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.

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.

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.

Republic of Barbados?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Salvadoran result 2018: The electoral cycle counts!

[Note: the following has been revised based on updated voting results– 9 March, 17:17 PM PST]

Before the assembly election in El Salvador, I suggested that the FMLN should be expected to win 24.2% of the vote. I hedged, saying I thought the Salvadoran party system probably was still too rigid to allow one of its two leading parties to fall off that far. I should not have hedged, because the preliminary results show that the largest party will be the opposition ARENA, which won 42.3%. The FMLN got 24.4%. How about that. I was off by a tenth of a percentage point in my pre-election prediction!

Well, as nice as that would be as a story, it is more complicated than that…

I now realize that I made an error in calculating my expectation of 24.2%. I based the expectation on the fact that the FMLN is the party of the incumbent president, that this election was being held with 80% of the president’s inter-electoral time lapsed, and the president’s own (first-round) vote total (in 2013). It was in the latter factor that I made a mistake, using 39.0%; that was the ARENA total, but the FMLN candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, had 48.9%. Plugging that into the formula (shown below), I should have “expected” the FMLN to get 30.3% of the vote in this past Sunday’s assembly election. So the party actually did a good deal worse than the corrected expectation. And I did worse in my prediction.

Perhaps the party system is no longer so rigid; one of the leading parties can fall below a quarter of the votes after all. Alternatively, as I shall explore here, perhaps I made a second countervailing mistake, which was not to include a coalition partner. If we add the votes of GANA, a center-right party but one that has supported FMLN presidencies since 2010 and, importantly, did not compete against Sánchez Cerén in the presidential contest, we get 35.9%. That’s greater than my (corrected) expectation of 30.3%, but somewhat closer to it than the FMLN’s own vote. I will return to this issue of party vs. alliance later.

The FMLN’s 24.4% is its worst showing in the votes for assembly since its debut election in 1994 (21.4%); that election was concurrent with the presidential election and the party ran just behind its presidential candidate (24.9%) who was a very distant second. Since then, the party has won 33.0%, 35.2%, 34.0%, 39.7%, 42.6%, 36.8%, 37.2%, and now 24.4%.

The party’s high-water mark was 2009, the “counter-honeymoon” election that presaged the leftist, ex-guerrila, party’s first presidential win a few months later.* Then, holding the presidency, it slipped in 2012, an election held with about 60% of the president’s term elapsed. In 2014, it won the presidency again, then held its own in the 2015 election, held with 20% of the new president’s term elapsed.

GANA first appeared, as a split from ARENA, in 2010, just under a year after the election of the first FMLN president. It has now run in three assembly elections staring with 2012, and its votes have been 9.6%, 9.2%, and 11.5%. Interestingly, it gained in 2018 even while the FMLN lost badly. If we add the two parties’ votes together for the last three elections, we get 46.4% (not much less than Sánchez Cerén’s own percentage in 2014), 46.4% (yes, again) in 2015, and 35.9%. That is obviously a sharp decline in the two parties’ combined votes, even if one of the partners did experience an increase. FMLN and GANA will now will have a third of the assembly seats, whereas they held half the seats after both the 2012 and 2015 elections.

What led to the sharp decline this time? Many political factors, no doubt. But what really counts is the elapsed time–an election this late in a presidential term tends to be bad for the presidential party–or alliance. The FMLN in 2018 is just the latest example of an effect I first researched in my dissertation (1988) and published about in the APSR in 1995.

Now, via Votes from Seats, we have a formula:

Rp=1.20–0.725E,

where Rp is the “presidential vote ratio”– vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own vote share (in the first round, if two-round system)–and E is the elapsed time (the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election takes place).

The key question around which this post is based is whether we should mean “party” literally as the party of which the president is nominee, or if we should include supporting parties that do not compete against the candidate. If you think it is cheating to use the alliance, I am being transparent and reporting the party totals. If you think it is OK to use the alliance when the two parties in question do not compete against each for presidency and cooperate in the assembly–despite running separately–we can compute the totals that way, too.

The formula above expects Rp=0.620 because E=0.80 for this election. Using only the FMLN assembly vote only, observed Rp=0.244/0.489=0.499. Using the FMLN+GANA vote, observed Rp=0.359/0.489=0.734. With the expected Rp=0.620, we get the previously mentioned expectation of 0.303 for the president’s alliance vote share. Obviously the president’s own vote does not change with these calculations, because any GANA-aligned voters who voted for the FMLN candidate are already included. This is why I think it makes sense to use the combined votes–not only because it makes the formula “work” better. (Honest! But F&V readers get to do peer review here!)**

This is the second nonconcurrent assembly election I have watched closely since Rein Taagepera and I developed the formula for our book (published in October, 2017). The other was in France. In April, 2017, I “predicted” that the brand new party of Emmanuel Macron would win around 29% of the vote. This was the day after the first round, and assuming he would win the second round (which he did, easily). At the time, much media commentary was of a hand-wringing character: Macron would be weak, maybe even face cohabitation, because he didn’t have any party to speak of. I said no, the electoral cycle will ensure he gets a good boost in votes in the assembly election. An elapsed time (E) of 0.017, an extreme “honeymoon” election, would almost guarantee it.

In fact, the election resulted in Macron’s party winning 32% of the vote. (And, a large majority of seats, due to the disproportional electoral system.)

So, that’s two elections in the past year called (more or less) correctly, within a few percentage points, based only on the elapsed time and the president’s own initial vote share.

I still hesitate to call this a prediction, because the parameters in the formula (1.20 and 0.725, above) are not themselves based on deductive logic. And perhaps I also should hesitate because of the ambiguity over party vs. alliance, as discussed in this post. But there just may be something to these electoral cycle effects, after all.

[Note: lightly edited since posting.]

______ Notes
* The 2009 presidential election featured only two candidates. So the party’s presidential vote was inflated due to the abstention of all but the two big parties from the presidential race that year. This is the only time smaller parties have not contested the first round. As I said at the time, the decision by the then-ARENA majority to shift from a concurrent to counter-honeymoon assembly election that year converted the assembly election into a “de-facto first round of the presidential election”. The right got spooked, perhaps, by the strong showing of the FMLN, and did not want to risk a division, even in the two-round election. The left followed suit and, with a sole candidate, narrowly won.


** In the 2015 election, based on the new president’s 48.9% of the (first round) vote in 2014 and elapsed time, E=0.20, we would have expected a votes ratio Rp=1.055. That would mean an assembly vote percentage of 51.6%. The FMLN itself won only 37.2%, but if we include GANA, as noted, we get 46.4% (Rp=0.949), which is a small under-performance. (Consequential, of course, as they failed to get the majority predicted.) How about one election farther back in the cycle? In 2012, GANA existed, but that party had not existed at the time the then-incumbent president of the FMLN was elected. So we certainly can’t include it in the calculation for 2012! For that election E=0.60, and so expected Rp=0.765. The president had won 51.3%, so we’d expect the FMLN to have won 39.2%. It actually won 36.8% (observed Rp=0.719), so it did only a little worse than the formula suggests it could have expected.

 

El Salvador ballots

Thanks to the really wonderful Twitter feed of La Prensa Grafica, following are some photos of voted ballots from El Salvador’s assembly elections of 4 March.

The ballot format is “free list” under which it is a party-list proportional-representation system, but unlike other types of list, the voter can give preference votes to candidates nominated on different lists (a feature sometimes known as panachage).

Here is one that is marked for candidates in several different lists, but none in the government-supporting parties, FMLN (red) and GANA (orange).

Here is one that marked all of the candidates in the ARENA party.

That’s a lot of work! A voter who wants to vote a straight ticket can simply put an X over the party symbol at the top, and it counts the same as a vote for each candidate on the list.

Now here is one whose vote will count for no one, but the voter had fun making statements.

Under the free-list system, a party’s votes is the sum of all the preference votes its candidates receive (including the label votes counted as one for each candidate on the list). Any preference vote thus contributes to the list’s pooled vote total for purposes of calculating seats per list. If a voter does not cast all M votes (where M is the district magnitude), that voter is sacrificing a percentage of his or her entitled voting weight.

This process also means that calculating national party vote totals is not straightforward. I am not sure what method of weighting votes across the varying-magnitude districts is used in El Salvador’s official reporting of national totals.

Salvadoran assembly election, 2018

El Salvador has its nonconcurrent assembly election on 4 March. (Also, municipal elections on the same day.) There are not very many pure presidential systems that have assembly and presidential elections nonconcurrent; this is one of many reasons why El Salvador fascinates me.

Another is the enduring relatively rigid division of the party system between the ex-guerrilla FMLN and the right-wing ARENA parties. Yet another is the free-list (panachage) system adopted in 2015. It makes for pretty big ballots!

El Salvador has presidential elections on a five-year cycle and assembly on a three-year cycle. Since the current regime was established in the early 1980s (in the midst of the civil war), elections have occurred in the same year twice. In 1994 they were concurrent. In 2009, the right-wing bloc in the assembly moved their own election up ahead of the presidential, making for a counter-honeymoon election.

In the most recent assembly election (2015), ARENA won 32 seats to the FMLN’s 31 (the assembly size is 84). In the most recent presidential election (2014), the FMLN candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, won the two-candidate runoff with 50.1%. As I said, it is a closely divided party system! One factor that makes it less rigid than it once was is the emergence of GANA, which split from ARENA after the election of the first FMLN president (Mauricio Funes) in 2009. The emergence of GANA can be seen as an example of “presidentialization” of the party system, in that it was a splinter from the former presidential party to support the new president from the other side of the political divide. GANA remains broadly “conservative” but works with the FMLN in the assembly. It won 11 seats in 2015.

Polls* suggest that ARENA is in the lead. So does the electoral cycle. This election is quite late in the president’s term. The FMLN won 37.2% of the vote in 2015, somewhat down on its first-round presidential vote a year earlier (39.0%). That’s a ratio of assembly to presidential vote of 0.949. The formula presented in Votes from Seats suggests that an assembly election with 20% of the time elapsed between presidential elections would tend, on average, to feature a ratio of 1.055. (See my discussion of the formula and application to France, 2017.) So the party did only very slightly worse than we would expect, based only on a pattern documented from a wide range of elections in presidential systems. This election is at 80% elapsed time between presidential elections, which ought to produce a ratio of 0.620, or a vote of 24.2%. I suspect the Salvadoran party system is still too rigid for the FMLN to fall that far, but anything below 30% would not be a surprise, given the timing of the election. [UPDATE: I used the wrong presidential vote numbers. See comment below.]

As for the free-list electoral system, the voter may cast as many votes as the magnitude of the electoral district (which averages six, but is highly variable according to population). In much of my work, I study the process of “personal votes“; I see now that certain of my assumptions could be called into question: that candidates not only “seek” such votes but that they have consented to being candidates. There actually is an item in the Salvadoran press about a candidate who has asked to be de-listed because she did not consent to being a candidate!

Of course, another question is just how much do candidates campaign for personal votes? Another item from the Salvadoran press, from late December, showed a campaign billboard for a specific candidate.

In this case, the candidate had jumped the gun on the campaign period and was admonished by the electoral authority. So, yes, candidates (at least some) apparently do campaign for personal votes, albeit sometimes too eagerly.

Nonconcurrent elections, a post-civil-war party system, free-list PR. Plus, pupusa contests! El Salvador has a lot to hold my interest!

___

* The linked article is incorrect on the electoral system. It says that the Salvadoran electoral system has 20 nationwide seats. That was last true for the 2003 election. (The source linked to is from 2013, only a decade after such a system was last used!) There are 84 seats, 14 districts.

Honduras 2017

Honduras has presidential and congressional elections today. I know essentially  nothing about the elections except: (1) There is widespread fear they will not be fair, and (2) The congress is elected by free-list PR.

It is for the latter reason that I share the following image, which I found on Twitter, posted by Pablo Secchi.

The ballot is similar to that in neighboring El Salvador, which also uses a free list. The voter may cast up to M votes, where M is the district magnitude (number of seats elected from the district). The votes may be cast without regard for party, but each candidate vote is also a vote for the list on which the candidate was nominated. Thus it is a party-list PR system, but one in which voters are free to spread their support across multiple parties. It also means that voters are weighted differently, according to whether they cast all their votes or not.

It appears that voters can simply cast a list vote. I believe that doing so is equivalent to casting votes for as many candidates as are nominated on that list (presumably always M).

Dominican Republic has abolished its open-list system. Or has it?

[revised]

While attempting to track down records of preferential votes in Dominican Republic congressional elections, I discovered something that will be of interest to many readers of this blog:

By resolution adopted by the Junta Central Electoral in 2010 the preference vote was eliminated. It is particularly interesting in that the resolution states that the electoral law does not specify the “modality of voting” and that the adoption of open lists for the 2002 election was a prior resolution of the JCE. I wonder how many countries using PR systems do not specify in their law what the list type can be.

The resolution gives as a reason for its decision that the preferential vote has been “traumatic” for the party system. It also states that “primaries” within the parties are sufficient.

Thus in the next elections, in May 2016, the DR is supposed to revert to closed-list PR. I can’t name offhand another case that has moved from open lists to closed. Am I forgetting some other case?

However, not so fast! While the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the JCE’s ruling in 2013, congress passed a law reestablishing the preferential vote. However, the president may not have signed it, as there is another news article from 2015 that says that the preference vote is under threat, and accuses the PLD (the president’s party) of wanting closed lists in order to cope with its own internal divisions. Thus, at the moment, I don’t think we can say what the system is going to be as of May.

So far, the DR has held three elections under open lists: 2002, 2006, and 2010; before that, lists were closed. There were no congressional elections in 2014, because they are resynchronizing them with future presidential elections, starting in 2016. In other words, the congress elected in 2010 was elected for a six-year term; this is also very unusual. Not very many countries have ever had six-year terms for their sole or first chamber, although in this case it is just a one-off. Apparently they need all this time to figure out what the electoral system is going to be!

And if anyone can find for me the record of preferential votes for losing as well as winning candidates in 2002 and 2006, I will be grateful. I obtained those from 2010, and I have winners only for the other two years. The JCE’s email address for public information now has “permanent fatal errors”.

El Salvador–unusual legislative organization

On 14 May, the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador passed the required measure to organize the governance of the chamber for the coming term, following the elections this past March. It is a rather unusual arrangement: The second and third largest parties will each hold the assembly presidency for half of the three-year term.

Lorena Peña of the FMLN will be assembly president for 18 months, and then on 8 November 2016, Guillermo Gallegos of GANA will assume the assembly presidency for the remainder of the term.

The opposition ARENA won 32 seats (39% of 84), against 31 (37.8%) for the FMLN and 11 (13.4%) for the GANA. The latter party has its origins in a split in the right-wing ARENA that occurred following the election of the first president from the left-wing FMLN in 2009. It has been an ally of the FMLN ever since. ARENA partner PCN won 4 seats on its own in the election, and another three seats were won by ARENA-PCN alliances in various constituencies. Therefore, the actual balance of the assembly is 42 FMLN+GANA (51.2%) to 39 ARENA+PCN (47.6%); one seat was won by the Christian Democrats (PDC).

The directing board (junta directiva) will have 4 members each from ARENA and the FMLN and 3 each from GANA and the PCN. This body, then, will have equality between the two blocs, thereby slightly over-representing the right-wing bloc. I do not know the actual powers of the presidency vs. the directing board.

I certainly do not claim exhaustive knowledge of how power is divvied up in legislative organization around the world, but the alternation of the presidency for equal time periods between two parties that are quite unequal in strength (and second and third in seat totals) must be a rare occurrence.

El Salvador joins the panachage ranks, president’s party holds steady

El Salvador held its legislative election on 1 March, using a modified electoral system. The country had already left behind the closed list in 2012, replacing it with an open list. This year the country moved to panachage, the variant of open list in which voters may vote for candidates on different lists (sometimes called “free list”).

El Salvador is one of the few pure presidential systems still using an electoral cycle (a long-term interest of mine) consisting of all non-concurrent elections, with presidential terms of five years and legislative terms of three years. This election is in the first year of the incumbent president’s term, and offered neither “surge” nor decline in his party’s legislative support.

I was first tipped off to the change to panachage by a remark in a Tico Times article just before the election that said:

For the first time, voters will be able to select individual candidates from any party rather than being forced to vote for a single party with an established list of candidates. Voters can still opt to simply choose a party.

This is definitely far more detailed than your average journalistic note about an electoral system. But to be sure, I checked with the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, which has a very useful gallery of ballot images and instruction cards. Below I post an image of the instructions for the district (department) of Cabañas.

ElSal 2015 guia

It offers the voter five options:

      1. Vote solely for the list of a party or coalition;
      2. Vote for a list and mark the photo of “one, various, or all the candidates” on that list;
      3. Mark the photo of “one, various, or all the candidates” in one list (without also indicating a list vote);
      4. “Mark candidates of distinct political parties or coalition” or candidates of distinct parties and a non-party candidate”, not exceeding the total number of deputies elected from the district.
      5. Mark the photo of a non-party candidate.**

It is option 4 that clearly establishes panachage.

By contrast, in 2012, the options excluded any mention of marking candidates across different lists.

El Salvador open list 2012

See also images of a portion of the ballot from 2015 or 2012.

For a long time the only panachage systems in use at the national level (to my knowledge) were in Luxembourg and Switzerland. In 2005, Honduras adopted such a system, and now one of its immediate neighbors has followed suit. (I believe Ecuador still uses a panchage system adopted several years ago; Venezuela used one at least once, but only at the municipal level.)

As for the election itself, there was a considerable delay in reporting the results. It does not seem that the panachage system had anything to do with the delay.

Preliminary results suggest that the opposition ARENA will have a plurality of seats, with 35 (of 84). That would represent a gain of two seats from the 2012 legislative election. The governing FMLN is likely to have 31 (no change) and its ally GANA 10 (-1). The PCN (the pre-1979 ruling party, still just hanging on) is expected to have 6 (-1) and the PDC would have 2 (a doubling of seats for this party that was the main alternative to the right before the civil war ended).

El Salvador hence essentially maintains its long-term relative stasis and close left-right division. The incumbent president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN, was elected by a very narrow margin a year ago. This election barely changes the balance of power, even though it occurs within the first year of a president’s five-year term and hence could qualify as a “honeymoon election”. In Salvadoran politics, there really isn’t much of a honeymoon, or any near-term prospect for the much-anticipated realignment. The big swing to the FMLN in the 2009 legislative election looks, in retrospect, like a blip within what is otherwise ongoing stasis.

It will be interesting to see if the move to an electoral system allowing cross-party voting for the first time begins to break down El Salvador’s remarkably rigid partisan lines.***

____________
* Elections could be concurrent every 15 years, as they were in 1994. However, in 2009, the legislative election was shifted to the “counter-honeymoon” and held in January, with the presidential election, as usual, in March.

** In both options 4 and 5, the reference to independents is singular; logically if voting for an independent is an alternative to voting for a party, one could vote for only one independent just as one can vote for only one party. On the other hand, in a panachage world, one actually can vote for more than  one party (assuming a vote for any candidate also counts for the party on whose list the candidate was nominated), so why would there need to be a restriction on the number of votes that a voter may give for independents? (Note that it is probably quite difficult for an independent candidate to be elected in any case.) [I edited this footnote shortly after posting.]

*** Whether the partisan lines over El Salvador can ever be broken down in the United States is another matter.

Trinidad & Tobago political reform

At the end of August, the Senate of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) passed a package of constitutional amendments, which include some significant changes to the electoral system.

T&T has been a FPTP (M=1, plurality) system throughout its years as a democratic independent state. It has had some anomalous outcomes with FPTP, and, due to that record, in a book chapter published in 2008* I placed T&T on my “watch list” of jurisdictions in which the performance of the FPTP seemed to be setting the ground for the “inherent” conditions for a reform process to come about. Apparently T&T leaders agreed. However, the chapter was about conditions for fundamental reform to a different electoral system, such as a form of PR. The reform actually in the process of being adopted is instead non-proportional. It is still well within the “majoritarian” family. In fact, it could be seen as a move further in the majoritarian direction.

The amendments passed by the Senate call for a runoff system. The reforms have not exactly been a consensual process, with only government Senators and three independents voting for it, according to the Guardian (of T&T):

All the Opposition Senators present and six independents voted against the bill. However, the bill received the three Independents’ votes only after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar agreed to accept an amendment to the controversial runoff clause put forward by [Independent Senator Dhanayshar] Mahabir.

The amended provision says that a majority is required for election in the first round. However, unlike the initial proposal of the government, when a runoff is needed it is not necessarily a top-two contest. Rather, the provision is that:

a third place candidate in an election, who gains 25 per cent of the votes and who is within a margin of not less than five percentage points of the second place candidate, also be allowed to contest the runoff election.

In case of a 3-candidate second round, the winner will be the candidate with a plurality. Thus we will have here a form of majority-plurality system, but with different (more “restrictive”) second-round qualifying rules than in France.

Other provisions in the original bill, and which I assume remain intact in the Senate version include (with my brief reaction):

    Term limits for the Prime Minister (unusual for a parliamentary system, although not unheard of–see South Africa and Botswana, where the term-limited “president” really is a PM).

    Right of recall against individual MPs (also unusual–unheard of?–in a parliamentary system).

    Fixed election dates (used to be unusual in British-influenced parliamentary systems, but seems to be all the rage these days).

Trinidad and Tobago is undergoing some fairly significant reforms. The bill awaits presidential assent, and despite a candlelight vigil outside the president’s residence by The Movement for Social Justice, assent is presumably a foregone conclusion.

_______
* “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in the edited volume by Andre Blais, To Keep or Change First Past the Post.