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.

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*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.

Romania returns to Party-List PR and to cohabitation

By Henry Schlechta and JD Mussel

Romania held elections to its bicameral legislature on December 11. The elections resulted in the Social Democratic Party winning almost half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, while the largest opposition National Liberal Party appears to have received only about 20%.

The election saw a return to Party-list PR after having used a type of District-Ordered List system at the last two elections (2008 and 2012). The previous system worked as follows: candidates competed in single-seat districts; if a candidate received 50% of the votes, they were elected. The rest of the seats were first allocated to parties so that the overall result was proportional (with the possibility of overhang), and then was decided which candidate was elected in each district through a complex formula (truly!) which allocated seats roughly in order of candidates’ share of the vote, but ensuring each district had (at least) one of its candidates elected. As the number of seats per party was decided proportionally, this often resulted in the situation that a district was represented by its second, third, or even fourth-most voted candidate. Lastly, a few seats were allocated to minority parties, for whom the 5% threshold applied to other parties is waived under the constitution.

The new system effectively returns to that used before 2008, with party-list PR in multi-seat districts (the electoral system was, and is, identical for both chambers with the exception of district magnitude; Chamber average M=7 (‘M’ for district magnitude), Senate average M=3). The old system seemed to have become unpopular given its creation of a large number of overhang seats in 2012[1]. As a result of the landslide victory of the Social Liberal Union pre-electoral coalition, which required a great deal of extra compensatory seats to be given ensure proportionality. Parliament had tried to change the electoral system to single-seat plurality (First-Past-the-Post) in before the election in 2012, but this was overturned by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that this was incompatible with the constitutional 5% threshold provision and its waiving for ethnic minority parties in the Chamber.

This year’s election result is particularly interesting because of Romania’s semi-presidential constitution. The President, Klaus Iohannis, was elected in 2014 as the National Liberal candidate. He first served alongside a Social Democratic prime minister, Victor Ponta, whose cabinet  was a coalition which did not include the National Liberal Party, but after Ponta resigned in November 2015, and subsequently Iohannis appointed a technocratic non-partisan cabinet. The cabinet is required to step down following the election, so no no-confidence vote is required against the incumbent cabinet.

Romania’s system is premier-presidential, and president Iohannis will have the initiative in appointing the prime minister. However, since the Social Democrats form a majority with their preferred coalition partners, the result will almost certainly be a return to cohabitation for a country which has already had it for much of the past decade (2007-2008, 2012-2015), including immediately before the appointment of the current non-partisan cabinet.

Nonetheless, president Iohannis has shown he is willing to use his position, ruling out the nomination of anyone with a criminal record for the office, in keeping with a law a Social Democratic president might have been willing to flout in order to appoint the Social Democrats’ leader Liviu Dragnea, who got a suspended prison sentence this year for trying to rig a referendum in 2012, making him ineligible under a 2001 law.

In response, the Social Democrats have nominated an alternative candidate for prime minister, Sevil Shhaideh, a Muslim woman from the country’s Tatar minority; this means Romania will have both president (Iohannis is a Transylvanian German protestant) and prime minister from ethnic and religious minorities.

Interestingly, the authority to approve and dismiss Romania’s Prime Minister is vested in both houses sitting together as one. Romania has (somewhat unusually) bicameralism with two powerful and elected houses. Even more unusually, rather than the normal practice of requiring one or both houses to approve all legislation, each house has certain reserved competencies, on which it may pass legislation without the approval of the other (the latter having only a suspensory veto of no more than two months’ delay). Probably due to the two chambers concurrent terms and virtually identical electoral system (and therefore composition), this does not seem to have caused any major problems.

Similar procedures (including both houses in no-confidence votes) existed at some point in Peru (before Fujimori’s self-coup), where ministers were removable by either house of the legislature. Argentina has a ‘Chief of Cabinet’ responsible to both houses voting separately, though remaining ministers are not, and Colombia’s ministers are individually responsible to votes of either house, though there is no Prime Minister.


[1]176 senators and 412 deputies were elected, 22% and 19% of which was due to overhang, respectively.  According to the cube-root law 412 would be appropriate for a country of 70 million, whereas Romania’s population is about 20 million. The current numbers seem have returned to 136 Senators and 329 deputies or thereabouts.

Jordan’s new electoral system – the more things change…

By JD Mussel and Henry Schlechta

Jordan held a parliamentary election last month, for the first time under a proportional party-list system. This reform, in line with many previous proposals, replaces the earlier Single Non-Transferable Vote or (mechanically FPTP) pseudo-SNTV (it’s not clear which one was actually used last time around) which at the last election in 2013 was accompanied by a small national list-PR tier.

Reform of the previous single-vote system was a long-running demand of opposition parties, a number of which have taken part in these elections after having repeatedly boycotted them in the past. However, what they may not have noticed (yet) is that the new electoral system may turn out to be remarkably similar to the old SNTV.

A total of 130 non-reserved seats were filled proportionally from open lists of candidates in 23 districts, out of which 9 seats are from 3 parallel Bedouin districts (similar to NZ’s Maori districts) electing 3 seats each. The districts range from 3 to 10 seats, with a median of 4. Spread out among all the districts is a quota for 15 women and (among the non-Bedouin districts) there are quotas for Christians (9 seats) and Circassians/Chechens (3 seats). With more seats allocated to the cities, there seems to be less malapportionment than under the previous system, but it is not clear how much less.

The lists are open, with seats going to candidates with most votes within each list. This was presented as a kind of return to the ostensibly similar multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV) which had existed before the introduction of SNTV: voters have as many votes as there are seats to be filled, and can cast them for a list as a whole or for any number of individual candidates on the list. Candidacies must be as part of lists with at least 3 candidates up to the number of seats available.

Largest-remainder PR and ‘SNTVization’

Now, technically, the system is proportional. However, the apportionment formula is largest remainders, using the Hare quota. The potential problem is that the combination of these features and the open-list aspect may present incentives that roughly approximate SNTV. Larger quotas (the Hare quota is the largest of the commonly used ones) are advantageous to smaller parties: the fewer seats are allocated by quotas, the more seats allocated by remainders. The smaller number of votes required to win a seat by remainder means that smaller parties are able to win these seats. On the other hand, for a large party to win multiple seats, they must fill multiple quotas.

The possibility of getting seats from remainders can encourage large parties to turn themselves into multiple small parties, through running multiple lists and dividing their votes between these lists[1]. Hong Kong represents the best example of this tendency. While on paper it is a party-list PR system with largest-remainder and the Hare quota, the 2012 and 2016 elections saw no ‘list’ win more than one seat. Instead, larger parties like the Democratic Alliance ran multiple lists, and divided their votes between them. If no seats are allocated by quotas, the M-lists with the highest vote are allocated one seat. The effect of this is to create a system approximate to SNTV.

District magnitude does not appear to be an especially important factor in this process, with 5-member districts in Hong Kong and the 100-member nationwide district for the Colombian Senate (up until 2002) both being on paper party-list but effectively acting as SNTV.

Of course, there are other relevant institutional considerations. The new law’s requirement for at least three candidates per list could theoretically limit this tactic, though it could probably still be possible for a list to consist of one politician with public profile and two other ‘decoy’ candidates. It is not clear if there are any legal restrictions on one political party registering multiple lists; however, in the context of an electoral politics where parties are still weak and fragmented (and which was until now dominated by independent politicians), it is unlikely to be difficult to register effectively duplicate lists under similar labels.

Political impact

The results of the election show a continuation of the party fragmentation that existed before; barely any parties won more than one seat in each district. However, fragmentation was occasionally an outcome of the electoral system, as there are a couple of cases where lists that won a single seat received more than double the votes of other winning lists. This would have given them two seats if they had presented two separate lists, at least if they had managed to keep the vote distributed evenly between them. Of course, electoral systems take time in order to affect behaviour; however, it won’t be long before politicians will notice this outcome, and the strategic response would seem to be obvious. Therefore, more than likely, the new party-list system will continue as an obstacle to the development of larger and more cohesive party organizations, despite the fact that it was presented as a reform designed to bolster party-politics.

Hence, it looks like the reform may have been a clever stratagem by the government: it can be presented as an ‘abolition’ of SNTV and ‘return’ to MNTV, yet it will likely retain the incentives caused by SNTV. Or it could have been accidental. Whether or not this was intentional, it would certainly seem advantageous to the King: in public opinion, it enhances the regime’s legitimacy (the best evidence of this being how it brought an end to the Islamist boycott); nonetheless, in reality it will likely continue the previous incentives for fragmentation which weaken the parties (most importantly, the Islamists) and, crucially, the House of Representatives, which needs to remain fragmented for the King to maintain substantial power in what is constitutionally supposed to be a parliamentary system[2].

 


[1] The ideal number of candidates elected from each of these lists is one, since a party can win only one seat by remainder.

[2] There are of course other factors relevant in determining whether or not a given ‘constitutional monarchy’ is more monarchy or more parliamentary democracy (as demonstrated by the recent constitutional amendments giving the King more power over appointments) but hopefully it can be agreed that the crucial factor is whether or not governments are responsible to an elected house of parliament, by which I mean that a prime minister and cabinet can be removed by that house. Jordan’s constitution, at least since 2011, makes the government responsible to the House of Representatives.