of their term. As we know, honeymoon elections tend to give a large boost to the party or alliance supporting a just-elected president (see France 2017 for an absolutely classic case study). Bukele will have to figure out how to govern with an assembly in which his own party has only 10 of 84 seats until the next assembly election, in 2021. And that date is 40% into his term, meaning the normal working of electoral cycles will not likely benefit him much.

I have been fascinated by El Salvador’s unusual electoral cycle for a long time, and it just keeps on delivering. However, were they to ask, I’d tell them to amend their constitution and make elections concurrent.

One thing is for sure, the Salvadoran party system, which I have long characterized as rigid, is no more–a fact already foreshadowed by the 2018 assembly result, as I noted at the time.

The gaming of Mexico’s PR disparity cap

One distinctive feature of Mexico’s 500-seat Chamber of Deputies’ mixed-member majoritarian system – under which 300 members are chosen by plurality voting in as many congressional districts, while the remaining 200 seats are filled by party-list proportional representation (initially determined on a nationwide basis) – is a provision which caps party representation at a maximum of eight percentage points above its national proportion of votes cast for parties entitled to participate in the distribution of PR mandates (in addition, no party may have a total number of Chamber seats in excess of 300 mandates). However, in recent years some parties running in electoral coalitions have successfully gamed the system to circumvent the limits imposed by this provision, effectively diluting its intended compensatory effects.

The eight percent disparity cap is implemented by determining the maximum number of Chamber seats each party may obtain; if a party exceeds this amount, its PR seat allocation is reduced so that its total number of plurality and list seats is equal to the capped seat total. For example, in the 1997 legislative election – generally regarded as Mexico’s first truly free and fair vote – the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won 38% of the total vote and 39.98% of the “effective national vote” (“votación nacional efectiva” in Spanish), that is the total number of votes cast for parties entitled to take part in the allocation of PR seats. Therefore, PRI could obtain at most 47.98% (39.98% plus 8%) of the Chamber’s 500 seats, or 239 seats, disregarding fractions. Since PRI had won 165 of 300 plurality mandates in the election, and had been initially assigned 80 PR seats, for a total of 245 seats – six above the capped total – the party’s list mandates were reduced to 74 seats (239 minus 165); the remaining 126 PR mandates were then distributed among the other four qualifying parties.

Prior to 2008, Mexican voters could choose either a party running alone or a coalition, but not a specific party running within a coalition. Therefore, coalitions were treated as parties when it came to allocating Chamber seats and determining the eight percent cap. However, a 2008 electoral reform allowed voters to choose parties running as part of a coalition, and at the same time limited coalitions to plurality elections only. Since then, the distribution of Chamber PR seats has been carried out entirely on an individual party basis, even though coalitions have often continued to determine the outcome of plurality races; most importantly, the allocation of plurality seats among coalition partners has been determined on the basis of officially registered coalition agreements (“convenios de coalición” in Spanish). In due course, larger parties running in coalition with smaller allies discovered they could game the cited provision by assigning plurality seats in the coalition agreement to their junior partners, while these in turn nominated candidates who were actually members of the larger party. In this manner, the larger party artificially reduced its total number of seats, thus making it less likely that it would hit the eight percent cap during the allocation of PR list mandates.

Before 2018, PRI and its ally the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) gamed the system in the manner described, but the scope of their scheme was comparatively limited, not least because PVEM didn’t have a particularly large number of Chamber plurality seats to begin with. Moreover, in 2015 Mexico’s Federal Judiciary Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) ruled that parties could nominate candidates from a different political party, provided the parties had a coalition agreement. On the other hand, the stratagem pursued in 2018 by the “Juntos Haremos Historia” (JHH; “Together We’ll Make History”) coalition of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Workers’ Party (PT) and the Social Encounter Party (PES) was anything but limited. For the Chamber of Deputies, the three parties ran together in 292 of Mexico’s 300 congressional districts, but in the coalition agreement 142 nominations were assigned to MORENA, and 75 each to PT and PES.

To be certain, it is not unusual for smaller parties like PT and PES to have a disproportionate share of single-member nominations in mixed-member majoritarian systems which allow party coalitions: in a nutshell, larger parties often bow to smaller parties’ demands, outrageous as they may be, if that is what it takes to avoid the risk of losing elections. That said, giving away half the Chamber’s single-member seat nominations to a couple of very small parties came across as both extreme and highly suspicious, all the more so considering that for the Mexican Senate plurality races, JHH nominated 49 candidates from MORENA, but only eight from PES and five from PT. However, unlike in the Chamber of Deputies, there is no eight percent cap in place for the distribution of Senate PR seats, and therefore MORENA gained nothing from giving away upper house plurality nominations to its much smaller allies.

JHH went on to score a landslide victory in the general election last July, securing an absolute majority for its presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (better known by his initials AMLO), as well as a sizable plurality in the legislative election. In the Chamber of Deputies, final results show JHH won 220 of 300 plurality seats (including eight mandates won by MORENA running alone), with the following results for its constituent parties:

Party % (Votes) Seats % (Seats)
MORENA 37.2 106 35.3
PT 3.9 58 19.3
PES 2.4 56 18.7
JHH Total 43.5 220 73.3

The sole beneficiaries of the victorious coalition’s over-representation in the plurality component were PT and PES, as MORENA ended up slightly under-represented. Again, while it is not unusual for smaller parties within larger coalitions in mixed-member majoritarian systems to have a share of seats in excess of their percentage of the vote (even without considering the PR component), this was nonetheless a truly extreme outcome. By comparison, the Senate election had a more typical plurality outcome, as shown below:

Party % (Votes) Seats % (Seats)
MORENA 37.4 42 43.8
PT 3.8 5 5.2
PES 2.3 8 8.3
JHH Total 43.6 55 57.3

(JHH’s smaller majority of upper house plurality seats was due to the fact that unlike in the Chamber of Deputies, Senate plurality mandates are allocated on the basis of two seats for the winning ticket and one for the first runner-up in each one of Mexico’s thirty-two federal entities).

For the distribution of Chamber PR seats, MORENA received 41.34% of the effective vote, so it could have no more than 49.34% of the 500 Chamber seats, which translated to 246 seats. However, after the initial allocation of PR mandates MORENA had a total of 188 seats (106 plurality and 82 list), well below its corresponding maximum seat total. On the other hand, PT, with 4.36% of the effective vote, would have been entitled to nine list seats, but unexpectedly exceeded its 12.36% cap, or 61 seats due to the party’s large number of plurality victories; PES fell below the three percent valid vote minimum required to take part in the distribution of PR seats. Consequently, PT’s list seat total was reduced to three mandates, and the remaining 197 PR seats were distributed among the other six qualifying parties. In all, JHH won 308 of 500 Chamber seats, as detailed below:

Party FPTP PR Total % (Total)
MORENA 106 85 191 38.2
PT 58 3 61 12.2
PES 56 0 56 11.2
JHH Total 220 88 308 61.6

Mexico’s National Electoral Institute’s General Council Agreement INE/CG1181/2018 [PDF] details the official distribution of Chamber of Deputies PR list mandates in Mexico’s 2018 federal election, while Federal Elections in Mexico has nationwide- and federal entity-level results of elections in Mexico since 1997.

Although the eight percent cap deprived PT of just six seats, this left several of its leaders without a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, and the party went to court to have the result overturned. To that end, PT actually admitted some of its successful plurality candidates weren’t really party members after all, and sought a judicial review of JHH’s officially registered coalition agreement. However, the court rejected what it correctly perceived as a transparent attempt by PT to re-structure the previously agreed distribution of Chamber plurality nominations, in order to bypass the eight percent cap and increase its number of list mandates. In essence, TEPJF ruled JHH’s coalition agreement was a done deal which could no longer be altered after the election had been carried out with the agreement in place, and for good measure reaffirmed its earlier 2015 ruling that parties could nominate candidates from a different political party, provided the parties had a coalition agreement.

Just as important, TEPJF ruled that under the prevailing legal and constitutional arrangements, it was not possible to consider JHH’s coalition performance as if it were a single party for the purposes of determining over-representation, as it would run counter to the requirement such determination must be carried out on an individual party basis. Had Chamber seats been allocated among coalitions (and had all three major coalitions been in place in every congressional district, as was the case with the presidential election), JHH’s seat total would have been limited to 269 mandates – a significantly reduced yet nonetheless substantial majority.

TEPJF also confirmed that PT exceeded the eight percent cap by six seats (because 12.36% of 500 seats equals 61.8 seats, it was argued the party went above the cap by 5.2 seats (67 minus 61.8), which should have rounded down to five seats; however, this argument was rejected on the grounds that with 62 seats of 500 – 12.4% of the total – PT would have had a disparity gap of 8.04%, a figure just above the eight percent maximum).  The court ruled as well that JHH’s plurality victories could not be assigned to MORENA on account of the fact that the party contributed the vast majority of votes to that end.

(MORENA outpolled both PT and PES in every congressional district, and even if the party had run alone it would have secured a large majority of plurality seats, while PT and PES would have won none. However, in such hypothetical scenarios – which assume an identical distribution of votes among the parties contesting the 2018 federal election – MORENA’s Chamber of Deputies seat total would have been limited to 246 mandates by the eight percent cap, while PT would have received no more than 13 list mandates and PES would have had no seats, leaving MORENA and PT with a relatively slender joint majority in the Chamber.)

Nevertheless, TEPJF’s rulings on some of these controversies were not unanimous. Judge Felipe de la Mata Pizaña wrote a concurring opinion calling for the current implementation of the eight percent cap provision to be reconsidered for future elections, while Judge Reyes Rodríguez Mondragón issued an extensive dissenting opinion, in which he argued that the actual party affiliation of plurality winners should be taken into account for determining the eight percent cap during the distribution of PR seats. Notably, the dissent cites a number of political science scholarly sources, including both the Spanish-language edition of “Presidents and the Party System” (edited by S. Mainwaring and M.S. Shugart) and “Seats and Votes” by R. Taagepera and M.S. Shugart, even carrying out the calculations to determine the effective number of parties index for Mexico.

(For further information, please refer to TEPJF’s rulings on SUP-JDC-0429-2018; SUP-JDC-0438-2018SUP-JDC-0444-2018SUP-REC-0934-2018; and SUP-REC-0943-2018 [PDF].)

However, beyond the practical difficulties entailed by implementing this approach, it is not clear that it would have resulted in a significantly different distribution of seats. After Mexico’s newly elected legislators were sworn in just over three months ago, a large number of JHH’s 220 plurality deputies ostensibly elected as members of PT or PES joined MORENA’s parliamentary group, as shown below:

Party Elected Group Gain/Loss
MORENA 106 162 +56
PT 58 28 -30
PES 56 30 -26

Had the eight percent cap been calculated on the basis of parliamentary group affiliation figures, the initial distribution of PR list seats, which as previously noted granted nine mandates to PT and 82 to MORENA would have been definitive, as neither party would have reached its eight percent-capped seat total. Moreover – and quite ironically – JHH would have obtained an even larger Chamber majority of 311 seats (of which 244 seats would have gone to MORENA, 37 to PT and 30 to PES).

In conclusion, while PT and PES contributed very little in terms of votes to JHH’s sweeping victory in the 2018 federal election, the gaming of the eight percent disparity cap through the assignment of a disproportionately large number of plurality nominations to these parties allowed the coalition to obtain a much larger majority in the Chamber of Deputies than it could have otherwise attained. Even so, the triumphant coalition parties overplayed their hand, and the stratagem backfired on PT; this in turn led to a public disclosure of the scheme’s existence (already highly suspected, not least because it was largely absent in the Senate election, which has no disparity cap provisions), as part of an unsuccessful effort to have the unexpected adverse outcome reversed in court.

Even though a majority of Mexico’s Federal Judiciary Electoral Tribunal justices have reaffirmed the validity of electoral provisions which allow outcomes like these, it seems an obvious flaw in the design of the system that parties can run in alliances, but the caps on over-representation are calculated at the individual party level, as pointed out by Dr. Matthew Shugart himself on this blog shortly after the 2018 federal election took place. Moreover, the gaming of the eight percent disparity cap in the 2018 federal election effectively altered the nature of the Chamber of Deputies electoral system, causing it to function almost like a parallel system, in which the outcome of plurality races had very little impact in the distribution of party list seats. That may not appear to be cause for excessive concern in the here and now, given that JHH would have in all likelihood secured a majority of Chamber seats even if the coalition hadn’t gamed the eight percent disparity cap, but the issue could have wider ramifications with unpredictable consequences in the years to come. 

California statewide election vote totals

All of the offices elected statewide in California now have only two candidates in the November election, due to the “top two” runoff system. However, because the first round is no longer a primary in which various parties can pick nominees for the November ballot, the contests can feature two candidates of the same party or one or more independents instead of candidates of one or the other major party. (This is also true of district contests like US House and state legislative seats.)

Thus I thought I would exploit these features–constant number of candidates, but variable affiliations–to probe how a party’s failure to place a candidate in the top two affects voting. I am not claiming any causality or doing any subtle analysis here. Just blunt comparisons of statewide totals, which are suggestive.

Two contests, including Lt. Governor and US Senator, featured two Democrats. One featured a Democrat and a non-party candidate. One contest features two non-party candidates, because the state constitution mandates that the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) is a non-partisan post. (This is the one office that could be decided in the June first round; it is a straightforward majority-runoff system.)

The bottom data row averages the Democratic and Republican votes across the five races that were Democrat vs. Republican. The right-most data column indicates how the votes cast compare to the governor’s race: a ratio of the vote total in a given race over votes cast for governor. Not surprisingly, governor drew the highest total.

We can see that the average Democrat won just over 5.1 million votes and the average Republican 3.1 million, in contests that had one and only one candidate of each of these two parties. Moreover, all the contests that were D:R straight fights had roughly 98% of the votes of the governor’s race.

On the other hand, if there were two Democrats, the total was under 90% of the governor total (83% for the Lt.Gov and 88.5% for the US Senate). This obviously is partly because many Republican-leaning voters simply skipped the intra-party Democratic contest. (The SPI race, where I believe both candidates were actually Democrats, has a similar ratio.) Nonetheless, that is not the entire story, as the total for the two Democrats in both these races is a lot more than the average single Democrat, at the same time as the leading Democrat did considerably worse than the average single Democrat. In other words, at the same time as Democrats split their own votes across their two candidates, clearly the candidates also picked up some Republican votes. This would be really interesting to investigate on a more granular basis.

Finally, the Insurance Commissioner race is notable. The “no party” candidate in the race is actually a Republican. In fact, he served under that party affiliation in the office before. But candidates choose, before the June first round, what party “preference” to indicate on the ballot (from the approved list), or whether to indicate no party preference. In this contest, the Democrat got far below the average for his party. It could be that there are Democratic-leaning voters who remember Poizner and think he did a good job, although he left the office in 2011, so I have some doubts. Alternatively, it could be that not running under the party label is a good strategy for a Republican in this state. He did not win, but he did get 49.0% of the votes, running around half a million votes ahead of the Republican gubernatorial candidate and around 700k ahead of the average Republican on the statewide ballot. Maybe other candidates of the weaker party in the race will hide their party label in the future, given the current electoral system makes it possible to be one of the top two without a stated party preference.

California Prop. 7: NO!!!!

One of the odder measures on the California ballot in some time (which is indeed saying something) is this year’s Proposition 7. It is a vote to confirm a bill passed by the state legislature earlier in 2018; because it repeals provisions of an earlier initiative (from 1949), it requires voter approval.

Some of the measure is technical “clean up”–for instance, the act on the books currently gives the dates of Daylight Savings Time (DST) as distinct from what is being done in practice, in conformity with federal law. For instance,

The [1949] act also requires, from 1 a.m. on the last Sunday of April, until 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October, the standard time within the state to be one hour in advance of United States Standard Pacific Time. […]

The bill [Prop. 7] would require the advancement of this time by one hour during the daylight saving time period commencing at 2 a.m. on the 2nd Sunday of March of each year and ending at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of November of.each year…

The March-November application of DST is what we are actually doing, as mandated by federal law (aside from Arizona and other states or portions thereof that do not use DST at all).

But then comes the part to which I strenuously object. Prop. 7:

(c) Notwithstanding subdivision(b) [concerning the current DST period], the Legislature may amend this section by a two-thirds vote to change the dates and times ofthe daylight saving time period, consistent with federal law, and, if federal law authorizes the state to provide for the year-round application of daylight saving time, the Legislature may amend this section by a two-thirds vote to provide for that application.

In other words, the objective of the sponsors of this measure is to change California, way out here on the Pacific Coast, to the equivalent of Mountain Standard Time year round. We would be on the same time zone in the winter months as Colorado and western South Dakota. It does not make a lot of sense.

For example, under the shift to so-called DST, in early January San Francisco would be looking at sunrise times of 8:25 a.m. That’s awfully late to see daylight; that’s a lot people with typical morning job or school start times out on the road in what will be only very low light at at time when most normal people’s body clocks are still barely out of sleep mode. I struggle to figure out why this is a good idea. (For the record, in Rapid City, SD, near the far eastern edge of the Mountain time zone, and much farther north, sunrise is at 7:27 MST in early January. The time zones do have some logic to them, as currently set up!)

I am old enough to remember when we were going to do DST for a full year nationwide for alleged energy savings in the 1970s. It was considered such a bad experiment that it was suspended, and we went back to standard time, well before the planned end. (Those were the days, when Congress could act quickly on a national issue.)

Really, we should go back to what it says in the original 1949 California act, which was six months on DST (more accurately “summer time”), six months off. That makes too much sense! If we have to get rid of time changes, which apparently bother some people and have some negative impacts, then stick to Pacific Standard Time all year. But this proposal to, in effect, move the state to the Mountain Standard Time zone all year is just DUMB. Please, Californians reading this, vote NO on 7!

Brazil’s open list is (a little bit of) a hybrid now

Brazil is a classic case of open-list proportional representation (OLPR): lists win seats in proportion to their collective votes in a district (state), but candidates within the list are ordered solely according to preference votes obtained as individuals. These rules can result in individual candidates elected with very small preference-vote totals.

For the most recent Brazilian election, a new provision has gone into force. There is now a threshold on preference votes that candidates must obtain to be elected. This means that, in a very technical sense, a hybrid element has been brought into the Brazilian system. However, the provision is not the usual hybrid seen in “preferential list” systems, whereby seats not filled on preference votes are filled instead according to a party’s (or coalition’s) pre-determined rank. That hybrid format is what is typically called a flexible list or a semi-open list. However, Brazilian lists remain unranked, except via the preference votes.

Rather, in Brazil, a list that has an insufficient number of candidates with above-threshold preference votes forfeits those seats to other lists in the district. The threshold is set at 10% of the electoral quota, which is a Hare quota (1/M, where M is district magnitude).

This provision changed the allocation of 8 seats. Given a Chamber of Deputies with over 500 seats, we should not exaggerate the significance of the change, although of course, some other parties might have adjusted either their nomination behavior or their “intra-party vote management” practices (defined below) to avoid being hit by the threshold.

The Chamber’s website has an article regarding the seat shifts, and a table with the details (in Portuguese). The PSL, which is the party of the likely next president, Jairo Bolsonaro, won 7 fewer seats than it would have without the threshold. All these seats were in São Paulo, which is the highest-magnitude district in Brazil (M=70). The threshold there is thus 0.143% of the votes cast in the state. The Novo list in Rio Grande do Sul (M=31) also lost 1 seat due to the intra-list threshold. (Novo, meaning “New”, is a small liberal party.)

In São Paulo, the seven PSL candidates who were not eligible to take seats the list otherwise would have won had vote totals ranging from 19,731 to 25,908. They were replaced by candidates on six different lists with preference votes ranging from 56,033 to 92,257, suggesting the replacements had, on average, about three times the votes of the forfeiting candidates. (The party that picked up two of these seats was the Democrats.) In Rio Grande do Sul, the seat Novo forfeited would have been won by a candidate with 11,003 votes, but was instead filled by a candidate the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB, not to be confused with the PT of Lula) who had 69,904 votes, a preference-vote total 6.35 times greater than that of the forfeiting candidate.

As is clear from the vote totals of those who lost under this provision and those who gained, if the intention was to prevent candidates with marginal personal followings from riding in on the “coattails” of strong list-pullers (whose popularity increases the votes of the collective list), then the reformers can declare “mission accomplished”.

I am personally quite excited by this provision, which I had missed when summarizing minor changes made to the electoral law in 2017, because I once wrote up a proposal for just such a hybrid. It is in some text that was going to be part of one of the chapters in Votes from Seats, but Rein Taagepera and I decided it was not directly germane to the book and left it out. The chapter it would have been part of compares OLPR to the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) with respect to vote shares of first and last winners, and regarding the extent to which parties do (or do not) manage their intra-party competition.

Managing intra-party competition refers to parties doing one or both of: (1) restricting the number of candidates nominated, or (2) intervening in the campaign in an effort to shift votes from non-viable candidates to viable ones.

Under SNTV, these intra-party competition-management practices are critical because the total number of seats a party (or set of cooperating parties) can elect is entirely dependent on how many individual candidates it has whose votes are in the top-M vote totals in the district. Under OLPR, parties have no incentive to do this, if their goal is simply to maximize list seats–a list under OLPR can never displace seats to another list due to having “too many” candidates or having the candidates’ vote totals be widely unequal. (Parties may have other reasons to care about which candidates win, and multiple parties running in alliance face an SNTV-like conundrum in that they are competing with one another inside the list to get their candidates into the top s, where s is the number of seats won by the list. But these are separate problems, and the latter is a problem covered in Votes from Seats).

The proposal I drafted was a hybrid of OLPR and SNTV (unlike flexible lists, which are a hybrid of OLPR and closed-list PR). A threshold would be set on preference votes, and if a list won more seats, via application of the inter-list allocation rule, than it had candidates over the threshold, it would forfeit these seats. Any such forfeited seats would go into an “SNTV pool” to be be won by the otherwise unelected candidates with the highest preference-vote totals, independent of which list they had run on. My intention in devising this proposal was to encourage parties to be more active in managing their intra-party competition–taking some aspects of SNTV as beneficial–in order to make victory by candidates with marginal personal popularity less likely. (I would have set the threshold a little higher than 10% of a Hare quota.)

The article on the Chamber website is not clear on the precise rule now used in Brazil for deciding on the replacement candidates. In any case, it certainly has a similar effect to my proposal. (From a comment by Manuel at the earlier thread, it seems the forfeited seats are assigned proportionally rather than SNTV-like.) I can’t claim credit, as there is no way any Brazilian official saw my unpublished proposal. But I am pleased that some such a provision has been adopted somewhere.

Thanks to Dr. Kristin Wylie (on Twitter) for calling my attention to this article.

Brazil, 2018

Brazil has voted today in presidential, congressional, and state elections (governors and assemblies). The far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has obtained 46.8% of the presidential vote. The runner-up, Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party (PT), is on 28.3%. Given that the leading candidate did not win a majority, there must be a runoff. However, as we know, it is very rare for a first-round candidate with over 45% of the votes to lose the second round, and less likely still when the opponent is so far back.

As results come in for Chamber of Deputies, Senate, and state contests, I hope readers will add detail in the comments.

And if anyone has serious basis for hope that Bolsonaro can be defeated in the runoff, please tell. Because the idea of his being President of Brazil is just too depressing to contemplate. Then again, it seems to be both the hemisphere and the era of too-depressing-to-contemplate presidents.

Mexico, 2018

Mexico has its elections for President, Chamber of Deputies, and Senate on 1 July. It has been clear for a while that, barring a big surprise, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as AMLO) will win.

AMLO’s support has risen steadily out of what looked like a tight three-way contest some months ago into a strong lead. When voters responding “no preference” are removed, it even looks likely that AMLO could win a clear majority of votes. Mexico elects its presidency via nationwide plurality, and no Mexican president has earned half the votes since 1994 (at a time when most experts still considered the regime authoritarian, albeit increasingly competitive).

Assuming AMLO wins, it will highlight the competitive three-party nature of the system. When the center-right National Action Party (PAN) won the presidency in 2000, it broke decades of continuous control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PAN won again in 2006, on less than 37% of the votes in a very tight race, with AMLO close behind (and refusing to acknowledge defeat). The PRI returned to the presidency in 2012, and now AMLO will give the left its chance. (AMLO was with the Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD, but in recent years has set up a new party, MORENA, while the remnant PRD is backing the PAN candidate this time.)

I would be very interested in seeing an analysis of AMLO’s own manifesto (and his party’s, if separate). There is much hand-wringing over his leftist “populism”. However, when he ran in 2006, he staked out a centrist economic platform well to the right of his own party–a clear case of what “presidentialization” does to parties. (See the discussion of the general point, and also the 2006 Mexican campaign, in my book with David Samuels, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers). Is he doing so this time? I can’t claim to have followed closely enough to know.

As for the Chamber of Deputies, if the pattern of recent Mexican elections holds, the party winning the presidency will win fewer votes for its congressional candidates. That could mean MORENA (and pre-election allies) will not have a majority of seats. On the other hand, as noted above, these previous presidents have not themselves won majorities. Moreover, the electoral system is mixed-member (with the voter having a single vote). It is sometimes erroneously categorized as mixed-member proportional (MMP), but it is actually leans much more to the majoritarian category (MMM). Seats won based on nationwide votes for party are added to single-seat districts won (by plurality).

The allocation is not compensatory, but it is also not strictly parallel. There are caps on allowable over-representation (unlike in a “pure” MMM system). The most important cap is that no party can have a final seat percentage that is more than eight percentage points above its vote percentage. Thus if a party wins under 42% of the votes, it is unable to have a majority of seats. If it gets over 42% it is not guaranteed a majority, but a majority becomes likely, due to the non-compensatory nature of the allocation. This cap kept the PRI from retaining its majority in the midterm election of 1997, and I believe it has been hit in several subsequent elections, as well. This is what I will be watching most closely: Will MORENA (and allies) get a Deputies majority?

The Senate is also elected in a mix of regional and nationwide seats. Each state has three senators, elected by closed list, limited-nominations plurality. The largest list gets two seats and the runner up gets one. Then there are 32 seats elected by nationwide proportional representation (allocated in parallel, not compensatory manner).

These provisions, combined with the regionalization of party support in Mexico, make it difficult for a party (or alliance) to win a majority of the Senate’s 128 seats. AMLO is unlikely to have majorities in both houses, but it is worth noting that the federal budget must clear only the Chamber. There is no Senate veto on the spending side of the budget, although both houses must pass all other types of bills. Thus the left will be in a strong, but not unchecked, position to implement its program for the first time in Mexican democratic history.

Costa Rica runoff, 2018: Alvarado (the better one) wins

In Costa Rica’s runoff, Carlos Alvarado beat Fabricio Alvarado. That is a relief. Fabricio ran his campaign mostly around stifling gay rights, and polling had the race very close. In fact, most polls had FA ahead (see the poll summaries at Wikipedia). However, at 60.6% to 39.3% for CA, it was not close at all.

This runoff followed an extraordinarily fragmented first round, in which four candidates had votes between 15% and 25%. FA led the first round, with 24.99% to CA’s 21.63%. The candidates of the two older parties (PLN and Social Christian Unity) came in third and fourth.

Costa Rica’s rules since the current regime was founded in 1949 have required a runoff among the top two candidates if the leader did not clear 40% of the vote in the first round. Because of the country’s historic two-party system (with some additional trailing parties), a runoff was never required until 2002. The party system has changed dramatically in recent cycles. A runoff was narrowly averted in 2006 (winner with 40.9%), and was next required in 2014 (leader with 30.6%, and runner-up with 29.7%, although the runoff contender, from the PLN, quit the race), and now in 2018.

Carlos Alvarado was nominated by the party of the incumbent president (Luís Guillermo Solís), the Citizens’ Action Party. This party has established itself as a major party in that it has passed the test of electing not one, but now two, different presidential nominees. Moreover, it has finished ahead of both of the old parties in two consecutive first rounds and ahead of at least one of them in four straight elections.

The runner-up candidate’s party, on the other hand, is a newer one. The National Restoration Party was contesting only its second presidential election (though it won congressional seats in 2006), and in 2014 its candidate managed under 1.4% of the vote.

The now more fragmented political scene raises the obvious question of how President-elect Carlos Alvarado will be able to govern. The Costa Rican presidency is one of the weaker ones among pure presidential democracies, and as the congress was elected concurrently with the first round, reflects that round’s fragmentation.

The president-elect’s party, Citizens’ Action, has only the third highest seat total in the Legislative Assembly. It won 16.3% of votes and 10 of the 57 seats (17.5%). The leading party will be the old PLN, which won 19.5% of the votes (compared to 18.6% for its presidential candidate) and 17 seats (29.9%). The National Restoration Party finished second (as it did in the presidential first round) with just over 18% of the votes and 14 of the 57 seats (24.6%).  The Social Christian Unity Party won 14.6% and 9 seats. No other party has more than 4 seats, and the total number of parties represented is seven.

Notably, even if he strikes a deal with the PLN, the president will not have quite enough to control the assembly: such a coalition would be two seats short.

The Libertarian Movement–one of the few relatively well established parties anywhere of this family–slipped well back. It will be without seats for the first time since before 1998. (The party won 9 seats in 2010, when its presidential candidate finished third with 20.8% of the vote.)

The election results will pose a governing challenge, but at least the requirement for a second round has led to the better Alvarado being elected.

Emerging signs of clarity in Colombian presidential contest?

Colombia Report notes that the leading center-right candidate for the presidency, Ivan Duque, has surged dramatically, according to a recent poll. The main candidate of the left, Gustavo Petro, also has surged, albeit less dramatically.

The article indicates that:

The poll was the first since legislative elections that were held on March 11.

As I noted before those elections, that is what counter-honeymoon congressional elections do: clarify the field. It’s also why they tend to be so highly fragmented, with parties associated with many potential presidential candidates running to show their strength in advance of the actual presidential contest.

The surges by Duque and Petro come on the heels of their victories in presidential nominating primaries held at the same time as the congressional elections.

The Colombian presidential election is held in two rounds if (as is expected to be the case) no one wins over half the votes in the first round. If this poll is capturing a trend, rather than an outlier, there may not be much drama in who the top two will be, but the runoff campaign would be critical to consolidating support from the many also-rans. The poll in question has Duque at 40%, and runner-up Petro at only 24%. The third candidate, Sergio Fajardo, is way back, under 10%.

It is possible that the surges of Duque and Petro are temporary boosts from the primaries, and that the one or two of the other candidates–who did not run in primaries–will recover. On the other hand, it is just as possible that running in (and winning!) a primary is a smashingly good way to advertise your presidential campaign.