Brazil electoral rules changes: Will they make a difference?

Brazil has passed some changes to its electoral rules, according to the Economist. The changes mainly concern rules outside the “electoral system” in the way Taagepera and I delimit that term in Votes from Seats. That is, despite various proposals under discussion in recent years in Brazil, the assembly size, district magnitude, and allocation formula all remain unchanged. Instead, rules changes are focused on financing provisions and attempts to regulate pre-election coalitions. The concerns in Brazil are over the excessive fragmentation of the Congress, which is blamed on incentives to corruption resulting from the open-list, highly proportional, system in place.

In this post, I want to consider the extent to which Brazil’s existing extreme fragmentation is expected, or not, based on its electoral system. Knowing the answer to this question can help us understand if changes to electoral rules, outside the core system features, might make a difference.

The following graph is an authors’ original of one that appears in the book as Figure 14.3. It shows the number of parties winning at least one seat in each district of Brazil’s and two similar electoral systems: Chile and Finland. Each of these electoral systems is D’Hondt, open list, with rules explicitly permitting lists to be presented by multiparty alliances. In each system, all seats are allocated in districts, via applying the D’Hondt divisors to the total votes won by each list. The emphasis is important, as the electoral system does not operate on parties, it operates on lists. Sometimes a list is a party list, but in these countries it is common for it to be an alliance list. In such cases, the electoral system does not shape the number of parties, except indirectly. The number of parties winning will be dependent on how many winning candidates on the various lists happen to be branded by different parties. At the extreme, every candidate could be from a different party, even if they were elected from just a few lists (or one list, as happens in some Chilean districts, electing just two seats). This could mean that the number of parties–as distinct from the number of lists–winning seats is “unpredictable”. This graph shows that is not the case–there is still a predictable average pattern.

The thick dotted curve shows the predicted pattern. It says that the number of sub-alliance winning parties (again, whether winning on their own list or via having a winning candidate on a list in which they were one of two or more alliance partners) is the district magnitude, raised to an exponent designated “k”. You will need to read the book to see the derivation of k. I will give only the short version: k is the “embeddedness” factor, and captures the share of the total assembly seats that are elected in a given district. If a district elects all the seats in the entire assembly (as in Israel or the Netherlands), k=0.5 for reasons explained in the book (and also in Taagepera and Shugart 1993). When a district elects a smaller and smaller share of the total assembly, k increases and can be slightly over 1.00 when M=1 and the assembly is very large (as in the UK). What the embeddedness factor captures is the extent to which national politics enters the district level and makes district politics more competitive than it would be predicted to be, were there no extra-district politics. Specific to the case of Brazil, it tells us that we can expect higher fragmentation of the party system because of the electoral system–both the fact that the allocation rule is one of open alliance lists and that there are many large-magnitude districts embedded in a very large assembly.

What we notice is that the predicted curve, showing the expected number of parties winning at least one seat (on its own or on an alliance list) equalling Mk, fits the overall data cloud well. This is a deductively derived logical model, not a post-hoc data fit. The fit of the logical model to the data is confirmed by a regression test. However, the data plot also shows that Brazil’s very largest districts (with magnitude greater than 20 and up to 70) are even higher than the model predicts. So, for example, with M=55, we expect around nine parties to win seats. (The k formula here yields roughly 0.55, and so 55.55=9.1.) Yet Brazil’s actual districts in this very high-magnitude range all have more than nine parties, and sometimes more than twelve, represented.

Why is fragmentation so high? Without the logical model developed for these systems, we might have just said, well, they have high district magnitude. Maybe we would also have invoked country-specific features, and just said, “it’s Brazil”. Such statements about high M and Brazilian particularity remain valid, but what the model lets us see is that even if Brazil’s very largest districts “conformed” to the model–as indeed its more modest-sized ones do, on average–it would still be very fragmented. So, about those reforms…

The new electoral law amendment, according to the Economist, “outlaws election alliances among parties that do not share a programme.” That might be helpful, if it can be enforced, by eliminating alliances of pure seat-winning convenience. The amendments also impose a threshold (1.5% of the national vote or seats won in at least nine states)–not for winning seats at all, but for getting public campaign financing and and free television and radio time. That might matter more. (This ‘threshold’ rises to 3% by 2030.)

Perhaps it is the existing freedom to form alliances regardless of programmatic commitment with one’s partners and the promiscuous financing/publicity rules that cause some of Brazil’s districts to be above the predicted value. However, even if that is what is causing Brazil’s largest district’s to overshoot their expected number of seat-winning parties, the amount of fragmentation after these reforms would still be very high. In other words, Brazilians are likely to be disappointed by the impact of these reforms. The model says so!

If Brazilians wanted changes to make a more dramatic impact on fragmentation, what could they do? One thing would be to abolish alliance lists altogether. The lighter gray line in the graph above shows the expected number of lists to win at least one seat for a given district magnitude. It is equal to the square root of M. In the book we show that we do not need k for this; embeddedness does not push up the number of lists, on average, beyond the square root of M. If lists and parties are the same thing, as in many PR systems, then the number of parties winning at the district level is not systematically affected by extra-district politics. Other outputs of the party system are affected, the book shows: the size of the largest parties (both votes and seats) is systematically reduced, and the “effective” number of parties (again, both for votes and seats) systematically increased, by the extent of the district’s embeddnedness. The number of lists or party-lists is not. However, as shown here, the number of parties including those who win through alliance partnerships, is pushed up–systematically, in that it can be modeled.

Elsewhere in the book we show that the number of lists winning seats in Brazilian districts is consistent with the model (square root of M)–again, on average. So Brazil’s electoral system functions as expected–it turns list votes into list seats in a way consistent with PR systems worldwide. It also systematically increases the total number of parties through its alliance feature. Get rid of alliances, and the number of winning parties would surely drop (though probably not all the way to the square root of M, because at least some of these small parties could survive independently).

Of course, Brazil could do more dramatic things still, like redistrict to have smaller district magnitudes. But if the changes made this year, in advance of the 2018 elections, are the best Congress can enact, it is highly unlikely they could have done something that drastic! Given what was passed, perhaps the number of parties will come down–to the predicted value. That would still be a lot of parties!

 

Parties and personal-vote earning attributes in OLPR

In the forthcoming Votes from Seats, Rein Taagepera and I build on the earlier argument of Bergman, Shugart, and Watt (Electoral Studies, 2013) about incentives of political parties to “manage” the competition among their candidates under various intra-party allocation rules. The short version of the story is that parties under open-list PR should be willing to tolerate “laissez faire” competition, because no excess in the number of candidates nor imbalance in the candidates’ votes can affect the party’s ability to convert its collective vote total into a proportional share of the seats (within the limits of the district magnitude and inter-party allocation formula).

The claim about laissez faire competition under OLPR rests on the assumption that parties are only interested in seat-maximization, and not in the precise set of candidates who win. It also rests on the assumption that “party” and “list” are the same thing.

The second assumption is already relaxed in Votes from Seats, where we devote almost an entire chapter to the topic of how alliance lists work, focusing on the cases of Brazil, Chile, and Finland. In these systems (and some others) many lists contain candidates of two or more parties. In that case, the parties on the list are in direct competition with one another for a share of the seats won by the list as a whole. Thus parties would need to manage their vote–i.e., concern themselves with the distribution of votes across their candidates.

The first assumption–regarding parties’ indifference about their personnel–is not something we actually believe is true in practice. Science involves making simplifications, and we show in the book that using this simplifying assumption is quite powerful in predicting, via deductive logic, the average patterns in the preference vote shares of candidates (i.e., candidate votes divided by total list votes in a district). So, for the purposes of the book (and the earlier article), the strict assumption of indifference worked to get us a step farther down the road to understanding how electoral systems shape candidate vote shares.

In earlier drafts of the book, we worked on attempts to analyze how parties might affect the election of specific candidates, even though they lack ranking control, through nominations. We took these sections out because we were unable to come up with a deductive model of the process–a key methodological criterion around which the book is based. In the remainder of this entry, I will post and discuss two graphs that we took out of the book but that demonstrate the (still underdeveloped) idea of parties’ engaging in forms of intraparty management–even under OLPR.

The immediate reason for returning to think about this now was the recent American Political Science Association annual meeting, at which I presented a paper with Åsa von Schoultz that incorporates both the logical models of preference-vote distribution and the personal vote-earning attributes (PVEAs) of the candidates themselves. On the same panel was a fascinating paper by José Antonio Cheibub and Gisela Sin, which (among other things) analyzed the discontinuity in ratios of one candidate’s votes to the next candidate’s when they are sorted in descending order by preference votes. They find that, in Brazil, there is a tendency for these ratios to be greater at “last winner to first loser” and at “first loser to second loser” than among winners higher up or losers lower down.

A pattern like that found by Cheibub and Sin would not be found if there were not some “coordination” going on. Such coordination could be done by voters or by interest groups or others with a desire to see certain candidates elected over others. Or it could be done by parties. If by parties, it would be a form of intra-party management. For instance, parties could achieve a desired concentration of votes on the eventually elected candidates by ensuring a mix of candidates appealing to different groups of voters, or through allocating campaign resources, or some mix of these and other tactics.

One way to manage the vote would be through exploiting the party’s knowledge of the relative appeals of specific candidates or types of candidates. If the party had perfect information, it could renominate just the right number of incumbents and nominate the right number of local council members, or other politicians with popular appeal and whom the party sees as promising future legislative personnel. In other words, through nominating candidates with given PVEAs it could structure the balance of different traits and constituencies represented within its delegation.

The following data plots from Brazil and Finland point towards how such PVEA management might work.

 

The plots show the share of candidates at any given relative rank (list position/seats won) who have a given PVEA: incumbent assembly (national) member or local council. The local regression (lowess) curves plot the pattern, and in the case of Brazil, I also plot a lowess for the state assembly members running on the deputies list (but not the data points, because of the clutter). The incumbent MP curves for the two countries are nearly identical, with relatively few MPs losing and more near the top preference vote totals.

The local candidates’ curves also have a similar shape—rising near the bottom of the electable ranks on the list and then still rising among the top losers, before plummeting. The obvious difference is that there are a lot more locals in Finland than in Brazil. The curve for Brazilian state legislators running for federal deputy looks like a much-flattened version of the incumbent deputies’ curve.

These plots may be showing that parties are indeed managing the distribution of votes across candidates. They are doing so by whom they nominate. They probably have pretty good information about the vote-earning potential of various candidates, and they can “clear a path” for the candidates they consider sufficiently valuable by not putting too many similarly strong candidates on the list against them. Obviously, what I have shown here does not prove that point, but it is suggestive of how parties might “coordinate” on the intraparty dimension, through managing the types of candidates they select.

A possible objection is that parties could not possibly know the votes that a candidate could bring to the list. After all, these lists–especially in high magnitude districts–are so competitive! Another graph suggests it might not be so hard for parties after all, at least when nominating candidates who have run before for some office.

 

Do parties have good information about the votes a candidate will obtain? Evidently so. This graph compares 2002 votes of Brazilian candidates to 1998 votes, whether their 1998 campaign was as a deputy candidate or a state legislative candidate. The diagonal is the equality line; a regression is not much different from it. In other words, a candidate’s votes in the prior election are a pretty strong predictor of the candidate’s votes in the current election (at least in Brazil, 1998-2002). This is generally true for those who won their contest the previous election and those who had small vote totals. And it applies to state legislative candidates even though they are running in different-magnitude districts. (The legislators of a given state are elected in a single statewide district, just as the national deputies are elected in state districts, but the magnitudes are greater for the state legislature.)

Parties amaze sometimes at how good they are with this stuff!

Certainly, when I see things like this I realize that all the old ideas about chaotic competition in OLPR or parties lacking control just do not stand up.

So, yes, parties can tolerate laissez faire competition among the candidates on their list–provided they are interested only in maximizing the list’s seat total. And assuming that this is all they care about allows us to understand average patterns of vote distribution. A key goal is to introduce other variables–notably PVEAs–to understand how individual candidates deviate from these logically predicted (and empirically confirmed) averages. That was the point of the von Schoultz-Shugart APSA paper, focused on Finland. The next step is to try to understand PVEAs and prior vote totals as a window on how parties manage the vote, even under OLPR.

Brazil: President ousted by Senate

As expected, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been ousted by a vote of the Senate following her impeachment trial.

Not much time for blogging right now (as has been the case for a while–obviously), but a few quick observations follow.

I said at the time that she needed to lose her reelection bid; it was quite close. While some folks are looking at this and saying it shows why Brazil should have adopted a parliamentary system, I actually think presidentialism serves Brazil pretty well. I admit it is harder (again) to make that case this year.

Another way of stating my point is that the PT was quite good for Brazil for 12 years. The PT needed presidentialism to make it into power. And, no, I know I am not supposed to evaluate a regime type based on who wins (although I liked presidentialism here better as soon as Obama won!). But I really think parliamentartism in Brazil would be an ugly mess; the PT is one of the few major parties that is at all programmatic. And it probably would have been consigned to permanent opposition under a parliamentary regime, with shifting coalitions based on particularism and cronyism and not much on policy responsibility.

In any case, actual parliamentarism was never really on the table in the period following military rule, as far as I know. Back in the 1980s when the current constitution was drafted, what was called the “parliamentary” option actually was semi-presidential. And that might not be such a bad option for Brazil, but given the nature of the party system, it would still likely lean pretty strongly presidential, more-or-less regardless of the formal powers.

Of all the news stories I pulled up in searching on this, I noticed that most of them said that the Brazilian Senate had “impeached” the president today. As I understand that term, no, she was impeached already by the Chamber. The term means to bring charges, after all. Today she was convicted and removed.

And, no, it is not a “coup”. This follows the constitutional procedures. Whether the charges are “valid” or not is a separate question; the constitutional bodies with the responsibility in such cases said they were.

Some have said it is a bad precedent. The main precedent is it’s really bad to fail to retain even one third of the legislators’ backing, even if you have a “fixed” term.

 

 

Brazil: Early elections instead?

Further regarding the impeachment and possible removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff…

There is now a constitutional amendment being proposed by some senators that would result in an early election for president and vice president in October this year, rather than having the current VP take over in event of removal of the incumbent president.

In principle, I don’t like procedures that allow a VP to assume office following impeachment (resignation, death, etc.)–even less when it is common for the VP to be from a coalition partner (or former one, in current Brazilian case.) In fact, I’d say don’t even have a VP; I prefer early elections, although I can imagine that option creating some perverse incentives of its own. However, altering the constitution in the midst of an impeachment process doesn’t seem like a good idea.

The proposal is to have early presidential/VP elections this October. The sponsors have not decided whether this would be for would be for two years (the remainder of the current term) or a full four-year new term. If the latter, Brazil would go back to non concurrent elections, which would be an especially bad idea.

The possibility of early elections is already raised by the Brazilian constitution, however, although only in the unlikely event that the offices of both the president and the vice president are vacant:

Article 81. In the event of vacancy of the offices of President and Vice-President of the republic, elections shall be held ninety days after the occurrence of the last vacancy.

Paragraph 1. If the vacancy occurs during the last two years of the President’s term of office, the National Congress shall hold elections for both of ces thirty days after the last vacancy, as established by law.

Paragraph 2. In any of the cases, those elected shall complete the term of office of their predecessors.

Note that if this provision were ever in force, the president would be elected for only the remainder of the current term, thus restoring concurrent elections at the next election. However, the proposed constitutional amendment evidently could end up calling for four year terms, starting in 2016, whereas congress is elected every four years, with the next one being 2018.

I have no idea if the amendment stands any chance of passage. It takes just 3/5 votes of both chambers to amend the constitution. Ratification by states or voters is not required.

There is yet another way an early election could be called: by the Superior Electoral Court. In a separate (as far as I know) case, there is an investigation into election irregularities from the 2014 reelection of Rousseff.

Via Inter-Press Services:

If the 2014 elections outcome is challenged, new elections will be held. But experts believe that this ruling will not come until 2017, and in that case it would be Congress that would elect the new president and vice president who would complete the current term until 2018.

I find it quite extraordinary that the electoral tribunal could invalidate an election halfway–or even later–through the elected incumbent’s term.

The Brazilian impeachment (constitutional provisions)

As almost anyone who would read this blog surely knows, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on 17 April. The case now moves to the Senate, which could try and remove her if it concurs with the charges.

The impeachment process in Brazil is similar to that of the USA, but differs in very important detail. First it takes a two-thirds vote in the first chamber, unlike the US where the House of Representatives impeaches (brings formal charges) against the President by majority. In both countries, it takes two thirds of the second chamber (senate) to convict and remove.

The key provisions of the Brazilian constitution are from Article 51:

It is exclusively the competence of the Chamber of Deputies… to authorize, by two-thirds of its members, legal proceeding to be initiated against the President and the Vice-President of the Republic …

And Article 52:

It is exclusively the competence of the Federal Senate… to effect the legal proceeding and trial of the president and vice-president of the republic for crime of malversation…
[…]
Sole paragraph. in the cases provided for in items i and ii, the chief Justice of the supreme federal court shall act as president and the sentence, which may only be issued by two-thirds of the votes of the federal senate, shall be limited to the loss of of ce with disquali cation to hold any public of ce for a period of eight years, without prejudice to other applicable judicial sanctions.

Another nontrivial different from US procedure is that the president of Brazil can be suspended from office upon impeachment, even before the Senate trial has begun. The conditions for impeachment and trial are further laid out in the section of the constitution concerned with executive authority.

Article 85:

Those acts of the president of the republic which attempt on the federal Constitution and especially on the following, are crimes of malversation:
I – the existence of the Union;
ii – the free exercise of the legislative power, the Judicial power, the public Prosecution and the constitutional Powers of the units of the Federation;
III – the exercise of political, individual and social rights; IV – the internal security of the country;
V – probity in the administration;
VI – the budgetary law;
vii – compliance with the laws and with court decisions.
Sole paragraph. These crimes shall be de ned in a special law, which shall establish the rules of procedure and trial.

I have not seen the law referenced in that “sole paragraph”, so I do not know what further conditions or elaborations may be stated therein. I also have not seen the bill of impeachment itself, so I do not know if it cites on of the above causes. However, the reporting on the impeachment generally emphasizes charges over manipulation of accounts. More specifically (in Portuguese) that she did not respect the law of fiscal responsibility.

Article 86:

If charges against the president of the republic are accepted by two- thirds of the chamber of deputies, he shall be submitted to trial before the supreme federal court for common criminal offenses or before the federal senate for crimes of malversation.
Paragraph 1. The President shall be suspended from his functions:
[…]
ii – in the event of crimes of malversation, after the proceeding is instituted by the federal senate.

I welcome discussion from those following the case closely regarding the process, and evaluations of the charges themselves.

Breaking ties

One of our students, Saul Cunow, currently in Brazil sends along this interesting tidbit:

In every municipal election there are 1-2 municipalities [among Brazil’s 5000+] where the leading candidates for mayor tie. Per the constitution, the tie-breaker is age — the older candidate wins. Apparently, age is also used as a tie-breaker in civil service exams and elsewhere as well.

Grumpy about the Brazilian election

From The Globe and Mail, regarding Sunday’s congressional elections in Brazil:

With 1.3 million ballots cast in his favour, a professional clown named Tiririca won more votes than any other candidate in Sunday’s elections. It’s the second-highest tally ever recorded in Brazil’s history. […]

He may not be able to serve, however:

The constitution requires that lawmakers be able to read and write, and the weekly newsmagazine Epoca alleged in a recent article that Tiririca is illiterate. A last-minute legal challenge failed to remove him from the ballot, but electoral authorities say he could still lose his congressional seat if his literacy is lacking.

In any case, his high vote total was enough to win at least five seats for his list:

The Chamber’s “open-list” system of proportional representation allocates seats to parties based on the total number of votes won by their candidates. Tiririca’s whopping victory means four or more fellow candidates from his Party of the Republic (PR) could ride into office on his coattails.

Critics complain that the open-list system favours celebrity or novelty candidates, but novelty is no guarantee of success. Adriely Fatal, a 23-year-old stripper who attracted some media attention, failed to win a seat in the Ceara state assembly. A member of the Christian Workers Party, Ms. Fatal had pledged to open a strip club in every town.

While it is nice to see a mainstream media account refer to the open-list electoral system, the kind of result reported in this account did not depend on the open list. As long as Grumpy advertised the PR as his party, on which he was number one on the list in Sao Paulo, his personal vote still would be sufficient to elect the same number under a closed list as under an open list.

A more interesting question is whether, in case he is deemed ineligible, the preference votes he brought to his list would be deducted from the votes of his party (given that the open list permits us to know just how many votes each candidate contributed)? I do not know Brazilian law, but one sentence in the report implies this could be the case. It says, “Whether Tiririca takes his seat could affect the power balance in the next Chamber of Deputies.” If his potential ineligibility affects only him, and not the total number of votes counted for the list, then the resolution of the case against him changes nothing. The list would elect the same number of candidates, only without its clown head.