Ecuador’s 2019 Local Elections

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

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

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

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

Electoral Systems

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Figure 2. Poll workers sorting ballots before counting votes


1. Counting Null Votes under Plurality-at-Large

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Personal Voting and Party System Atomization

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

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

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

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

3. Ballot Order Effects

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

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

Figure 3. The CPCCS ballot for men


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

Figure 4. Scatterplot of CPCCS ballot placement and votes


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

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

Ecuador list-type change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to John Polga for the tip.

Israel 2019b: Grouping the parties, relative to 2019a

As readers of this blog are sure to be aware, Israel is soon to have its second general election of 2019. The election in April did not result in a governing coalition being formed, and so the Knesset dissolved itself and set a very early election for 17 September, giving us election 2019b. That’s almost here!

A little time has passed now since the final lists of candidates were submitted, which is also the process through which parties may forge pre-electoral alliances with other parties, presenting a common list.

In what follows, I want to review the parties by groups, by which I mean either formal alliances for this election, or just parties/alliances with affinities for others in terms of ideological placement or demographics. I will compare the number of lists in these groups (some of which are a little arbitrary) to what we saw in the April election. In each group, I will indicate how many separate lists there were in April and how many there are for September.

Likud and close buddies

2019a: 2

2019b: 1

Keep this in mind when looking at polls and comparing to April: Likud, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won 35 seats in April’s election. However, in this election, its list includes Kulanu (Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s party, which first ran in 2015). So we have to compare Likud this time with Likud+Kulanu last time. Combining them, they won 39 seats in April. Thus polls showing 30-32 seats for this next election indicate a substantial weakening of Netanyahu’s position.

Haredi parties

2019a: 2

2019b: 2

Nothing changes here. United Torah Judaism and Shas (Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredi parties, respectively), are both running again. Bibi’s favorite partners.

Farther right: Ultranationalist

2019a: 2

2019b: 1*

Before the April election, two of the leaders of Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) split off and formed a new party, New Right (HaYamin HeHadash), led by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked. They failed to clear the 3.25% threshold, leaving only the list that included the rest of what had been Jewish Home (rebranded Union of Right Wing Parties, or URWP) to win seats in the Knesset.

For the September election, they are together again. Somewhat surprisingly, the hardline religious (but not-Haredi) parties inside Jewish Home accepted a woman, Shaked, as the leader. The new-old list is now called Rightward (or To the Right; Yamina). The list has been polling at around 10 seats, a significant increase on what they had in April, though in fact steady support given URWP’s 6 and what would have been New Right’s 4 had they not just missed the threshold.

The asterisk above is that we could count another list for 2019b, but it is not likely to get seats. I am referring to Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit), the Kahanist (read: racist) party that was part of the URWP in April, due to controversial deal brokered by Netanyahu. Otzma is running separately this time (it initially announced an alliance with an even more fringy party, Noam, but that fell apart.)

(There was also a Bayit Yehudi candidate who was given a slot on the Likud list in April but will not be this time; it must be because of this candidate that Knesset Jeremy indicates 38, rather than 39, for Likud+Kulanu in comparing seats at the last election to current polling.)

Center-something and hoping for “unity”

2019a: 2

2019b: 2

Here I am referring to both the Blue & White list, headed by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and Yisrael Beteinu (YB), headed by Avigdor Liberman. Blue & White remains intact, despite its internal difficulties. It tied Likud in April with 35 seats, and is generally running even or 1-2 seats behind Likud-Kulanu this time (so 29-31 seats). Are they center-left? Center-right? Just center? Beats me. Basically, they are the “we are tough guys who can take over from Bibi” alliance.

Liberman is often classified as hard right, and in terms of security, he certainly fits that description. However, his party has always been more strictly secular than others on the right, broadly defined. If we have to do the “left-right” thing, that makes him pretty left on the religion–state dimension. Whatever he is, it was his refusal to (re-)join a Likud+ultranationalist+Haredi coalition that led to there being a 2019b election. He has called for a “unity” (grand coalition) government. So let’s put him in the “center”. In any case, the number of lists remains the same in this grouping. Yisrael Beteinu is polling around 10 seats. That would double the April result, suggesting that his effort to raise the salience of the secular issue by not rejoining the Bibi bloc earlier this year is paying off.

As a bonus, and an indicator of their likeminded positions, these two have signed a surplus agreement. These agreements allow two lists to pool votes for purposes of calculating the D’Hondt quotients for seat allocation (as long as both clear the threshold). An agreement can often result in an additional seat for the combine, which usually will go to the larger list in the agreement. In an election in which one seat might make a difference, that’s not a trivial or mere “technical” matter. (The two parties did not have such an agreement with one another in April, when YB had a deal with New Right.)

Zionist old left and new partners

2019a: 3

2019b: 2

Two left-wing parties that won seats in April, plus another party that did not; two alliances now. There is quite some significant reshuffling here. The two seat-winning lists in April were Labor and Meretz, and both had pretty bad results. Labor did especially badly, coming in with only 6 seats, despite having been the main component of the second largest list overall and leading opposition alliance, Zionist Union, in 2015 (and in older history, the main governing party). Meretz won only 4. Both were thus facing risk of extinction, and so they got rather creative.

Labor changed its leader (yes, again), choosing Amir Peretz (yes, again). It then formed an alliance with Gesher, led by Orly Levy. Given that Gesher emphasizes social concerns, like cost of living, it is not wrong to classify it as left. But it seems more than a little odd. Levy was originally a member of the Knesset for Yisrael Beteinu, who split off to sit as an independent when Liberman took the party into the government some months after the 2015 election. She formed a joint list with Labor in early August, under the slogan, “People First“.

Meretz is now in an alliance that is known as Democratic Union. The leader is Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz. Meretz has joined up with two alliance partners for this election. One is the Green Movement, which will now be headed by a defector from Labor, Stav Shaffir. She was among the leaders of the 2011 social protest movement who then became a Labor MK. She was also one of the leadership contenders in Labor just this past June, when she lost to Peretz. Now she is the second candidate on the list of the Democratic Union. The other component is a new party called Democratic Israel, set up by Ehud Barak (yes, again); the former PM and Defense Minister is ranked only tenth, and looks somewhat unlikely to win a seat.

The Democratic Union list also includes a prominent Reform Rabbi, Gilad Kariv (ranked 11th; he had run with Labor in April, but was ranked at a very unrealistic 25th), and Yael Cohen-Paran, the first Green Party MK. Cohen-Paran entered the Knesset in late 2015 as a member of Zionist Union (after initially being the first loser, at rank #25); she is ranked 8th this time and thus is in a potentially realistic slot.

(Yes, the facts in that last paragraph would be sufficient for me to vote for this list, if I had a vote. Speaking of Shaffir, she has a really inspiring video about why young people should go into politics, as she did. And also an excellent recent democrat-to-Democrat video.)

Non-Zionist left/Arab parties

2019a: 2

2019b: 1

Yes, the Joint List is back. The various Arab and non-Zionist parties had formed the alliance prior to the 2015 election, the first one with the higher threshold. They then split prior to April’s election into two separate lists (both of which won seats, though it was a rather close call for Ra’am-Balad). They are back together, and are shown as getting 10-12 seats in most polls. That could place them third (as they were in 2015, with 13) or fourth (depending on how well Yamina does).

So there you have it. Six groups (as I defined them), which accounted for thirteen different lists in April, down to nine for this election (or ten if we count Otzma). It is almost as if the politicians learned the lesson from the fragmentation and bargaining stalemate of 2019a. Even so, polls consistently suggest that Likud+Haredi+Yamina will probably remain short of the 61 seats needed for a majority, while once again a center-left majority coalition is also not likely to be possible.

Open-list PR and the definition of antisemitism

Here’s an unexpected convergence of my interests. Open-list PR has helped lead to a Finnish organization’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.

Via JPost:

The recently elected Finnish MP Hussein al-Taee, a supporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was embroiled in an antisemitism, racism and homophobia scandal in May. After revelations in the Israeli and Finnish media about his antisemitic Facebook posts CMI [Crisis Management Initiative] scrubbed him from its website…

Alas he’s still in parliament. His preference votes placed him sixth on the SDP list, which won 7 seats In Uusimaa district; he was a mere 63 votes ahead of the list’s first loser.

It is possible that his views may have helped him edge out other candidates and win a seat. But on the positive side, his election evidently helped increase sensitivity of the CMI to anti-semitism.

Candidates on closed lists: If only Glick had been ranked higher

I do this occasional series on party lists, and how candidates can matter, even when the list is closed (meaning voters can’t vote for a specific candidate, and the order in which candidates would be elected is set by the party, prior to the election).

Here is another one for the files.

An official of the New Right party in Israel has claimed that the party would have cleared the 3.25% threshold if only one of its candidates, Caroline Glick, had been ranked in the top 4. A party that clears the threshold gets 4 seats as a minimum. Glick, a US-born author, was ranked 6th.

The official making the claim is none other than Jeremy Saltan, whose polling aggregations I referred to throughout the campaign. He was New Right’s head of outreach to English-speaking voters.

Saltan is quoted in the Times of Israel as saying, “Already during the campaign Anglos told me they would have voted for us if we put her higher.”

Further, “Saltan said the party should have emphasized that it was the only party with a US-born candidate featured prominently on its slate and campaign.”

While I would tend to be a little skeptical of a claim like this, I would not rule it out. In the final results, the party missed the threshold by a slim margin, ending up with 3.22%. So it is possible that potential Anglo voters could have stayed with the party, rather than defect to Likud (or United Right or even Zehut) had they been more confident it would clear the threshold, and that Glick would be elected.

My main skepticism is that the party was generally polling at more than 4 seats, so if anything, the fact that she was individually marginal, but the party (allegedly) was not, should have encouraged more voters, not fewer, to favor New Right if they were otherwise wavering.

Anyway, it is always good to have another one for the “candidates matter, even in closed lists” file.

Israel 2019 result

[Updated with final results]

The election results are final, after a couple of days of doubt about just who had cleared, or not cleared, the 3.25% threshold, and a few more days of final scrutiny (which cut Likud’s total by one seat and boosted the UTJ). The New Right, the party formed by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked when they bolted from Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), came up just short of winning any seats. With 3.22% of the vote, the party now joins the list of contenders for nearest miss of all time in any country with a nationwide threshold.

Meanwhile, one of the two Arab lists in this election, Ra’am-Balad, which many polls showed falling below the threshold, just made it, with 3.34%. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (build the Third Temple now and smoke dope!), which was the sensation of the latter part of the campaign with most polls showing it well above the threshold, came in at only 2.73%. I don’t usually ascribe great impact to specific campaign stunts, but his appearance on a comic show just before the election was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen a politician do. Could it have cost him votes of wavering voters who had mistakenly thought he was a serious politician?

The contest between Likud and the opposition alliance, Blue & White, would have been exciting if only there had actually been more at stake. Two of the three exit polls showed B&W ahead, but there was not much doubt that Likud would be in a better position to form a coalition than B&W, even before the two parties pulled even. Then, in the final results, Likud pulled ahead.

The votes for the top two were 26.45% for Likud and 26.12% for B&W. In seats, Likud has the edge, 36-35.

Taking all the parties in the government at the time the election was called, we have results for the new Knesset (which has 120 seats total) as follows:

Party/alliance 2019 2015
Likud 35 30
Shas 8 7
UTJ 8 6
URWP 5 8
Kulanu 4 10
total 60 61

The table compares the results with 2015; the number for URWP (Union of Right Wing Parties) for 2015 refers to Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), which, minus New Right, is the main component in the new Union.

At first glance, this looks like potentially bad news for current PM and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. However, if he comes to agreement with Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), the total rises to 65. YB won 6 seats in 2015 and will have 5 in the new Knesset.

Bargaining with YB leader Avigdor Liberman is never easy. He joined the government some time after it was formed following the 2015 election. (One of those elected in 2015, Orly Levy, defected when the party joined the government.) He also left the government about a year before the term was up, in November, resigning as Defense Minister and bashing Netanyahu for being too soft on Hamas. That move left the coalition with just a bare majority of 61 seats and was one of the things that precipitated the election being held early. Shortly after the polls closed, Liberman stated that he would not recommend anyone for prime minister when the various faction heads meet with the president, who then is obliged to assess who has the best chance of forming a government.

Even if Liberman were to remain in opposition–and he may simply be playing hard to get–it would not necessarily prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. There is no requirement for 61 affirmative votes. And there is no way that Liberman is going to vote with the left and Arab parties for an alternative. However, with or without Yisrael Beitenu, it may be another relatively unstable government.

The other possibility, of course, is a coalition of the top two parties–a so-called “unity” (or dare I say “grand coalition“?) government. An “unsourced report” says this is under consideration. I say we consider this spin until proven otherwise. On the other hand, we should also take with a grain of salt the statement by Yair Lapid (no. 2 in Blue & White) that he is “personally opposed to sitting in a government with Netanyahu.” At this point, most of what is said, either by leaders in public or by various unnamed sources, is just part of the bargaining process.

A Likud-BW coalition would be quite a letdown to voters who voted for B&W because Gantz told them over and over again how the most important thing was to kick out Netanyahu. Still, I do not think we should assume it is completely ruled out till we see how the bargaining among the right-wing parties unfolds.

As far as specific candidates elected, there are some interesting developments. Israeli lists are, of course, closed. So when a party or alliance list performs at the outer limits of what is expected, some candidates may be elected whose personal attributes or social-group ties were part of the reason for their being given a marginal rank in the first place. Both Likud and Blue & White outperformed the pre-election polls. With 35 seats, B&W elects a candidate who was the country’s first openly gay mayor (Eitan Ginzburg, of Ra’anana), who was #32 on the list. In fact, the number of LGBT members hits a record high, with five, who also include Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzano, #34 and 35 on the B&W list. In addition, B&W elects Gadi Yevarkan (#33), an Ethiopian immigrant.

Likud’s over-performance elects two additional women from a party list that had only two in its top ten and just a few more in the top 30: May Golan (#32 and an anti-immigrant activist) and Osnat Mark (#35, already in the Knesset since last year). (One of the most interesting will be Keren Barak, who had a safe slot at #24. Click the link to see what I mean.)

With only four seats, Meretz failed to elect its first-ever Druze candidate, Ali Salalha, who was ranked #5. I have not checked city-level results to see if Meretz dominated the vote in his home town of Beit Jann, as was expected due to his candidacy. But it was not enough for an extra seat. Meretz’s vote share was 3.63%; the next largest list was able to win five seats, with 3.70%. So Salalha may not have missed by much. (Meretz also had an Ethiopian immigrant, Mehereta Baruch Ron, a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, at #6.)

The party formed by Orly Levy Abekassis (the YB defector mentioned above), Gesher, was a big flop. It won only 1.73%. Her social policy emphasis had looked like it could win 5 or as many as 8 seats according to polls through much of last year, but it faded rapidly once the campaign really got underway. She should have struck a deal with B&W. It might have netted them a couple more seats, although even then, a B&W-led government would have remained out of reach, most likely.

I’ll be back with more later about the aggregate outcome.

Candidates on closed party lists featured in inter-party competition

A recurring theme around here is how candidates matter, even on closed lists and even in very high magnitude districts (where we might expect them to matter least).

Here are a couple of examples from the current Israeli campaign.

A recent Haaretz article by Judy Maltz notes that, “Having a Druze representative on a party ticket… has also proven helpful in bringing in votes in that candidate’s hometown.” Several examples are cited.

The back-story is that more parties than ever before are including candidates from the Druze minority this time. In recent elections, the Druze have tended to vote for right-wing parties, but there was considerable backlash in the community to the Basic Law–Nation-State, and so other parties are seeking to capitalize.

For instance, if Blue & White (the joint list of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid) wins at least 25 seats, the Knesset will have its first Druze woman. The list has been polling at 29-32 seats in recent polls, so she looks likely to be elected. If Meretz gets 5, that left-wing party will have its first Druze MK. The party has been right around 5-6 seats in most polls, although some have put it only at 4 (which is the minimum a party is likely to win, if it wins any, given the threshold).

Meanwhile, the New Right (led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, formerly of the Jewish Home party) has a candidate who has a following among English-speaking voters, Caroline Glick. She is ranked 6th. The New Right is polling at anywhere from around five to seven seats, so she is in that marginal range. Some Anglo voters may be finding the Zehut list led by Moshe Feiglin appealing (as much as it makes me shudder to realize that). A JPost article by Lahav Harkov notes:

Shaked said that “people debating between us and Feiglin should think whether they want to bring Caroline into the Knesset, or Libby Molad from the Green Leaf Party…”

The reference is to a candidate on the list of Zehut, which held an “open primary” and wound up with quite an eclectic set of candidates and issue stances. Molad is ranked 5th on the Zehut list, which has been polling above the threshold just recently in many polls, with 4-6 seats likely, if it wins any.

So Shaked of New Right is basically telling these wavering voters that they could make the difference between two individual marginal candidates, Glick or Molad.

As an aside, the cannabis issue may be on the line in this election: Feiglin recently stated he would not join a government if it did not commit to legalizing cannabis. I guess weed is the new green line in Israeli elections. According to many polls, the combined right-wing bloc may be close enough to 61 seats that Zehut could even be needed to make a coalition, although there is also a good chance it won’t be needed even if it does clear the threshold.

While we are on the topic of Feiglin, I have been using him for a few years now in various courses to make the point about the importance of candidates on closed lists. I use an anecdote from 2009, when Feiglin was still with Likud. For that campaign, he had an initial list rank of 19, which would have been good enough for a seat. But, fearing a backlash over Feiglin’s extreme nationalism, leader Benjamin Netanyahu managed to get Feiglin bumped down to the 36th slot, which was sure to be too low for a seat (the party ended up with 27 seats). Feiglin said at the time, “We all know when the Likud began to fall. The moment I was in a good spot, the Likud jumped to 40 mandates, but when I dropped,” so did the Likud. It is a fun case of a candidate claiming he could be worth some thirteen seats, if only he were in the top 20 on the list!

Finally, and slightly off-topic, my new favorite Israeli electoral rule is the one barring candidates from promising blessings for votes.

Earlier this week at F&V regarding candidates on closed lists: a case from South Africa.

And, on previous elections in Israel and the role of candidates at marginal ranks representing certain groups: Personal vote/group representation in Shas list (2006); Campaigning around the threshold (2013); Marginal candidates on closed lists (2015).

Party lists for South Africa 2019

South Africa’s general election is approaching–8 May. Parties are releasing their lists. EWN reports the names of the top 20 candidates on the national list of the Democratic Alliance (and has a link to the rest of the lists).

Meanwhile, africanews reports that the African National Congress has been criticized for having “tainted politicians” who were close to former president Jacob Zuma on its list. For instance,

Zuma allies Nomvula Mokonyane, the environment minister who was recently implicated in graft at a corruption inquiry, and Bathabile Dlamini who was at the centre of a benefits payments fiasco, are named among the top 10 candidates on the list.

As a political analyst, Ralph Mathekga, is quoted as saying: “The ANC list is very revealing.”

Perhaps so, and that is a reminder that it is not true (as critics of closed lists often claim) that candidates do not matter when the list is closed and thus voters are unable to vote for specific candidates. In fact, the set of candidates a party selects, especially in top and thus safe ranks (for a major party) do provide clues about the party’s priorities. In the ANC’s case, presumably one of the priorities is to keep the different wings of the party within the tent, even if that means potentially diluting its message of having tackled corruption by ousting the previous incumbent leader, thereby allowing it to enter this election with a new incumbent at the helm. Beneath that level, of course, it is the same party.

Other parties, like the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters, will use the slate of candidates against the ANC. The candidates do matter–even on closed lists! Or at least opposition parties may act as if they do. Whether voters will vote against a ruling party because they do not like specific candidates in various ranks is, of course, another matter.

For the upcoming Israeli election, divisions on the left are not the problem

Israel’s general election has been set for 9 April. This election is both “late” and “early”. The term is four years, and this election will be more than four years after the last election (which was in March, 2015). Yet under Israel’s Basic Law provision on election dates, the date for 2019 could have been as late as November. Nonetheless, the Knesset passed a bill in late December setting the election date.

All indications, at least for now, are that the Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, will remain at the head of the government following the election. Polls put Likud far ahead of the second party, which in many polls is a new entrant, Israel’s Resilience, founded by former IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz. The real question is who will be the coalition partners. Both the governing “nationalist camp” and the opposition feature numerous parties, as usual, but also splits, including several new entrants since the election was announced.

There is often poor understanding of how Israeli politics works. To a degree, that’s understandable, as it is a complex political scene (and society). However, there is really no excuse for a major publication like The Economist getting it as wrong as it did in its 3 January edition.

The author of the piece shows a poor understanding of the dynamics of proportional representation and parliamentary government, mistakenly claiming that the center-left could win if only it were not divided into so many different parties. I want to use this claim as a foil, and illustrate why it is so mistaken.

Basically, the reason there are so many parties in Israel is two-fold: there are real socio-political divisions and there is a quite extreme proportional-representation system. Because of the high proportionality, divisions within a potential governing bloc are quite unlikely to be the reason such a bloc fails ultimately to end up in government. (Yes, there is a moderately high threshold that can cause some wasting of votes. We will come back to that.) A government needs to command the votes of one more than half the Knesset (61 of 120); no party will win a majority (none ever has), and so the process of forming a government is one of post-electoral bargaining. Whoever can get 61 votes in the Knesset (assembly) forms the government. A minority government–tolerated by some Knesset parties that don’t have a formal governing role–is theoretically possible, as it almost always is in a parliamentary democracy, but highly unlikely in Israel.

The Economist claimed that Netanyahu could be defeated if only the opposition would unite. The premise is based on two observations; they are true as far as they go, but that is not very far. First,

Under Mr Netanyahu, Likud has never received more than a quarter of the national vote. Yet it has dominated Israeli politics with the help of smaller nationalist and religious parties.


Were [opposition parties] running as one they would probably gather 40% of the vote, overtaking Likud.

The idea of a united center-left overtaking Likud is plausible, although 40% could be a stretch. Based on the aggregation of recent polls, all the opposition parties, not including Yisrael Beiteinu and the Joint List, come to an estimated 45.5 seats, which would be about 38%. So if all those parties formed one alliance list, they might get close to 40%. Moreover, is not out of the question that Yisrael Beiteinu (YB), which left the government in November, could join a center-left coalition. Even if they get to 40%, however, getting to the 61 seats needed for a majority remains a stretch. For one thing, it is virtually impossible to construct coalition scenarios around the Joint List being in. (The reasons why would be a topic for another thread; the short version is they would not accept if invited to join a governing coalition, which they won’t be.)

The problem is that this 38% or 40% might still not be enough, absent either a polling shift (or substantial error) in their favor or the defection of some party from the current bloc of governing parties, other than YB. If the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties joined them in government, that would be another 11.7 seats on the current polling estimate. So if we take the current opposition (minus Joint List), and add in YB and the two Haredi parties, we are at 45.5 + 4.5 + 11.7. Look, we made it to 61.7! A very bare majority, if the polls are spot-on. But not so fast.

While the Haredi parties have governed with left parties before, the broad center-left alliance the Economist is imagining includes at least one party that would be highly unlikely to go into government with the Haredi parties. Yesh Atid, currently polling at 12.7 seats, has as one of its core reasons for being the diminution of ultra-orthodox religious privileges in society; it successfully kept the Haredi parties out of government when it joined a coalition after the 2013 election. It is hard to imagine it agreeing to sit in a government with the Haredi parties (and vice versa). In fact, one of the reasons for the election being called when it was is that the government–again–failed to resolve the Haredi military draft issue, as required by the Supreme Court. It would not be any easier for a center-left-religious coalition to handle. Such a coalition could also be a problem for Meretz, which is a highly secular, left-wing party. YB, which gets most of its votes from the Russian community, is also closer to Yesh Atid on these issues, because of the official rabbinate’s rejection of many Russian immigrants’ Jewish status, although it has sat in nationalist-religious coalitions before, obviously.

Thus we see here already a reason why the Economist’s explanation for why the left won’t unite into a single alliance–“But none of the party leaders is prepared to serve as number two”–is insufficient. The opposition contains not only differences over who should be its leader, but also real divisions over what should be the course of action of the next government. A lot of the divisions may be personalities, but by no means all of them.

Nonetheless, let’s take the claim at face value. Let’s assume that there is an opposition alliance that, upon uniting, somehow not only does not lose any substantial share of its current voters because of pre-election compromises it has to make, but also is able to attract some voters from the right. It ends up with 48 seats (40%), while Likud has only 30 (25%). Is the most likely government–even with such a board alternative pre-electoral coalition able to start bargaining with the other parties–still one led by Likud? Yes, probably.

While it seems somewhat implausible that a pre-election alliance with 40% would be kept out of power if it was really 15 percentage points ahead of the largest list on the other side, any scenarios that have the center-left forming the next government have to get over the parliamentary arithmetic and real political issues mentioned already before they should be taken seriously.

Moreover, it is not as if the divisions on one side are occurring in a vacuum in which the other side does not exist or know what is happening. If, somehow, the center-left united and was polling at 40%, the right surely would respond with alliance-making of its own. While the various personalities in the smaller right-wing parties and in Likud clearly have a fair amount of contempt for one another, they arguably have fewer unbridgeable policy divisions than the center-left. In other words, if they were faced by a genuine threat of a united center-left, they’d almost certainly construct a more united right. We have seen it before: Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu put together a pre-election alliance in 2013, in part out of concern that Yesh Atid might surpass Likud in seats. While there is no procedural advantage to the largest party or list (just ask Tzipi Livni about the 2009 result), there is nonetheless political value in being first, or at least in not too far behind. Already, there are rumors that Likud and current center-right partner Kulanu may be negotiating a joint slate. (On current polling, that would combine for 34.3 seats, or just under 30%.)

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that, regardless of which list gets the most votes and seats, the government will be the one that can assemble a coalition consisting of at least 61 seats. And the simple fact is that advantage in votes falls to the broad right, not the left. There is no sense in which the divisions on the left are preventing it from winning. This is a proportional system, and so divisions are not costing any potential bloc seats, as they would in a majoritarian system.

But, hold on, what about that threshold? Is it possible that the left could deprive itself of seats because some of its parties fall below the threshold? If that happens, then it does indeed waste votes and potentially displace some seats to the right. So, yes, it is possible. The threshold is 3.25%, and at least one party on the center-left is below that (Livni’s HaTenua). However, Livni clearly is going to take part in some new alliance, now that she has been booted in an especially insulting fashion out of the Zionist Union that she formed with Labor before the 2015 election. Besides, this was not a claim the Economist piece made; it does not even mention the threshold.

One new party that has entered, Gesher (headed by current MK and YB-defector Orly Levy-Abekasis) is perilously close to the threshold. However, it is rather likely it will end up joining some pre-electoral bloc. There is also the newly registered party, Telem, of former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has declared he will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu. Lists, including any alliances, need not be finalized till late February. (And, yes, this will be a general election in more ways than one.)

Moreover, it is not only the left that has to worry about the threshold. Netanyahu was sufficiently worried to propose lowering the threshold before the election. This was after the Knesset had passed the bill to set the election and “disperse” itself, but before the split in one of his current nationalist governing partners, Bayit Yehudi. The effort on the threshold failed, but it shows that it is not just the opposition that has divisions that could cost it.

The remnant of Bayit Yehudi is currently below the threshold. With 2.8 seats, it is about 1.2 short (the 3.25% threshold means usually the minimum size of a party in the Knesset will be 4 seats). It will probably align with one or more other very minor ultranationalist parties, but even in such an alliance, it could still be left out.

The defectors from Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, have formed a party to be called New Right. It is currently on 8.8 seats. It will seek to cement the Judea & Samaria settler vote and others opposed to any territorial concessions (helped by recruiting Caroline Glick to the list); it will remain a natural partner for Likud even as it seeks to differentiate itself both from Likud and from Bayit Yehudi. Yet even without the remnant of Bayit Yehudi passing the threshold, the current coalition partners are at about 59 seats. So now we are up against one other critical fact of the Israeli party system: there are various parties on the center-left that would be willing to join a Likud-led government. In fact, of all the parties on the center-left (not counting the Joint List, which will not be in any government), the only one I am sure would not join Likud is Meretz, and if we take Ya’alon at his word, whatever list he is on won’t back Netanyahu. (As mentioned before, it is also hard to see Yesh Atid in a government with the Haredi parties, but the party has been in a Likud-led coalition before.)

It just very hard to see a realistic scenario for a non-Likud government, absent a major shift in public preferences. Note that I have not even mentioned yet the legal troubles facing Netanyahu. Could that lead to a shift towards the center-left? Maybe. But don’t count on it. More likely, were the PM to be faced with charges before the election, he’d lose some votes to New Right. In fact, that could even be one of the reasons Bennett and Shaked made their move: their new party and its emerging platform could appeal broadly on the right in a way that the hardline orthodox religious (but not Haredi) components of Bayit Yehudi never would have.

To summarize, divisions on the left (or right) will not keep a camp from winning its full seat potential. Yes, if a party needed for the bloc to form a coalition majority falls below the threshold, that could displace seats to a rival bloc. However, parties that are at serious risk of not reaching 3.25% are likely to ally with other parties. It does not matter if the entire center-left unites; it still has less support in the public than the nationalist camp, and thus the latter would remain in stronger position to form a government. Moreover, it is not even clear that a united center-left would gain more votes than the separate parties can win, given the real divisions they reflect. To some degree this is true on the right, too (see the 2013 Likud Beitenu case), but the right is more cohesive as a potential (and current) government. Things could change between now and the election, but I would not count on it. Scenarios in which the current opposition will be the next government need a more credible story in their favor than just that the opposition needs to be more united.

Open lists in MMP: An option for BC and the experience in Bavaria

One of the options for electoral reform in British Columbia is mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation. The criteria for the potential system allow for a post-referendum decision (if MMP is approved by voters) on whether the party lists should be open or closed. The guide that was sent to all BC voters shows a mock-up of a ballot that looks like New Zealand’s, with closed lists. However, the provincial premier has stated that, if MMP is adopted, lists will be open.

When it comes to lists, it is my opinion that citizens will elect all of the members of the legislature. They will select names that are representative of their communities.

I remain uncertain about the value of open lists under MMP. Is it worth the extra ballot complexity? What additional gain does one get from having preference votes determine order of election for those winning compensatory seats? The MMP Review in New Zealand after the 2011 referendum (in which voters voted to keep MMP) looked at this question extensively. It came down firmly on the side of keeping lists closed.

Nonetheless, the statement by the premier suggests he believes the system is less likely to be chosen if voters expect the lists to be closed. And, given regional districts on the compensation tier, as explicitly called for in the system proposal, the lists would not be too long and thus the ballots not too complex.

It happens that there is one MMP system in existence in which the lists are open. Such a system has been used in Bavaria for quite some time. I actually proposed such a model in a post way back in 2005, quite early in the life of this blog. At the time I had no idea that what I had “invented” was, more or less, the existing Bavarian model.

Of course, Bavaria just had an election. In the thread on that election, Wilf Day offered some valuable insights into how the open lists worked. I am “promoting” selections from Wilf’s comments here. Indented text in the remainder of this post is by Wilf.

The Bavarian lists are fully “open,” and the ballot position has no bearing on the outcome, except to the extent the voters are guided by it, especially seen in voting for the number 1 candidate.

Of the 114 list seats, 31 were elected thanks to voters moving them up the list, while 83 would have been elected with closed lists.

Did the first on the list always get elected? Almost. In the region of Lower Bavaria, the liberal FDP elected only 1 MLA, and he had been second on their regional list.

Did the open lists hurt women? I did not check most results, but the SPD zippers their lists, and I noticed in Upper Palatinate the SPD elected 2 MLAs, list numbers 1 and 3 (two women). Conversely, in Middle Franconia the SPD elected 4 MLAs: 1, 2, 3, and 5 (three men).

Little known fact: a substantial number of voters in Bavaria, being used to voting in federal elections where their second vote is just for a party, blink at the Bavarian ballot, look for the usual space to vote beside the party name, it’s not there, so they put an X beside the party name anyway. A spoiled ballot? No, they count it as a vote for the party. Not a vote for the list as ranked, it does not count for the ranking or for any candidate, but it does count in the party count. Just like Brazil, where a vote for the party is not a vote for the list ranking, except Bavaria does not publicize the option of voting for the party.

Among the more interesting new Free Voter MLAs:

Anna Stolz, lawyer, Mayor of the City of Arnstein; she had been elected Mayor in 2014 as the joint candidate of the Greens, SPD, and Free Voters; the local Greens said they were very proud of her as Mayor. The Free Voter delegates meeting made her number 5 on the state list, but the voters moved her up to second place as one of the two Free Voter MLAs from Lower Franconia.

From Upper Bavaria, the capital region, list #12 was Hans Friedl, with his own platform: “a socially ecologically liberal voice, an immigration law based on the Canadian model, no privatization of the drinking water supply, a clear rejection of the privatization of motorways”). The voters moved him up to #8, making him the last of 8 Free Voters elected in that region.

Note: the comments are excerpted, and the order of ideas is a little different from where they appear in the thread. I thank WIlf for his comments, and for his permission to make them more prominent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lebanon, welcome to open alliance lists!

Lebanon’s election is coming up (6 May), and the country is getting its first look at a new open-list proportional electoral system (profiled previously here by Amal Hamdan).

An interesting blog post from 12 March by Gino Raidy has just come to my attention*: “Why Political Parties are Terrified of Forming Lists”. The author discusses the perils for parties joining on an alliance list. Because the lists are open, it is possible for one party to help boost its partner’s seats but elect none of its own candidates. On the other hand, it is also possible that parties (and alliances) will want to recruit relatively independent figures who can appeal to a wider electorate.

These sorts of issues may be new to Lebanon, but they will be familiar to readers of this blog. I have talked about them before, most recently in a discussion of Brazil and Finland, where open alliance lists have been in place for some time.

*Thanks, Dan W.!

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.

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).

Parties and personal-vote earning attributes in OLPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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