Lithuania threshold reduction

The Lithuanian parliament has passed an amendment to the country’s electoral law. If it secures final passage, as expected, the threshold for party-list seats will be reduced from 5% to 4% for parties running alone and from 7% to 5% for electoral coalitions.

A proposal to reduce the assembly size from 141 to 121 was defeated in a referendum in May.

(Source: Linas Eriksonas, 2019)

Note that Lithuania has a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system: 70 of 141 legislators are elected in single-seat districts, the rest by list PR (nationwide, non-compensatory). The legal threshold affects only the list component.

Turkey, 2018: Unusual alliance behavior

On 24 June, Turkey has concurrent presidential and assembly elections. These will usher in the new constitution, under which Turkey becomes a presidential system. (The current system is premier-presidential, having changed from parliamentary with the adoption of direct presidential elections.)

The election was called earlier than necessary in an attempt by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to catch the opposition unprepared. However, unexpectedly, several opposition parties have assembled joint lists an alliance (see clarification below) to contest the assembly elections. Polling suggests that they could win a majority.

The coalition behavior of the opposition is unusual in that it features parties running in a pre-election coalition for assembly elections while running separately for a concurrent presidential election. I know of few cases of major parties behaving this way. It makes sense, however, in that Turkey’s 10% nationwide threshold for assembly seats makes for potentially high disproportionality (so much so that I questioned whether it was “democratic” several years before the crackdown that followed the attempted coup). On the other hand, the presidency is elected by two-round majority, meaning first-round divisions do not necessarily prevent a group of parties eventually getting one of their own elected. (See Chile 2005 for another example of such unusual alliance behavior.; also Taiwan 2012.)

The Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which counts on Kurdish support, is running separately. It cleared the threshold in both elections of 2015 (a, b), and may do so again.

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Zeynep Somer-Topcu clarifies, regarding the assembly alliances:

Ballot had each party and then a larger box for the alliance. You could just stamp anywhere within the box for alliance (if no party preference). Threshold applies to alliance but each party’s MPs enter based on their parties’ vote shares once alliance passes threshold.

(via Twitter, presented here with her OK)

I think it is quite unusual for alliances to work this way, allowing vote pooling across separate lists to help drag smaller parties over a threshold.

Turkey 2015: The AKP’s non-majority is not a surprise, and higher thresholds can only increase the largest party’s seat share

The reporting on the Turkish election results is treating the AKP’s fall to less than half the seats as a really big surprise. There was even a column in a Turkish newspaper that suggested the high threshold may have been a reason for the non-majority. This post attempts to set the record straight: these claims are bogus.

Was the AKP losing its majority a surprise?

Pre-election polls suggested the AKP would earn around 40% of the vote, which proved spot on. (The link there is an article from May 28, which I cited in my pre-election post.)

The Turkish electoral system is sufficiently proportional (although only modestly so) that a leading party with around 40% of the votes would be highly unlikely to get a majority of seats–UNLESS there were sufficient numbers of wasted votes for parties falling below the threshold. That threshold is set at 10%, and applied nationwide, in spite of all seats being allocated in 85 multi-member districts. In the past, the AKP had won parliamentary majorities on less than half the votes (and as low as 34%), but only due to a large below-threshold vote for minor parties and independents (many of them Kurds who this time coalesced behind the HDP).

Once the HDP cleared the threshold, there was essentially no way for the AKP to get a majority. In the same pre-election polls, the HDP was in the range of 8.5-11.5%. Thus it was a knife edge whether it would clear, but hardly a big surprise. And if the HDP had a good chance of clearing the threshold, the AKP could not get a majority unless its vote share was considerably higher than anticipated.

Did the threshold actually hurt the AKP this time?

Regarding that threshold, there was a piece in the Monkey Cage blog that was otherwise a very fine overview of “How the Kurds upended Turkish politics“, but in which one point makes no sense:

As editor of the English-language Hurriyet Daily News Murat Yetkin shrewdly pointed out, the AKP may have been a victim of its own dependence on the unfair 10 percent threshold rule. If the threshold had been lowered to 5 or 7 percent, argued Yetkin, the AKP still would have been prevented from adopting Erdogan’s presidential system, but its parliamentary majority would have been salvaged.

That point actually does not seem so shrewd to me. Yetkin himself further says:

Because of the complicated calculation system that the 10 percent threshold brings with it, the AK Parti has lost its parliamentary majority.

The system is indeed somewhat complex, but there is nothing complicated about how thresholds affect the outcome. If you attain the stipulated minimum vote share nationwide, you qualify for seats in any of the 85 districts in which you have sufficient votes.

How could it be that a LOWER threshold would INCREASE the seat share of the largest party?

he only thing I can imagine Yetkin may have meant–although he does not spell this out–is that the HDP vote itself would have been lower if the threshold had been lower, and implicitly, the AKP vote would have been higher. In other words, HDP, according to such an argument, may have benefited from strategic voting by voters who wanted to ensure it got 10%. Given that it got almost 13%, which was–as I noted above–more than pre-election polls predicted, while the AKP result was in line with those polls, such an argument (which, again, Yetkin did not actually make) seems a stretch.

A “normal” result, given the electoral system and HDP being over the threshold

The bottom line is that the result of this election, while quite a watershed for Turkish politics, has given Turkey a fairly “normal” result for an electoral system of its average magnitude (around 6.5). The threshold, in the end, did not bar any significant political force from representation, unlike in previous elections. A largest party winning around 47% of the seats on about 41% of the votes is nothing out of the ordinary. Whether Turkish-Kurdish politics can be as “normalized” as the election result itself is another matter. Stay tuned to the government-formation process and aftermath for clues.

The impact of M=96 and no legal threshold

The decision of the German Constitutional Court to invalidate the legal threshold for election of MEPs has been predictably consequential. Given the single 96-seat district, a very large number of parties has won at least one seat, and some have won with less than 1% of the vote.

There will be thirteen parties (counting the CDU and CSU separately) in the German delegation. Seven of them had less than the former 3% threshold; the biggest of the sub-3% parties had not even quite 1.5%. The German government reports the votes; seats are shown at Wikipedia.

Assuming the Wikipedia list is accurate (and it looks likely to be so), these parties that won representation thanks to the Court ruling are: Free Voters, Pirates, Human Environment Animal Protection, National Democrats (yes, a German neo-Nazi will be in the European Parliament), Family Party, Ecological Democrats, and some outfit called Die PARTEI. The last three of these have vote totals ranging from 0.69% down to 0.63%. The NPD’s vote percentage was 1.03.

Also noteworthy is that the Free Democrats continued their slide, winning only 3.36%. They had just missed the 5% threshold for the federal Bundestag elections last year. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which also had just missed the threshold for the Bundetag won 7.04%.

Israeli “governance” law passed

The official Knesset press release has details of the new law to raise the threshold and make other changes in government formation.

As expected, the threshold is raised to 3.25%. I am pretty sure this is the first time anyone has used a threshold with a quarter percent in it. (Offhand I can’t think of a case that has used half a percent, other than Israel, where the threshold was 1.5% in 1996-99.)

The size of the cabinet will be limited to 18 ministers, and ministers without portfolio are eliminated. “However, the government will be able to appoint additional ministers if at least 70 Knesset members support the move.” The latter is an odd provision in that it gives the opposition a veto over composition of the government–unless, of course, the coalition includes at least 70 MKs.

There are also changes in rules governing splits between elections:

The approved amendment to Basic Law: The Government also eliminates the option permitted by current law that allows seven MKs to split from their faction, even if they do not constitute a third of it. The law states that an MK can leave his faction if it decides to merge with another faction, but that this MK must join a different faction. The party financing budget in this case will only go to a faction with at least two MKs.

Another important change is to make the no-confidence vote constructive. Sometimes the current Israeli provision (enacted with the repeal of direct election of the Prime Minister after 2001) is classified as “constructive”. However, really it is not, because it only mandates that the person named in the motion be given the first chance to form a government. The new measure, according to the press release:

states that an MK seeking a no-confidence vote in the government must propose an alternative government and nominate a prime minister and ministers. The parties seeking a no-confidence vote must also state the guidelines of the proposed alternative government. The new government will take office immediately after the Knesset plenum votes in favor of the no-confidence vote and for the new government in a single vote.

This actually goes even farther, I believe, than existing “constructive” provisions in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere. Those entail the election of a new prime minister on the same motion and vote that removes the incumbent government, but do not require the naming of ministers. I’d like to see a translation of the full provision to be sure that the press release is accurately portraying it, but this seems like a sort of super-constructive vote of no confidence.

The law passed with a 67-0 vote, with opposition members boycotting.

Colombian legislative elections, 2014

Colombia’s congressional election is this Sunday. It will be the third under the D’Hondt proportional, optionally open list, system that I had a very small hand in helping bring about in 2003. Years before that reform, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Robledo at his truly amazing home (he is an architect) in beautiful Manizales. At the time I met him in 1990 I could not have imagined that, under the new system he would end up being the candidate with the third highest vote total in the nationwide district for the Senate.*

For this election, the threshold in the nationwide Senate district (100 seats) has been raised from 2% to 3%.** He says he is sure (of course!) that his party list, Polo Democratico, will clear the threshold, despite divisions on the left. The interviewer does not seem to believe him, and suggests Robledo could be the highest individual vote-getter and yet not be reelected.

Robledo might be better positioned to retain his seat had the electoral reform never been adopted!

The Chamber of Deputies is also elected Sunday; it uses the same allocation formula, but in districts ranging in magnitude from 2 to 18, without (need for) the threshold.

Through 2002, both houses used what was essentially an SNTV system, so only individual votes mattered.

Another interesting point in the interview: Robledo insists (and I assume he is right) that his vote is of “opinion” and not of “clientelism”, as are those of so many other Colombian congressional members. The reform was supposed to reduce clientelism–at least at the margins–by encouraging collective action by parties. Whether it has done so would require some extensive study; it is clear that it significantly reduced overall fragmentation, as a result of the vote-pooling feature of the list system (and, in the Senate, the threshold), which encouraged the numerous examples of what were effectively one-person “parties” under SNTV to pool their efforts on lists that could earn larger collective vote totals. There are several posts from back in 2006 and 2010 on the results of the first two elections after the reform.

I also have some published works on the reform:

Mónica Pachón and Matthew S. Shugart. 2010. “Electoral Reform And The Mirror Image Of Interparty And Intraparty Competition: The Adoption Of Party Lists In Colombia,” Electoral Studies 29: 648–60.

Matthew Soberg Shugart, Erika Moreno and Luis E. Fajardo, “Deepening Democracy through Renovating Political Practices: The Struggle for Electoral Reform in Colombia,” in Christopher Welna and Gustavo Gallon, eds., Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2007.

And in a Colombian magazine: Matthew Shugart, “La Reforma Política, Paso Crucial.” Cambio 6, 522 (June 30–July 6, 2003), Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia.

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* And not only because the nationwide district for the Senate did not exist yet; that would be adopted a year later in the new constitution.

** Yes, my third post today on threshold changes!

No threshold for German MEPs

Apparently it is threshold day at F&V. While Israel may be raising its threshold, Germany will be dramatically lowering its. But only for its members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The Constitutional Court ruled in late February that the existing 3% threshold violated political parties’ rights to equal opportunities.

To the immediate question of why, then, the Bundestag (Germany’s elected chamber of the federal parliament) can have a 5% threshold–which was highly consequential in the most recent election–the Court has a ready answer: the role of the Bundestag is to sustain a government, and so limiting fragmentation is a valid interest. However, the European Parliament has no such role, and so it isn’t.

Israel threshold bill advances

The Israeli Knesset constitution committee has cleared the “governability bill” and sent it on to the full chamber. If passed, it would raise the threshold for representation from its current 2% of the vote to 3.25%.

Haaretz notes:

This change will keep parties with fewer than four seats out of the Knesset. Thus the three Arab parties, each of usually wins three to four seats in election, would have to merge to ensure that they get in.

The bill also makes other changes in the system of government, including restricting the cabinet to 18 ministers and four deputy ministers and barring the appointment of ministers without portfolio.

Further, the Haaretz item (which unfortunately you probably have to be a subscriber to access) indicates the intra-coalition logrolling that went into advancing the bill to this stage:

Unusually, the final committee vote on the governability bill coincided with votes on key sections of the new conscription bill in the Shaked Committee. Moreover, in both committees, the coalition had a majority of only one Knesset member. The Habayit Hayehudi party therefore exploited the situation to try to ensure that the conscription bill would meet its approval: Its two MKs on the Constitution Committee, Orit Strock and Shuli Moalem, threatened not to vote for the governability bill if the party’s demands on the conscription bill weren’t met.

Haaretz claims, without detail, that the maneuver did not secure any change of substance. Nonetheless, the episode underscores the narrowness of majorities under the current government.

The change to the threshold is not a minor matter, yet it is being pushed through without consensus.

Israel: Competing governance bills from within the coalition

Members from two of the coalition partners in the Israeli government have submitted bills to reform various aspects of governance.

The first, from Yisrael Beiteinu, would keep the current requirement for an absolute majority (61/120) to remove a government via a vote of no-confidence, but not allow such a motion even to be debated until signed by 61 MKs.

The second, from Yesh Atid, would require 65 votes to remove a government. (It is not clear what the minimum number of signers would be for the motion to go to the Knesset agenda.)

Both bills propose raising the electoral threshold to 4% (from 2%), and mandating a maximum size of the cabinet, including limits on deputy ministers.

In support of the Yesh Atid bill, sponsor Ronen Hoffman says, “The adoption of the procedure means a government can only be overthrown once a realistic, serious alternative is in place.”

Actually, this could be accomplished without requiring more than 50%+1 votes. Why not a constructive vote of no-confidence, whereby a government can be removed only if a majority (61/120) of legislators votes affirmatively for an alternative prime minister (or full cabinet)?*

If forced to choose between these two options, I would actually take the Yisrael Beiteinu one. However, while raising the minimum number of sponsors of a no-confidence motion seems sensible, raising it all the way to 50%+1 is unnecessary. I do not know what the highest currently used in any parliamentary democracy is, but I think more on the order of 25%.** Speaking of parliamentary systems, if it takes more than 50%+1 to remove a government, the system fails to meet the basic criterion of such a system: the accountability of government to parliament–the majority of parliament.

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* Israel adopted a weak form of constructive vote about a decade ago, but a motion must only name a candidate to be PM, not actually invest a new PM, as is the case with full constructive votes in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere.

** The linked news item says that currently, “any faction” may propose a motion, which is debated. That’s too low a requirement!

The possible impact of a higher threshold in Israel

As discussed in a previous thread, the new Israeli government is based on an agreement that includes a commitment to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to 4%. What impact might this have?

In a working paper (of which I will become co-author), Taagepera has developed a logical model that suggests the number of parties (of any size) should be about the inverse square root of the threshold (expressed in fractional terms, not percent). The models fits a range of established countries quite well.

At 4%, that means five parties.

The problem is that Israel already has far “too many” parties for its existing threshold. At 2%, the country “should have” seven parties. In the most recent election, twelve parties (or, rather, lists) won seats. That’s about one and two thirds more than expected. So maybe raising the threshold to 4% would reduce the number of parties in the Knesset to about eight. Coincidentally (or maybe not), that would be a reduction by precisely the number of parties that won more than 2%, but less than 4%, of the vote in the most recent election.

Israeli government reform proposals

One of the provisions in the Israeli coalition agreement refers to political reform plans:

    1. The threshold is to be doubled from 2% to 4%.

    2. The number of Knesset members needed to dismiss a government will be increased from 61 to 70 (of 120).

I would not count a system of government under that second provision as “parliamentary”; I am not sure what it is, ((It has some features of Assembly-Independent, though it is a less drastic “de-parliamentarization” than that agreed in Papua New Guinea.)) or if there is anything comparable anywhere else.

(As for thresholds, we have discussed the theme extensively before.)

Party-preferential voting

I had missed most of the following discussion earlier, and as it occurred in a thread on Lower Saxony, it could easily have been missed by others as well.

I am going to reproduce two comments that describe interesting ideas for coping with thresholds.

Vasi:

there’s no reason you couldn’t make thresholds less discontinuous, by combining them with preferential votes.

The mechanics would be a tweaked STV, with the following differences:

1. Because of large district magnitude, a full preferential vote for all candidates would be impractical. Instead voters would list parties in order of preference, with the intraparty order being fixed as in List-PR.

2. To effect a threshold of T seats, a party would not be awarded its first seat until it has accumulated T quotas.

Chris:

Vasi, that sounds essentially like the NSW Legislative Council electoral system.

The election is by STV, with 21 vacancies at an election. One has the option of either voting below the line, by ranking at least 15 candidates, or voting above the line, by voting for one or more party tickets. Unlike federal Senate elections, voting for a party’s ticket does not result in a vote for a preset preference ranking of every candidate; instead, it only ranks the candidates of that party, in the order they appear on the ballot paper. Voters have the option of marking multiple parties above the line, unlike federal Senate elections. So, for instance, the Labor how-to-vote cards in the last election suggested that their supporters vote 1 Labor, 2 Greens above the line. That means they essentially ranked every Labor candidate, followed by every Greens candidate, and if all of them are elected or excluded, their ballot is exhausted.

The Australian group voting ticket essentially operates like closed-list PR, with the exception of in very large elections. The NSW Legislative Council used to use the same ticket style system that the federal Senate uses, but after the 1999 election resulted in a ballot paper the size of a tablecloth (almost 1 sq. m), and a candidate from the “Outdoor Recreation Party” got elected with 8,000 first preference votes (something like 5% of a quota), they changed the group-ticket system to the single party ticket system now in place.

Stephane Dion, the former Leader of the Official Opposition in Canada, also is advocating a version of party-preferential voting. though in ridings which would be only 3-5 seats (1 seat by AV in the territories). In a 4-seat riding, the threshold would be 25% + 1 vote. If all remaining parties are above the threshold, seats are awarded to them by largest remainder (I believe). If there are any parties remaining below the threshold, the party with the least votes is eliminated and their supporters votes transferred to their highest remaining preference. His system is OLPR, with each voter able to cast a preference vote for one candidate of his first-preference party.

I think the most proportional system possible would be party-preferential with a low threshold and a large district magnitude (the most proportional would obviously be a single national district). You could either exclude parties one-by-one (hopefully with block exclusions) until every party remaining was above the threshold, then distribute seats. Otherwise you could simply exclude all parties below the threshold and distribute their voters’ preferences to remaining parties. It avoids the huge numbers of voters wasting their votes by being below the thresold; for instance, even with a relatively low threshold of 3%, 19% of the valid votes in the May 2012 Greek election were cast for parties below the threshold. In this system, the only voters who do not have either a first preference or a transfer vote elect an MP are those who deliberately choose not to rank any parties that make it into parliament.

I also think a novel way to build a stronger government while remaining representative of votes would be to use preferential ballots, but with multiple thresholds. In a 120 seat legislature, 60 seats could be awarded to those parties above 2%, with voters below the threshold transferring to their highest placed remaining party. Then a further 30 seats could be given to those parties above 5% (including transferred votes), then a further 20 seats to those parties above 10%, and then the final 10 seats to the party which wins a majority by transfers. This means that even voters who vote below the threshold are represented, and parties with a decent amount of support have representatives in parliament, just not proportionally to their first-preference votes. You also get larger parties at the top, making a stable government more likely, but unlike supplemental member, or the Italian/Greek plurality-winner top up system, the larger bloc is distributed based on all voters’ preferences, retaining a much larger degree of proportionality than other semi-proportional systems.

I am not necessarily endorsing this concept, although I do find it very interesting. I would be interested in further discussion.

The thread has a lot of other interesting comments on the relationship of thresholds to democratic theory (particularly the last several comments posted as of 4 February). I re-posted the two comments above simply because they refer to proposals for an alternative way of coping with thresholds in electoral-system design.

(I did note the Dion proposal before.)

Campaigning around the threshold

The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves. ((See also my entry on the Lower Saxony election for the impact of a threshold on strategy.)) The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.

Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).

Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.

Continue reading

Lower Saxony election (and a discussion of the impact and advisability of thresholds)

Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.

The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:

Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.

Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.

As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.

Thus Schröder offered an explicit indication of inter-party cooperation with the Greens, just as McAllister engaged in “tacit” electoral cooperation with the FDP. Note the contrast with the relations between two Israeli parties in the run-up to that country’s general election later this week.

The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%. ((I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely.))

The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.

CDU

Green

FDP

Final MMP Review report is out

The final report from the official review of New Zealand’s Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system is now posted [PDF].

I have not yet digested the entire report, but the highlights of the recommendations are: dual candidacy OK, closed lists OK, dump the one-seat threshold, lower list-vote threshold to 4%, consider fixed 60:40 ratio of electorate to list seats. If one-seat threshold abolished, also get rid of overhang provision.

All good, though I’m not sure about that last one. The report says, on p.8:

Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold would increase the chances of significant numbers of overhang seats being generated by parties that win electorate seats but do not cross the party vote threshold. Therefore, if the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, we also recommend the provision for overhang seats be abolished. Parties that win electorate seats would keep those seats. However, the size of Parliament would remain at 120 seats because no extra list seats would be allocated. This would have minimal impact on the proportionality of Parliament.

I suspect most of the voting for small-party candidates in single-seat districts (electorates) is motivated by the possibility that said party would win more than this one seat, if it had a party vote sufficient for two or more seats (but less than 5% of the vote). Without the district win granting it a chance at list seats, there is usually little incentive to vote for such a party. An exception would be the Maori Party, which is able to win several of these seats even while getting few list votes. And it is this (very big) exception that calls into question the Commission’s claim of a minimal effect of their recommendation on proportionality. Without adding seats to parliament to (partially) compensate other parties for the party that is overrepresented due to district wins, it would seem that there would be considerable potential for increased disproportionality.