Chile’s constitutional referendum

It seems Chile’s voters are quite decisively rejecting the proposed new constitution. Turnout was high.

Such a result would be quite an indictment of the entire process. Others may know better than I would, but I would imagine it is unusual in a democracy for a constitutional-replacement project to result in failure at its final stage. The constituent assembly evidently did a poor job at looking down the game tree and discerning what the public would accept.

In an earlier thread, there has been a discussion ongoing about the constitution, and a link to the draft (both Spanish and English).

At-Large Legislative Contests in the 2020 Puerto Rico General Election

While most seats in both houses of the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico are chosen by plurality (single-seat districts in the House, two-seat districts in the Senate), there are 11 seats in each body – out of a total of 27 in the Senate and 51 in the House of Representatives – that are filled on an at-large basis, by Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV). The 2020 election in the U.S. Commonwealth was notable not only for the fact that candidates from five parties secured at-large representation (along with a sitting independent senator), but also for the unexpectedly poor showing of the largest opposition party, the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PPD) in the at-large legislative races.

To be certain, the outcome of the election was nothing short of a political earthquake, with both the ruling, pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) and PPD polling their worst results ever: 33.24% and 31.75% of the valid votes for governor, for a combined share of 64.99%. Meanwhile, the island’s perennial third party, the left-wing Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) shot up from 2.13% in 2016 to 13.58%, but the new Citizens’ Victory Movement (MVC) – ideologically diverse but broadly left-liberal – outdid PIP with 13.95%. Another new party, the Christian-conservative Project Dignity (PD) won 6.80%.

Despite their respective setbacks, the two major parties continued to monopolize between themselves all legislative district seats (MVC narrowly lost a House race in San Juan to PNP), with PPD securing a majority of these in both houses despite polling fewer votes than PNP, due to latter’s concentration of votes in the San Juan metropolitan area. So why did PPD fail to do as well in the at-large legislative races? The answer lies in the workings of the at-large representation system in Puerto Rico, known in Spanish as representación por acumulación.

Specifically, since politics in Puerto Rico evolved into a two-party system in 1968, following 28 years of PPD dominance, the two major parties have nominated six at-large candidates each for both the Senate and the House of Representatives in every election (from 1952 to 1968 PPD nominated seven at-large candidates to each legislative body). In order to guarantee each candidate has an equal chance of being elected, parties vary the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot in each of the island’s electoral districts – precintos in Spanish – 110 in total since 2012 (to be increased to 114 in 2024); parties assign candidates a set of electoral districts known as a legislative bloc – bloque legislativo in Spanish – in which they are placed at the top of their respective party lists, and as such automatically receive straight votes cast for their party, which have constituted the majority of ballots in every election; party ticket votes with votes cast for other at-large candidates from the same party are considered split votes. (See sample ballot.)

From 1972 to 2012, PNP and PPD elected four to six at-large candidates each in both the Senate and the House. Nonetheless, over the years an increasing number of voters cast either split ballots or bypassed party tickets altogether and voted for candidates only – in Spanish voto por candidatura – and PIP, which nominated single at-large candidates for each body from 1984 onward, was able to tap into that vote to secure seats for its at-large candidates in nearly every election during that period (the party won no at-large seats in 2008 and only a Senate at-large mandate in 2012). Even so, as recently as the 2012 election 81.27% of valid legislative ballots were straight votes, and the overall impact of split/candidacy votes was comparatively limited.

However, in 2016 split/candidacy voting soared from 18.73% to 35.62% of the legislative ballot valid vote, and the main beneficiary was José Vargas-Vidot, who became Puerto Rico’s first-ever independent candidate to win a legislative seat, securing a Senate at-large mandate and topping the poll as well. In fact, his vote total was made up entirely of split/candidacy ballots, since no provision is made to cast a straight vote for an independent candidate, and his victory reduced PPD to three at-large Senate seats (with PIP winning one and PNP the remaining six).

Although PNP returned to power in the 2016 election, the party polled its worst result up to that point in the gubernatorial election, and PPD its second-worst, with the major parties’ combined share of valid votes declining from 95.56% in 2012 to 80.67%. Meanwhile, independent candidate Alexandra Lúgaro won a respectable 11.13% of the vote, and went on to found MVC in 2019. By then, the marked decline of PPD in 2016, along with the emergence of Lúgaro’s new party and the success of the Vargas Vidot independent candidacy called into question the wisdom of nominating six at-large candidates in 2020, when five might have a better chance of securing election. To that end, a proposal was made to the party leadership, which however was rejected after a former but still highly influential party leader spoke against it, insisting that “too much was in play,” that nominating five at-large candidates instead of six could be perceived as an admission of weakness, and prevent the party from winning an overall majority in either or both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should note I collaborated in the proposal calling for the nomination of five PPD at-large candidates, and was present at the party leadership meeting in which it was discussed and turned down.)

As it was, MVC anticipated it would fare at least as well as Lúgaro did in her independent gubernatorial run in 2016, and nominated two at-large candidates for both legislative bodies, using Lúgaro’s 2016 vote as the basis for the corresponding legislative blocs. Meanwhile, PNP and PPD ran their usual six-candidate slates for both the Senate and the House, PIP and PD nominated single candidates for both houses, and Sen. Vargas-Vidot ran for re-election. However, although every MVC, PIP and PD at-large candidate as well as Sen. Vargas-Vidot was successful in the 2020 election, PNP only won four at-large seats in the Senate and five in the House, while PPD won just two at-large seats in both houses, as detailed in the following table (full results are available on my Elections in Puerto Rico website):

House Senate
Party % Seats % Seats
PNP 33.84 5 33.37 4
PPD 36.03 2 31.27 2
PIP 10.56 1 11.29 1
MVC 12.83 2 10.99 2
PD 6.73 1 7.33 1
Ind. 5.76 1

In both the Senate and House at-large races, the combined percentages obtained by all six PPD candidates – 31.27% in the Senate and 36.03% in the House suggested that while securing six of eleven seats might not have been a realistic goal, the party should have done better than winning just two seats (18.18%) in each case. However, an additional complication was that PPD candidates fared quite unevenly, although it should be noted these disparities weren’t due to the makeup of the PPD legislative blocs; instead, the large number of split/candidacy votes – which increased to 40.15% of all valid legislative ballots in 2020 – made the legislative bloc arrangements far less meaningful, as many voters backed candidates who weren’t assigned the top spot in their electoral districts. The uneven performance of PPD at-large candidates on account of split/candidacy votes was particularly evident in the House of Representatives, as shown in the following table:

Candidate Straight Split/Cand. Total
Héctor Ferrer 48,750 93,100 141,850
Jesús Manuel Ortiz-González 52,591 19,359 71,950
Enid Monge 52,031 6,474 58,505
Keyliz Méndez-Torres 48,416 8,827 57,243
Yaramary Torres 48,348 6,774 55,122
Gabriel López-Arrieta 45,817 4,838 50,655

In fact, Ferrer polled 73,213 votes outside his assigned legislative bloc – a figure which by itself exceeded the vote totals of the remaining five PPD House at-large candidates.

Among PPD Senate at-large candidates, the split/candidacy vote total disparities weren’t as marked, but even then the two winning candidates had the largest totals on that column:

Candidate Straight Split/Cand. Total
Juan Zaragoza-Gómez 52,591 21,218 73,809
José Luis Dalmau-Santiago 52,031 19,865 71,896
Aníbal José (Jossie) Torres 45,817 15,385 61,202
Brenda López-De-Arrarás 48,348 11,613 59,961
Ada Álvarez-Conde 48,750 8,470 57,220
Luis Vega-Ramos 48,416 6,234 54,650

Another factor at play is that many voters don’t understand the workings of SNTV, and for one reason or another cast their votes under the incorrect assumption they can vote for up to six candidates in each legislative body – as if it were a Multiple Non-Transferable Vote (MNTV) election – instead of only one. Ballot design might be at play, as at-large races are the only instance in which the number of nominations doesn’t go hand in hand with the maximum number of votes a voter may cast, but the fact is that both PNP and PPD actually use MNTV in their internal party primaries to choose at-large nominees, and many voters – sometimes including even seasoned political analysts – mistakenly assume that system is also in place for general elections, ballot instructions to the contrary notwithstanding.

The introduction in 2016 of vote counting machines providing detailed overvote and undervote statistics highlighted the confusion surrounding the way in which at-large legislators are chosen. Specifically, although overvoting in at-large legislative races, while somewhat reduced in 2020 (due to the efforts of how-to-vote campaigns from civic groups), is still significantly higher than in district races chosen by plurality voting, where it remains negligible (even though the vote counting machines are supposed to warn the voter about overvoting and undervoting). Besides overvoting, some PNP or PPD voters back third-party or independent at-large candidates under the assumption they are giving just one of six votes to such candidates, with the remaining five votes they think they have (but really don’t) going to the rest of their preferred party slate, when in fact they are giving their sole vote to a candidate outside their party.

Another issue in at-large legislative races is the so-called invasion of electoral districts, in which major party at-large candidates actively campaign for votes in electoral districts that don’t belong to their assigned legislative bloc, fully aware they are taking away votes from fellow party candidates. Suffice it to say this is a very sensitive matter, and there’s no information to confirm whether or not it took place in 2020.

It should also be noted that the 2020 general election in Puerto Rico was carried out under a new electoral law imposed unilaterally by PNP just months before the election, over the objections of opposition parties. One of the more controversial provisions of the law granted the ruling party near-absolute control of the Elections Commission, which had been run on a power-sharing basis among registered parties since a major reform in 1983 (following the disastrous 1980 election, in which the Elections Commission had been under PNP’s full control as well). While there were few issues with in-person polling, either election day or advanced, the tally of the bulk of advance/absentee votes in special polling station 77, mainly domicile and mail-in votes, accounting for about one-eight of all ballots, proved to be extremely problematic from the beginning, not least because its ten-fold expansion under the new electoral law overwhelmed the agency. To this day the exact number of voters requesting advance ballots in 2020 remains unknown, the results of polling station 77 are riddled with discrepancies – often quite significant – in every electoral district, and some believe the cited issues might have adversely affected PPD in the at-large contests. However, PNP leaders insist there is nothing wrong with the electoral law, and to date have resisted attempts to reform it ahead of the 2024 general election.

At any rate, the decision by PPD leaders to nominate six at-large candidates in 2020 for both houses proved to be a monumental blunder, which had the effect of exposing the very weakness that party leaders desperately wanted to conceal; in practical terms it resulted in a Senate in which no party had overall control of a legislative body for the first time since 1940; PPD won a plurality of Senate seats and an overall majority of one in the House.

But would PPD have been better off by nominating five at-large candidates instead of six? According to a Senate-only, post-election simulation I ran with five candidates, the answer is affirmative: at least four candidates, and possibly all five would have been elected. Even so, it’s by no means certain PPD will nominate in 2024 five at-large candidates instead of six, not least because many party leaders remain in denial about the major changes in voting trends that took place in 2016 and 2020, insisting they are nothing more than a transient phenomenon. That said, it’s worth remembering that in Spain it took several years for PP and (to a lesser degree) PSOE leaders to finally come to terms with a similar shift away from two-party dominance after 2015.

Finally, from time to time some PNP and PPD leaders have called for the elimination of at-large legislative seats, thus resulting in a Legislative Assembly elected in its entirety by plurality in districts. However, such calls appear to be motivated by a desire to get rid of independent and third-party legislators; that such a move could backfire in future elections in which either PNP or PPD, or both might no longer be major parties appears not to have been considered at all. And while leaders of both parties might scoff at such prospects in the here and now, they cannot be ruled out altogether in the long run, all the more so since as a result of their steady decline the two major parties appear to be increasingly dependent on the support of old voters, much like CDU/CSU and SPD in Germany’s 2021 Bundestag election. In fact, in the 2020 general election PNP and PPD won between themselves 87.71% of the advance/absentee vote in the gubernatorial race, 85% of which came from voters aged 60 or older; but among the younger election day voters they polled just 60.68% between themselves. All the same, doing away with the at-large legislative seats would require amending the Constitution of Puerto Rico, and for the time being it does not appear such an amendment – which would have to be approved by voters in a binding referendum – will be forthcoming.

California’s STUPID electoral system, 2022 first round edition

Yesterday was the “primary” that is NOT a primary in California. As I tried to warn the good voters of the great California Republic back in 2010, this “top two” system would be a bad idea. Yesterday offers some further examples of why it is indeed a STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

My favorite current example is state Senate District 4 (yeah, we do boring district names here).

Source: CATarget on Twitter.

Nearly 56% of this district’s voters voted for candidates branded on the ballot as Republican. Yet, because this is NOT A PRIMARY, but is just a top-two runoff system, the voters will choose in November from two Democrats, whose combined vote total is just 44%. Brilliant!

(For Democrats, it almost looks like a successful contest under two-seat single nontransferable vote (SNTV), with the party coordinating to equalize on two candidates, but I won’t give them that much credit. As for Republicans, well, they just punted away a win for the taking in a body where they regularly struggle to win even one third of the total seats.)

Statewide, we may have an intraparty runoff in one contest, the one for Insurance Commissioner. When the count was at 75% reporting, it looked like this:

Note the close race for the second runoff slot, between a second Democrat and a Republican. In this case, even though I will not waver from my conviction that this is a STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM, I will be happy with the result if Levine faces Lara in the runoff. In fact, Levine was one of the few candidates on this whole LONG ballot that I actually voted for. Lara is very expendable, due to being somewhat ethically challenged. In fact, it is certainly not impossible to imagine him losing in November, even to a Republican. Anyway, regardless of how I feel about the specific candidates, the notion that the so-called general election would be between two candidates of the same party is a bug not a feature. That it is for a statewide contest makes it even more so. (It would not be the first time; in fact, twice we’ve had US Senate contests on a November ballot that were between two Democrats.)

In a subsequent update, with “100% reporting” Howell has pulled ahead. However, 100% does not mean the count is finished. Far from it! There is probably still a decent chance Levine will pull back ahead for the second runoff slot. If Levine pulls back into second place, the Republicans will have shot themselves in the foot by their almost perfect vote-equalization “strategy.” If one of the Republicans finishes ahead of Lara, I am going to be mildly upset at Eugene and JJJ for splitting the anti-Lara Democratic vote. Ah, the hazard of SNTV-style competition for two slots in an eventual one-seat contest!

Speaking of US Senate contests in California, we got two of them this time! No, it is not that both seats are open (as was the case here in 1992, or more recently in Arizona and Georgia); both votes were for the same seat. The incumbent, Alex Padilla, was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to the vacated seat, and state law requires that there be a special election at the next scheduled election to fill the unexpired portion of the term. So we voted on that, as well as on the new six-year term starting in 2023.

The image on the right is the unexpired term term, and it is on the back of the page that has the full term (image on left). This is confusing! There are also many fewer candidates for the partial term than for the full term. We get 23 of them for the full term!

I am actually not sure whether the rule in the partial term is top-two runoff, or if a majority on this ballot will suffice. [Update: both are same top-two rules; I’ll keep the rest of this paragraph as it was.] It is used to be the case, even before top two was adopted for all formerly partisan elections, that special elections could be over in one round if one of the candidates–with all, regardless of one party, running against each other–won over half. I do not know if that applies here, or if the top two automatically go to a runoff, as in the full term election. If a majority suffices, you technically could have someone sworn in right away to serve only till early January. If the runoff is required anyway, then the person elected for the partial term would serve for only a few weeks. Of course, it is moot. The appointed incumbent is sure to win both contests anyway. But this is another of those poorly thought out provisions of California election law that could produce a strange result (not as bad as the recall/replacement process, about which see what I wrote last year, but bad enough).

Another thing I was watching for was to see just how well Newsom would do. At the moment, he is all the way down to 56.3%, although that percentage could well creep up again. Just last year, NO on the recall got 61.9%. In the 2018 November runoff against a Republican, he won 62.0%. So he may be slipping! Okay, not by much. Even though he will easily win a majority in this round, we get to vote on him yet again in November. What a great democracy–a majority gets to proclaim it wants its governor three times in just over a year!

(Side note: If you add the votes of a few other token self-identified Democrats running for governor to Newsom’s total, you get 58.4%.)

His opponent will be Brian Dahle, a not so well known very far-right and evidently anti-vax Republican from one of the state’s most rural districts, way up on the Oregon and Nevada borders; in fact, as far as most Californians are concerned, it might as well be Idaho. (He is interesting in that he serves in the state senate while his wife, Megan Dahle, serves in the state assembly, in the seat Brian formerly held. They are farmers, so I have kind of followed their careers.)

And then my ballot also included this contest.

That’s right, we have just two candidates. But, of course, this is a top two election, so they both have already qualified for the November ballot just by showing up! WHAT A STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

As you can guess from the candidates’ indicated occupations–why do we even let candidates list their occupation on the ballot?–and as you would know from the “Fruits” side of this blog, this is very much an agricultural district. Aguiar-Curry makes ag policy a key part of her legislative behavior (so I follow her career, too!). She has been a walnut grower for years. Walnuts are a major crop here, as are wine grapes, as well as almonds, tomatoes, corn, sunflower…. the list is long.

(Funny aside, B. Dahle derides Newsom as a “wine salesman” but here we have a Republican candidate who proudly lists “winemaker” as one of his occupations on the ballot. Wine is big business in this state!)

For this state assembly contest, I was tempted to vote for one now and the other in November. Just because. But instead I decided to vote for neither.

I have never left so many parts of a ballot blank. So many candidates (26 for Governor, 23 for the full term Senate seat), so few I cared enough to vote for. WHAT A STUPID ELECTORAL SYSTEM, and what a disappointing excuse for a democracy the California Republic has.

Disturbing runoff pairing for Colombia

In yesterday’s presidential election in Colombia, the top two candidates were from the extremes of the political spectrum. Leading the pack is Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla of the M-19 (which demobilized about thirty years ago and has been a political party, or component of various alliances, since). He won 40.3% of the vote. In second place is Rodolfo Hernández, with 28.2%. He is an outsider–having had only municipal political experience in a medium-sized city1–and presents as Colombia’s Trump/Bolsonaro/Bukele. Or worse, as he is on record saying he admires Hitler.

Regular readers of this blog or followers of my published research will know I have always been skeptical of two-round majority election of presidents. And this Colombian runoff pairing is a perfect demonstration of why–sometimes reducing choices to two means a choice between two brands of poison. Consider the third-place candidate: Federico Gutiérrez, who finished just under five points behind Hernández, with 23.9%. He is from an alliance of several more mainstream right-wing parties, including La U, the party originally formed to back former President Alvaro Uribe and which later backed President Juan Manuel Santos (with whom Uribe broke, but that’s another story).

Whatever one might think of any of these candidates and political tendencies, one might posit that a candidate like Gutiérrez could be a more consensus and less risky candidate for the top job. But first he had to stay ahead of Hernández and qualify for the runoff. Moreover, whatever one might think of the notion of a left-wing former guerrilla as president,2 one might posit that 40%, with a 12-point lead over the runner-up in a fragmented field, maybe should suffice. (See the double complement rule–first proposed by Shugart and Taagepera, 1994–under which this would be have been sufficient.) Instead, Colombia gets a polarizing runoff in which it is plausible that a genuine extremist outsider might rally most of the rest of the 60% on a “stop the left” plank and become Colombia’s president.

And then what? Quite apart from inexperience and ill temperament, Hernández will confront a congress in which those who backed his first round campaign have little presence. I do not know where within Colombian politics his voter support came from, but the alliance he led in the presidential election’s first round–League of Anti-Corruption Governors–did not even present a list for the Senate election. In the Chamber of Representatives, it won 2 of the 168 seats. This is one version of the Linzian nightmare scenario!

Colombia is, as I’ve written about before, one of the few presidential (or semi-presidential) systems to use an exclusively counter-honeymoon electoral cycle. The Chamber and Senate were elected 13 March, for a four-year term. Petro’s alliance–Historic Pact for Colombia–led the vote in the nationwide Senate election, but with only 14%. Its 16 seats (of 100 in the main electoral district, or 106 all told3) tie it with the old established Conservative Party. The other old establishment party, the Liberals, got 15 seats, a Green-Center alliance got 14, Democratic Center (Uribe’s other party, after the break with Santos) also 14, and the misnamed Radical Change (actually a split years ago from the Liberals) got 11, followed by 10 for the older Uribe party. What a fragmented mess! That would be hard to govern with no matter who would have been elected president. But at least either Petro or Gutiérrez would have had a base to build on. In the Chamber, the situation is broadly the same, although differing in important detail. There, the Liberals actually won the most seats, albeit only 32 (19%), with Petro’s alliance on 27 and Conservatives on 25.

In the past–including Colombia 2018 and 2010–I have suggested that counter-honeymoon elections can function as a de facto presidential primary, clarifying and narrowing the realistic choices for the upcoming presidential election. There seems to have been little of that this time, with the second runoff contender and realistic runoff winner having made no showing at all in the legislative races. Another feature–and not a desirable one–of counter-honeymoon elections is that they tend to be associated with greater fragmentation, relative to expectation from the electoral system’s seat product–than election held at other points in the period between presidential elections (Shugart and Taagepera, 2017, Ch. 12, in particular figures 12.1 and 12.3). That is certainly the case in Colombia, and specifically in this election.

The seat product for the Chamber is approximately 800 (162 seats elected in 33 districts means a mean district magnitude of 4.9, so the seat product is 162*4.9=795, but there are also various set-aside seats I am leaving out). For the Senate, it is approximately 10,000 (100*100, again leaving out the set-aside seats). That Chamber seat product would lead us to expect a largest party with around 43% of seats; the Senate’s around 32%.4 Obviously neither house is close to that. The electoral cycle is part of the reason (likely exacerbated by some parties and alliances holding actual presidential primaries concurrent with assembly elections), but certainly not the only or even most important reason. Colombia’s party system has not been “strong” by any definition since the old Liberal–Conservative duopoly began breaking down in the early 1990s.

This upcoming runoff–and the presidential–assembly relationship to follow–is deeply troubling. It seems to signify the death of the old moderate swings in Colombian policy that have typified the system up to now. With the social unrest of the past year, discrediting of the established elite was perhaps inevitable. But the institutions of Colombian democracy are about to endure a very serious stress test.

  1. Bucaramanga, the largest city (over half a million) in Santander department.
  2. I should note that Petro is also a former mayor of the capital, Bogotá, so not a total outsider.
  3. In addition, Colombia sets aside 2 senate seats for indigenous candidates who run separately from the main district, 5 for the party of the former FARC guerrilla movement (which got only 0.19% of the vote) and 1 for the eventual presidential runner up).
  4. The houses are co-equal; we lack a model of how diverging seat products in two strong chambers should affect the overall party system. Regardless, with largest parties–and different ones, at that–in each chamber under 20%, it is not the seat product’s fault!

Costa Rica 2022: Continued high fragmentation

Costa Rica recently (6 Feb.) held its presidential and national assembly elections. In the case of the presidency, it was the first round; a runoff will be needed (3 April), as no candidate came close to the 40% required for a first-round victory. The result shows a continuation of the impressive degree of fragmentation that has occurred in recent elections, following a prolonged period of dominance by two major parties.

I will focus first on the assembly election. The largest party in the new assembly will be the National Liberation Party (PLN), one of those formerly major two parties, but in this election it won only 24.5% of the votes for assembly party lists and 18 of the 57 seats, or 31.6%. That is a one seat gain from what it had in the outgoing assembly, elected in 2018, when it was also the largest party. No other party broke 15%. Six parties have won at least one seat, and a large number of parties obtained vote shares of around 2% or less but no seats.

In terms of effective numbers, for votes this works out to 8.3. Yes, eight point three! That is up there with the world’s highest observed values. In seats, the effective number is 5.02, which is also high but less remarkably so in world comparative terms. For comparison, the 99th percentile of effective number of vote-earning parties from over a thousand elections in the dataset I use is 8.6. On the other hand, Costa Rica’s value for seats in this election is just above the 75th percentile (which is 4.77). Another way of stating this is that Costa Rica is experiencing an unusually large gap between effective numbers of parties by votes and seats. This is not the first time, as the values in 2018 were, respectively, 7.79 and 4.78.

The precise reasons for why the votes are fragmenting so much would require someone versed in Costa Rican politics, which I certainly am not. However, it is obvious that the electoral system is struggling to accommodate the voting fragmentation that is being fed into it, and at at the same time, voters are no longer coordinating their votes around what the electoral system can sustain. That leads to a lot of wasted votes.

This is a new phenomenon for Costa Rica. Over the entire period of the current electoral system, which has been in place since 1962 (the year the current assembly size and the current mean district magnitude (8.14) went into effect), the mean effective number of vote-earning parties has been 3.67, and the mean effective number of seat-winning parties has been 2.97. The mean largest party vote share has been 0.413. The mean seat share for the largest party has been 0.453. So the recent two elections (and to some notable degree those since 2006) have been quite a break with the old “textbook” Costa Rican party system.

A point I wish to emphasize is that the old party system was what we should expect of an electoral system like Costa Rica’s. It is a proportional representation (PR) system, but one with a modest seat product. Its seat product (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is only 464, or a little higher than that of the USA (435). So it should be expected to have a party system with two major parties, one of which averages close to a majority of seats, plus some smaller parties–as indeed the USA should have! And that is what Costa Rica had. The expected outcomes of this system, from the seat product model, would be a mean effective number of seat winning parties of 2.78 (barely below the observed fifty-year mean of 2.97). For votes we should expect 3.17 (not far below the long term observed mean, 3.67). For largest party seat share, we expect 0.464 (nearly matching the observed mean of 0.453); for vote share, 0.421 (actual mean 0.413).

In other words, the longterm party system of Costa Rica is basically what we should expect to see, given the modest value of its seat product. We do not need to invoke a presidential electoral rule that allegedly supports a two-party system, as some scholars have done in the past (hey, including me!). In fact, it is not even clear that the presidential electoral system–40% or runoff–should support two-candidate competition. In some past works I classified it as close enough to plurality, which some folks allege supports two-party systems. Of course, it does. Except when it does not. And the runoff provision makes that “except when it does not” even more accurate a description of the systemic effect. Sure, if 40% in within reach for a leading contender, others may have incentive to coordinate and try to beat the leader to 40% When the PLN was politically dominant, that was exactly what the game was. But when expectations are that no one will get to 40%, all bets are off, because to a significant degree political forces can coordinate between rounds, rather than before the first one.

In Votes from Seats (2017), Taagepera and I showed that we can actually predict presidential vote fragmentation from the assembly seat product better than we can predict it from either the rule used to elect the president or the actual number of competitors in the presidential election. And Costa Rica was, until recently, a great demonstration of that effect, with (as noted) an assembly party system that was a near perfect fit for the assembly electoral system’s seat product. The presidential party system followed right along, as expected, with a mean effective number of presidential candidates of 2.5 since 1962. The predictive model Taagepera and I propose in our 2017 book suggests that with Costa Rica’s seat product, the effective number of presidential candidates should average 2.49–so there was basically perfect prediction of Costa Rican presidential competitiveness. However, something clearly has upset the old equilibrium.

In this election, the effective number of presidential candidates was 6.15! For comparison, this is almost the 99th percentile of over 200 presidential elections from around the world in the dataset (6.25). [Update: see my own first comment below.] The leading candidate, José María Figueres had only 27.3%. His opponent in the upcoming runoff, Rodrigo Chaves Robles of Social Democratic Program, won 16.7%, and three other candidates had between 12% and 14.8%. The party of outgoing President Carlos Alvarado, Citizens Action, collapsed, with its candidate getting only 0.66% of the presidential vote (and 2.2% of the assembly vote, and no seat–in 2018, despite winning the presidency it had won only 10 seats, good for third place; further, presidents are not eligible for immediate reelection in Costa Rica).

The level of fragmentation of the presidential vote in 2022 is an increase over 2018, when the effective number of presidential candidates was 5.51, and the leading candidate (who lost the runoff) had just under 25%. It is the third election in a row in which no candidate broke 31%. (In 2010, the leading candidate who was from the PLN, won without a runoff, getting just under 47%.)

While on average, the seat product model leads us to expect presidential systems to have assembly party systems similar to what their seat product predicts, and a mean presidential competition also predictable from the seat product, individual elections can upset this. That is, short term presidential politics–who is entering competition and who is seen as a viable presidential candidate–can shock the assembly party system, due to a “coattail” effect. So we generally get longterm predictability from the assembly electoral system’s seat product, but short term disruptions from “presidentialization” of competition. This is now Costa Rica’s third consecutive election with effective number of seat-winning parties over 4.5. That seems unsustainable, based on the electoral system. But at some point maybe a short-term shock settles down and becomes the new normal. I guess we will have to wait till at least 2026 to see if the seat product reasserts itself, or if fragmentation really is the norm. And not just any fragmentation, but an exceptionally high level by world standards, particularly in the votes for both assembly and president.

St Kitts and Nevis 2000–Crazy result

Given my sudden fascination with small assemblies, I was poking around in election results from St Kitts and Nevis, a Caribbean sovereign state with a population of just over 52,000. With 11 elected members, its assembly certainly counts as small. The 2000 election is really something. Look at the national result:

PartyCodeVotes% votesCandidatesSeats
St. Kitts and Nevis Labour PartySKNLP11,76253.85%88
People’s Action MovementPAM6,46829.61%80
Concerned Citizens MovementCCM1,9018.70%32
Nevis Reformation PartyNRP1,7107.83%31
Total Valid Votes21,841100%2211
Source: St Kitts and Nevis Election Center, Caribbean Elections.

The second largest party got no seats, while two parties with less than 10% each won a seat or two. This is a first-past-the-post system. The problem the PAM had was it came in second in all eight seats it contested, i.e., every district on the island of St. Christopher (none were close). The advantage the CCM and NRP had is they run only on the island of Nevis, which has three district. Here are the district results.

ConstituencyRegistered votersSKNALPPAMCCMNRPValid Votes
St Christopher #14,5191,7881,1492,937
St Christopher #25,6522,0111,5073,518
St Christopher #32,5961,2353771,612
St Christopher #42,4301,0137351,748
St Christopher #52,3288697691,638
St Christopher #62,5711,6131191,732
St Christopher #72,8741,4414791,920
St Christopher #84,3251,7921,3333,125
Nevis #92,9248087961,604
Nevis #101,517555184739
Nevis #112,4305387301,268
Total34,16611,7626,4681,9011,71021,841
Source: Same as for first table.

Note that there is some pretty serious malapportionment here, as well. Nevis constituencies have many fewer voters than St. Christopher constituencies. In fact, the three Nevis districts together have only about 1.2 times the population of the most populous St. Christopher district.

So what should we have according to the Seat Product Model? The seat product is 11 (magnitude of 1, times assembly size of 11), so the effective number of seat-winning parties should be 1.49. In this election it was actually 1.75. That’s actually not a terrible miss! But in most elections it has been considerably higher than that–as high as 3.90 in 2015. So just for fun, a quick look at that one:

PartyVotesvotes% votesCandidates
St. Kitts and Nevis Labour PartySKNLP11,89739.27%83
People’s Action MovementPAM8,45227.90%64
People’s Labour PartyPLP2,7238.99%21
Concerned Citizens MovementCCM3,95113.04%32
Nevis Reformation PartyNRP3,27610.81%31
Total Valid Votes30,299100%2211
(Last column is seats won, but the heading did not copy over.)

This time, the PAM benefitted greatly! It is in a clear second place in votes, yet won a plurality of seats. Not a majority, however. According to Wikipedia, there were alliances. But even at the alliance level, there was a plurality reversal: “The outgoing coalition (SKNLP and NRP) secured 50.08% of votes but got only 4 seats, the winning coalition (PAM, PLP and CCM) won 7 seats with only 49.92% of votes.” Oh, cool: Another case of pre-electoral alliances! The effective number of alliances was just 1.86.

And at the district level:

ConstituencyRegistered VotersSKNLPPAMPLPCCMNRPValid Votes
St. Christopher #15,0361,7271,7313,458
St. Christopher #24,7401,7581,6603,418
St. Christopher #33,2651,3481,0762,424
St. Christopher #43,1661,2161,2522,468
St. Christopher #53,1078841,2452,129
St. Christopher #62,8231,9692002,169
St. Christopher #73,1918671,6472,514
St. Christopher #85,7532,1282,3644,492
Nevis #96,1272,0331,7153,748
Nevis #101,3937543061,060
Nevis #113,5841,1641,2552,419
Total42,18511,8978,4522,7233,9513,27630,299

We might not expect regionalism in such a small country, with a small assembly. But the party preferences of the two islands obviously are genuinely different (and the PLP is “regional” in that it contested only two districts on St. Christopher); yet the parties aggregate into alliances for purposes of national politics.

The malapportionment is still noteworthy–look at the small population of Nevis 10. However, one of the other two districts is now the most populous in the country, quite unlike in 2000.

Final point: Its population may be small, but according to the cube root law St Kitts and Nevis should have an assembly more than three times what it actually has: 37. If they were proportional to registered voters, Nevis would be allotted nine of those 37 seats. It currently has 3 of the 11, so 27%, so quite close to its population share, unlike in 2000 when it was overrepresented. Making the seats allocated by island more easily fit population balance in itself would be a good argument for increasing assembly size, but an even better argument would be making anomalous results like the two elections shown here less likely–even if they insist on sticking with FPTP.

The political system of Guyana

What do we consider the political system of Guyana to be? On the one hand, there is an official who is both head of state and head of government, who is determined by nationwide plurality vote. On the other hand, the constitution, in Article 106, paragraph 6, states:

The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.

Thus the president is clearly subject to majority confidence, like a parliamentary head of government–President David Granger and his cabinet fell due to a vote in December, 2018. Superficially, this implies a form of elected prime-ministerial government (like Israel 1996–2001), in that an elected head of government, and the cabinet, must maintain confidence in order to stay in office. Thus we appear to have separate origin and fused survival. Moreover, the president has no veto power other than suspensory (article 170, para. 4-5), and no other constitutional legislative powers that can be used against the majority of parliament.

It is, however, questionable whether we should conceptualize the executive’s origin as separate. The president is elected as the designated candidate on the list of the party that wins a plurality. On this point, the constitution, at Art. 177, says, in part, that a list of candidates for parliament,

shall designate not more than one of those candidates as a Presidential candidate. An elector voting at such an election in favour of a list shall be deemed to be also voting in favour of the Presidential candidate named in the list.

There is thus no separate election for president. On the one hand, this could be classified as just another case of fused-ballot presidential election, like the Dominican Republic and Honduras have had at times in the past. (I do not generally consider these systems non-presidential just because voters can’t ticket-split between president and congress, although a case could be made for considering them in a distinct class.) On the other hand, defining the president as the head of a winning party list, rather than as a separate candidacy, could be said to be no more separate origin than we have in Botswana and South Africa (cases I consider unequivocally parliamentary). What is unclear to me is what happens in Guyana if the plurality list in the parliamentary election is opposed by a multiparty post-electoral majority in parliament. Is the head of the plurality list still president? It seems so. Yet Art. 106 implies such a leader would not remain in office.

It is thus unclear how this case should be classified, and I think I have tended to ignore it in the past. Now that I am planning no longer to ignore it, I need to decide if it is “parliamentary” or “hybrid.” There might be a case to be made that this is just a parliamentary system where the leader’s election only appears direct and separate. Or it could be that it is a hybrid of separate election but parliamentary-style fused survival through the no-confidence mechanism in Art. 106.

I should note that there is a constitutional office of Prime Minister, so unlike in Botswana or South Africa it might be odd to say that the “President” is really a prime minister on account of being dependent on parliamentary-majority confidence. However, the PM is clearly a subordinate appointee of the president (and also serves as Vice President, and the President may appoint others to be Vice Presidents as well). So I would not let this quirk determine which executive-type box I put the case in.

As for the country’s electoral system, it appears to be a straightforward case of two-tier PR. There are both regional multi-seat districts and a nationwide PR tier, and it seems there is full compensatory allocation. (See constitutional article 160 or the election results at Psephos.) This would make it one of the few two-tier PR systems outside of Europe (leaving aside the question of whether MMP–found in New Zealand, Lesotho, and Bolivia–is a sub-type of two-tier PR or not). Thus the case is valuable for my goal of maximum coverage of both simple and two-tier PR around the world. (For instance, my recent queries about small dependent territories and free-list systems, and ongoing efforts to make sense of remainder-pooling systems.)

But does Guyana have a parliamentary system, some sort of parliamentarized hybrid presidential system, or an elected prime-ministerial system?

Chile 2021: Presidential first round and congress

On 21 November, Chile held its first round presidential contest and elections for both chambers of congress. These elections come in the context of the ongoing process of a constitutional assembly, and thus are critical inasmuch as they elect the authorities who will be responsible for implementing the new constitution (assuming the assembly agrees on a text that is then approved by referendum). The outcome confirms the considerable fragmentation already apparent in the elections for the assembly itself earlier this year.

The presidential election is sending two candidates to the runoff that together won just over half the votes. In the lead coming out of the first round is José Antonio Kast, on 27.8%, followed by Gabriel Boric on 25.8%. The third place candidate was well back, on 12.80%, with another on 12.79%, the fifth place finisher on 11.6%, and two more rounding out the field. That is some considerable fragmentation.

It is a striking collapse of the center, as Kast is well to the right and Boric well to the left. It is pretty much the nightmare scenario for two-round majority election. While the runoff will require the winner to tack to the center to win, the occupant of the chief executive’s office will be quite extreme, whoever wins the runoff. He will then have to construct alliances in a fragmented congress, with whatever powers are granted in a new constitution.

The congressional outcome is so complex that I am not going to attempt to break it down in much detail. You can see the results for Deputies and Senators on the SERVEL website, or with helpful color coding by party and alliance on the Wikipedia page. In the Chamber of Deputies, the largest single party appears to be National Renewal (RN) with just 25 of the 155 seats. By alliance, the largest is Chile Podemos Más (of which RN is a part), with 53. This is a center-right combine associated with outgoing President Sebastián Piñera. (This alliance also has the most seats in the constitutional assembly elected in May, but that is just 37 of 155.) The alliance supporting Kast, Chritian Social Front, has a mere 15 Deputies in the newly elected Chamber. It won 11.2% of the vote, or about 40% of the vote its presidential candidate obtained–lots of ticket-splitting there. The alliance supporting Boric, Apruebo Dignidad, did a little better, with 37 seats (it has 28 in the constitutional assembly). It won 20.9% of the votes, which is 81% of its presidential candidate’s vote. The biggest party comprising this alliance is the Communist Party, which won 12 seats.

Needless to say, further alliance-building–both in advance of the presidential runoff and in the congress for whoever is elected–will be necessary. It also is going to be very interesting to see what changes might be introduced in the new proposed constitution to the executive structure and executive-legislative power balance. Negretto (2021) observes that constitutional assemblies that have no majority force tend to produce constitutions with more constraints on the executive than the previous constitution (referring to processes occurring within ongoing democracies). Given that the current Chilean constitution has one of the strongest presidencies anywhere, there is a lot of room for new constraints. How far will they go? I am not sure if a semi-presidential (let alone parliamentary) system is even on the table, but it probably should be. They should also consider moving either to a unicameral congress, or convert the senate into a more explicitly regional body with substantially diminished powers.

Reforming the California recall-replacement process

What a relief. It turned out like the fundamentals of this state said it should all along. But the risk was high. Maybe those polls that showed the recall ahead or close were just rogues. But a process that lets a motivated minority potentially replace an effective but unexciting incumbent with someone elected by a small percentage of the vote is deeply undemocratic. 

It needs to be reformed before an extremist minority puts us through such an attempted power grab again, and maybe pulls it off. So this planting is all about brainstorming for some possible improvements to the process.

As I have noted before, I oppose recalls in principle, at least against the elected chief executive. I explained why in the first in my series on this recall. But for this discussion, I will assume we are stuck with a recall provision, and only focus on how it could be improved. I also am limiting myself to recalls of elected governors (or by extension, presidents), and not to all the other offices that are, or might be, subject to recall.

Minimal changes

The California process of initiating a recall is probably the most favorable to an incumbent’s opponents. Without undermining the principle of allowing the people to recall a governor, there are numerous ways the hurdle could be made higher. FiveThirtyEight has already done a helpful rundown of how California’s provisions compare to those of other US states.

Possible reforms, drawn from experiences of other states, include raising the petition signature requirement (currently just 12% of the number of voters who participated in the previous gubernatorial election) and shortening the time during which petitions can circulate (currently 160 days).

While reforms of this sort are probably a good idea, they are very minimal. There are more fundamental problems with the process, once qualified. These problems do not go away unless the qualification becomes so onerous that effectively a recall election is never triggered. And while some tightening of the criteria may now be likely, it is unlikely the conditions will be greatly restricted.

Somewhat more significant changes for recall

Somewhat more significant options including requiring a claim of malfeasance, rather than we just do not like you, as a basis for petitioning for a recall, or requiring a supermajority to vote in favor of the recall. I do not think the first of these ideas is easily enforceable. (What are the criteria, and who decides if they have been met and so an election is triggered?)

The supermajority idea is attractive. Obviously, a supermajority privileges the status quo, and that is why I normally do not approve of such rules other than perhaps for constitutional changes. Yet in a system based on fixed terms, privileging the status quo is not such a bad idea–the officeholder serves his or her original term unless a strict condition for termination has been met. Nonetheless, I would be concerned about the continued legitimacy and effectiveness of a governor whom a majority of voters–but less than three fifths or two thirds or whatever–had voted to oust.

One could also set a rule that says the recall has not succeeded unless it obtains a majority that is also a greater number of voters than originally voted for the governor in the last election. This is de-facto a supermajority requirement, but it sets the threshold according to the existing electoral base of the incumbent instead of at a fixed level. I retains the same problems I noted with a specific supermajority threshold, but I do rather like the idea nonetheless. See Frozen Garlic for a good statement of the general principle “that recalling an elected official should be significantly harder than electing that same official”; the post has some specific suggestions for implementing that principle. That blog is about elections in Taiwan, where there are recalls and there is a turnout requirement for it to be valid (but it is low, at 25%).

Reforms to the replacement election

Here is where the most important changes could be made. Currently, all state officeholders in California are elected by majority in a “top two” runoff election–unless they are replacing a recalled officeholder. Per Section 5(a) of the California Constitution, “The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election.” However, Section 15(c), regarding recalls, says “If the majority vote on the question is to recall, the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives a plurality is the successor. The officer may not be a candidate…”

An obvious solution is to clean up this contradiction. Why should a replacement be eligible to be elected by only a plurality when the officeholder being replaced was elected by a majority? This violates the previously articulated principle by making it easier to replace than to initially elect. Among the strange things about recall-replacement elections in this state is that there is no primary. Of course, readers of this site know that we do not have primaries at all anymore (other than for presidential nominating delegates). What Section 5(a) calls a “primary” is actually not a primary; it is just the first round of a two-round majority election in which party affiliation is not a criterion regarding who advances to the runoff (as quoted previously, “regardless of party preference”). In any case, how we label this process is not the point–important though it is!. The point is that there is a prior qualifying round for general elections, but not for the special election that chooses a replacement. This should be corrected.

Any correction should also resolve the current undemocratic “trainwreck” criterion that a replacement can win fewer votes than the recalled officer had not merely when previously elected but also in the same election. If a majority is required to elect the replacement, this problem is mostly solved. But how to do it? Here are a few possibilities.

(1) Replicate the current general-election process, that is, have a preliminary round (“primary”) and then a top-two runoff, in the event a majority has voted to recall the incumbent.

A key problem with this is it could result in having three special election dates to complete the process: the recall, then if a majority votes for it, a qualifying election, and then if no candidate wins a majority, a runoff. Such a proposal is not likely to fly.

(2) An alternative would be to hold the qualifying round concurrent with the recall question. If the recall passes by majority, but no single replacement candidate wins a majority, then there is a top-two runoff a few weeks later. This would turn a potentially three-round process into a maximum of two, and might still allow it to be over in one round.

If this option were chosen, I would explicitly permit the recalled officer to run in the qualifying round on the same day. If he or she is one of the top two, then the recalled official proceeds to the runoff against a single challenger. If a majority votes to retain the previously recalled governor, so be it. A majority has decided it did not see a single replacement who was better than the incumbent after all. (This sub-option that I suggest is not necessary for the general principle of two rounds to be adopted.)

(3) Yet another possibility is to dispense with the recall question altogether. A successfully qualified recall petition simply triggers a special election in which the incumbent may stand alongside whatever replacement candidates have qualified. The incumbent survives unless a single replacement candidate earns a majority of votes cast. It is all over in one round, and on one question. It would have the advantage of forcing coordination among the opponents, because they need a majority and get only one chance at it.

A potential flaw is the incumbent could survive without even a plurality if coordination fails and there are many candidates, which raises those legitimacy questions again. But the goal is to make it hard to replace, not hard to continue. A twist would be to say there is a runoff if and only if the incumbent finishes second or worse to a challenger who has fallen short of a majority. (Such a runoff probably should include the incumbent even if he or she finished lower than second, but I don’t feel strongly about that particular sub-option.)

By now, some readers will be impatient that I have not mentioned the ranked-choice option. Okay, here you go.

(4) Using ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple solution that could be done in one round of voting either with, or without, two questions. The smallest change would be to have two separate questions like we currently do, but the replacement is by ranked-choice voting (alternative vote). A better–I think–option would be the single question: rank as many of the following candidates, including the incumbent, as you wish.

I do not favor these RCV options because we have seen we can have dozens of candidates enter. Asking voters to rank a huge field, where at least the major out-party may have several candidates, is asking a lot of the voters. Moreover, with many candidates, many voters will not rank them all, and the chances are high that the winner will still have only a plurality. This is a general problem with RCV in an effectively non-partisan context (i.e. when multiple parties have not each pre-selected a single candidate). I do not favor this, although I recognize it as an improvement over the status quo. Almost anything would be.

Abolish the replacement election

We have a Lieutenant Governor. The main point of such an office is to replace the incumbent Governor if the latter is unable to discharge his or her duties. If a recall passes, have the Lt.Gov. take over and there is no need to have a special replacement election. This makes a great deal of sense, and I’d be happy with it. Voters might not be, and so its chance of being enacted as a constitutional reform in California is likely not high.

Think big

As I explained earlier (see first linked post), one of my objections to gubernatorial (or presidential) recall is that it targets one officeholder. If we are talking impeachment for malfeasance, that’s fine. But in reality, a recall is a just another political process–even more than impeachment, which is also political. If the objection of the potential majority in favor of recall is discontent with policy, the problem is clearly not only with one person. So recall them all! Have a recall process that simply initiates an early election for the entire legislature as well as the governor. Sort of like an early dissolution in a parliamentary system. Go back to the people and get new policymakers, or if the voters prefer, reelect them all.

I do not actually favor this. But I mention to make a point–recalls are about attempting to reset the terms of delegation from voters to their agents in government. So it sensibly should not be used to target a single individual (again, unless there is some process specifically targeting only a corrupt individual officeholder).

So there you have it. These are the ideas I have come up. What are yours? What do you think of these? We desperately need to change this process before a minority power grab succeeds in the future, but how?

There is a California National Party candidate in the gubernatorial replacement election

I remember back at the time of the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, one of my laments was that, with so many candidates on the replacement portion of the ballot, not one of them was a secessionist/sovereigntist. Well, this time, no such lament!

I recently learned that there is a sovereigntist candidate this time. His name is Michael Loebs, who in his day job is a lecturer in political science at San Francisco State University. He is running with the California National Party, which has styled itself on the model of the Scottish National Party. (Because the state restricts what party names can appear on the ballot even though party affiliations are self-declared by candidates, he appears as “no party”.)

I am not posting this to have a conversation about whether California should have an active movement for (peaceful) separation, although I have felt such leanings myself for about as long as I have been politically aware. Nor do I use this space to endorse candidates. I am simply happy that, if we have to have this trainwreck of a recall/replacement election, at least we finally have a sovereigntist candidate in the mix.

Of course, I will vote NO on the recall regardless of my vote on the replacement question. In fact, you can call NO on the recall an endorsement!

California’s recall & replacement rules are a trainwreck waiting to happen, but are they unconstitutional?

As the voting is underway in the California gubernatorial recall election against Gavin Newsom, polls are showing it quite close. While the no-recall side leads, and objectively Newsom should be expected to prevail in such a strong Democratic Party-aligned state, it is far from a sure thing. In my earlier planting on this topic, I said that, “rather than learn the lessons of its irrelevance in this state, the California Republican Party has learned a different lesson. While it may not win state power the normal way, it can harness grievance, the possible low turnout of a special election, and a celebrity to pick off a Democratic governor now and then.”

As the campaign–such as it is–has developed since my writing those words in late April, it is clear that it is indeed all about grievance and hardly about governance. It is also still at risk of being a low turnout affair, which is where the threat to Newsom’s tenure rests. Will enough Democrats mail back their ballots marked NO, when all the enthusiasm is on the side of the terminally aggrieved?

What there is not in this contest is a celebrity on the replacement side of the ballot. Unless Larry Elder counts. He is leading the polls as the replacement candidate. (I had never heard of him till a month or so ago, and anecdotally, I sense that most folks who don’t listen to right-wing talk radio likewise did not know who he was. On the other hand, I certainly knew who Arnold Schwarzenegger was long before he ran for governor. So, no, Larry Elder does not count as a celebrity, at least not in a qualitatively meaningful sense.)

And therein lies the problem from a small-d democratic perspective: the rules of how California runs this type of election have always been a trainwreck waiting to happen, and such a train wreck of democracy just might happen this time. While the recall question on the ballot is a YES/NO option and thus will be decided by a majority of votes cast, the replacement option on the ballot has 46 candidates, and the winner will be the one with a plurality of votes, if the YES wins the first question. Elder leads polling by a wide margin, but with not even 25% of the vote. If we take his current polling level as a share of the decided vote, it is still only around 40%. Moreover, with no Democrat (or rather none with any hint of visibility) running on the replacement side, there are likely to be quite a few voters who vote NO but then do not select a replacement candidate. In other words, if Newsom loses a close contest, his replacement could be elected by significantly fewer votes than Newsom himself earned on the NO side. California now requires a majority for election of all other offices in the state in general elections (under the “top-two” rule), but a replacement special election is still decided by plurality (and with no party primaries).

This outcome–a sub-majority election of a candidate with less voter support than the recalled incumbent, and which can’t be discounted as fantasy–would be a massive miscarriage of democracy, whatever one’s opinion of Newsom (or Elder). But could be it also be unconstitutional? That is the claim made in the New York Times by Erwin Chemerinsky and Aaron S. Edlin. They build their case on US Supreme Court jurisprudence on one person, one vote. Two cases from 1964 (Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims) concerned state legislative and congressional districts, ruling against malapportionment in these districting plans on the grounds that it denied voters equal influence on outcomes.

The claim of Chemerinsky and Edlin is that this logic can be extended to a gubernatorial recall and replacement, under the rules California uses: “If Mr. Newsom is favored by a plurality of the voters, but someone else is elected, then his voters are denied equal protection. Their votes have less influence in determining the outcome of the election.”

While I agree with the principle, I am dubious it rises to a constitutional issue, even if we did not have a SCOTUS that was dominated by Republicans.

Please read their argument and tell me if I am wrong to be skeptical of the constitutional claim (independent of the likelihood of the Court actually offering redress if this is the outcome of the election).

Mexico 2021

The following was a comment by Manuel on a post about the 2018 election. It certainly deserves a more prominent planting hole, so I am copying it here. Please note the following is authored by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera of the always valuable Election Resources on the Internet, not by me.

Note Manuel’s very interesting observation that this time the system functioned as pure mixed-member majoritarian (MMM), i.e., with “parallel” allocation of the single-seat district and list components, rather than with any compensatory allocation.

___________

Preliminary results of the June 6, 2021 Chamber of Deputies election in Mexico indicate that no gaming of the 8% disparity cap took place this year, largely because the ruling “Juntos Hacemos Historia” (JHH; Together We Make History) coalition won fewer single-member mandates than in 2018.

With 99.6% of the tally sheets processed, Mexico’s Preliminary Election Results Program (PREP) reports the distribution of Chamber of Deputies single-member seats stands as follows:

PAN – 33
PRI – 11
PRD – 0
PVEM – 1
PT – 0
MC – 7
MORENA – 64
PES – 0
RSP – 0
FXM – 0
PAN-PRI-PRD – 65
PVEM-PT-MORENA – 119

The PAN-PRI-PRD “Va por México” (VPM) opposition coalition ran candidates in 219 of 300 Chamber districts, while JHH (PVEM-PT-MORENA) contested 183. On the basis of the coalition agreements published on the National Electoral Institute (INE) website, the party distribution of single-member seats would be as follows, with party single-member seat and vote shares in parentheses:

PAN – 72 (24.0%; 18.3%)
PRI – 30 (10.0%; 17.8%)
PRD – 7 (2.3%; 3.7%)
PVEM – 30 (10.0%; 5.5%)
PT – 31 (10.3%; 3.3%)
MC – 7 (2.3%; 7.0%)
MORENA – 123 (41.0%; 34.0%)
PES – 0 (0.0%; 2.7%)
RSP – 0 (0.0%; 1.8%)
FXM – 0 (0.0%; 2.5%)
Independents – 0 (0.0%; 0.1%)

The coalition seat and percentage totals, including votes and mandates won by their respective constituent parties running alone, are as follows:

PAN-PRI-PRD – 109 (36.3%; 39.7%)
PVEM-PT-MORENA – 184 (61.3%; 42.7%)

The absence of PVEM-PT-MORENA and PAN-PRI-PRD coalition candidates in many districts made little difference in the overall election outcome. Had both coalitions ran in all 300 districts, the MORENA-led coalition would have had a net loss of just four seats, gained by the PAN-led coalition.

Meanwhile, the official allocation of PR list seats won’t be known until as late as the third week of August, but on the basis of preliminary figures it would be as follows:

PAN – 41
PRI – 40
PRD – 8
PVEM – 12
PT – 7
MC – 16
MORENA – 76
PES – 0
RSP – 0
FXM – 0

Consequently, the overall composition of the Chamber of Deputies would be as follows (seat shares in parentheses):

PAN: 72 + 41 = 113 (22.6%)
PRI: 30 + 40 = 70 (14.0%)
PRD: 7 + 8 = 15 (3.0%)
PVEM: 30 + 12 = 42 (8.4%)
PT: 31 + 7 = 38 (7.6%)
MC: 7 + 16 = 23 (4.6%)
MORENA: 123 + 76 = 199 (39.8%)

Therefore, the coalitions would have the following totals:

PAN-PRI-PRD: 109 + 89 = 198 (39.6%)
PVEM-PT-MORENA: 184 + 95 = 279 (55.8%)

Since no party hit the 8% disparity cap, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies electoral system operated in a purely parallel manner in this year’s election. Moreover, the JHH coalition parties won between themselves 47.76% of the “effective national vote” cast for parties entitled to take part in the allocation of PR seats. As such, the parties’ joint share of 55.8% of the Chamber seats happened to be just 8.04% above their effective national vote aggregate percentage. Had PR list seats been distributed among coalitions (as opposed to individual parties), the application of the 8% disparity cap would have reduced their overall seat total by only a single mandate.

Finally, the over-representation of the PVEM-PT-MORENA coalition in the Chamber of Deputies – where it retained a reduced but comfortable majority – stems largely from its continued dominance in twelve states in southern Mexico, where it won 85 of 99 single-member seats (85.9%) with 49.1% of the vote, while the PAN-PRI-PRD coalition trailed well behind with 32.9% of the vote and 14 seats (14.1%). In the rest of the country the election was closely fought, and while the VPM coalition parties won the popular vote, 43.5% to 39.2% for the JHH coalition partners, the latter still won slightly more district seats (99) than the former (95). Meanwhile, MC won all its seven district seats in Jalisco state, where it topped the poll with 31.5%, in a close three-way race with the PAN-PRI-PRD and PVEM-PT-MORENA coalitions, which polled 31.3% and 28.6%, respectively.

El Salvador presidential power grab

This past Saturday, El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, used the first session of the new legislative assembly, dominated by his party, to dismiss five members of the Constitutional Court and the Attorney General. There was no pretense of following constitutional procedures. It is a pure power grab and probably qualifies as an autogolpe.

If you read Spanish, this story in El Faro is a good place to start. If not, there is an El Faro English summary. Also at El Faro (and in English) is an excellent piece from February about how we got here–Oscar Pocasangre writes about how the country’s party system was collapsing. He blames this collapse in part on the corruption in both established parties (ARENA and FMLN, representing opposing sides from the former civil war) and also the changes of the electoral system to open-list and now free-list PR.

For years I have followed Salvadoran electoral and party politics closely, including at this blog. I often noted how rigid the party system had become. In recent years, the rigidity had begun to erode, and I remarked on that at times. But it was indeed clear once Bukele was elected that it was on the brink of a complete shakeup, if not breakdown. For the past year or more, I have been worried the breaking down of the party system might take democracy down with it. Has it now? This is an alarming development.

Poor recall

It is now all but certain that there will be a recall election later in 2021 against California Governor Gavin Newsom. I oppose recall elections in principle, but this one is especially silly and likely counterproductive for its own promoters.

Recall elections only exacerbate the worst features of the presidential (including gubernatorial) form of government, in that they increase the already inevitably high personalization of the political process of such a system. As if all of what makes for (in)effective government and policy-making can be put on one individual.

In the particular case of Newsom, it is silly in that the number one issue the state (and all governments) have had to face over the past 15 months is the pandemic, and California actually has fared better than other large US states. Is that entirely due to Newsom? No, see my comment about the risks of personalizing government. But he probably deserves some credit.

Its promoters are, of course, Republicans. The Republican Party is so completely out of step with this state that it needs internal reform to make itself competitive again. One might think this would be the lesson it would learn from having won vote percentages in the low thirties in the last two presidential elections and having elected no statewide official since 2006. Newsom himself was elected with 61.9% of the vote in 2018. In recent cycles, the Republicans have struggled to win even a third of the seats in either house of the state legislature.

However, rather than learn the lessons of its irrelevance in this state, the California Republican Party has learned a different lesson. While it may not win state power the normal way, it can harness grievance, the possible low turnout of a special election, and a celebrity to pick off a Democratic governor now and then. But this isn’t the California of 2003, and neither Caitlyn Jenner nor Randy Quaid, nor any of the others in the “clown car” of candidates looks ready to be the next Governator.

As an institutional device, recalls sit poorly with the separate origin (and, normally, survival) of executive and legislative organizations that defines presidentialism. If you need a mechanism to enable early elections, logically you should have a fresh mandate for the legislature, too. Better yet, use parliamentary government (and if you also use proportional representation, you have the greater likelihood that the resulting coalition governments dissolve midterm when political conditions change, and early elections result). In a presidential/gubernatorial system, they just reinforce the worst aspect of the system–their personalization of the executive, and their potential for “populist” solutions. And I say that as someone who thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty good governor (although I voted against the recall of then-Governor Gray Davis, I voted for the new governor’s reelection in 2006). Or, rather, he was pretty good only after a rocky first year, which only buttresses my point about personalization and populism. He tried to govern by shear force of personality (and he has an unusual measure of that!) and through popular initiatives, including calling a special election for some of them. When it did not work, he eventually learned how to be a governor. The state can’t afford on-the-job training and exercises in populism as it emerges from the pandemic. This specific recall is an even worse idea than the institution of recall is generally.

It is nearly sure that it will fail, at great expense. And it likely will only push Newsom and the Democratic Party father to the left and into ever-greater embrace of unions and other constituent groups, while making the Republican brand even more toxic in the state. Not that I care too much about the latter. The California Republican Party can go hang itself. And if you’d rather replace that verb with another more pointed one, feel free.

Peru 2021

Peru has its presidential and congressional elections today. For presidency, it is the first round of a two-round majority election. And it is likely that the top two will combine for a very small percentage of the vote in this first round. (See polling summary.) That’s really no way to select a top leader, but that’s what you get when you have a democracy without political parties in any meaningful sense of the term. See Steven Taylor’s post today for more about that.

The combination of weak parties and fragmentation with an electoral system that uses a wide variation in district magnitude and D’Hondt divisors, can also result in wide discrepancies between national votes and congressional seats. For instance, in 2016, it helped produce divided government when the party that won a manufactured majority in congress, concurrent with the first round, lost the runoff. In the just-linked earlier post, I said that “governing may be a challenge” in the period ahead. Oh, did that prove to be a good call! (Details in Steven’s post.)