PEI 2016: Referendum favors MMP

The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) held a referendum (“plebiscite”) on electoral reform. The voting, which could be done online or by phone, took place from 27 October to 7 November, Results have now been announced, and the majority preference is mixed-member proportional (MMP).

Interestingly, it was a vote among multiple options, conducted by alternative vote (instant runoff). The initial plurality choice was the status quo, first past the post (FPTP). But this was the first choice of only 31.2%. The runner up in first preferences was MMP, with 29%.

Through elimination of lower-ranking choices and transfer of preferences, MMP came out with a majority on the fourth round of counting, 55% to 45% over FPTP (leaving out exhausted ballots, which were just under 5%).

Other options were “FPTP with leaders” (status quo, except that party leaders who did not win a riding would get a seat if the party cleared 10%), “Preferential Voting” (i.e., alternative vote), and something new called “Dual-Member Proportional“.

Perhaps it is not at all surprising that the transfer patterns reveal a “change as little as possible if we must change” coalition and a “more change” coalition. FPTP took a bigger lead on the count following elimination of FPTP+, by far the most timid of the reform proposals. After the elimination of AV, which would be the next most-similar proposal to the status quo, MMP actually got more of these voters (43.9% to 36.7% for FPTP). Given that DMPR got 19.5%, the pro-AV voters had a clear majority for some sort of PR over keeping majoritarianism. On the final count, MMP got 82.6% of the eliminated votes for DMPR. This adds up to quite a clear consensus for a move away from the majoritarian model. (Note that STV was not an option.)

PEI had a referendum on an official proposal for MMP in 2005, which went down to a big defeat. Since that time, the province has continued to have some of the odd results (e.g. 2007) that are inherent to FPTP, especially given such a small assembly. In the most recent provincial election (2015) there was another large manufactured majority, although the Green Party managed to win a seat despite just 11% of the provincewide vote.

The timing of the vote is interesting, given that the federal parliamentary committee studying electoral reform is due to report in just a few weeks.

The PEI referendum result is non-binding.

JD’s Switzerland trip (with photos!)

In February I spent a weekend in Switzerland with a friend. We toured Basel and Bern, visiting the Federal Assembly and the legislatures of two cantons, and also witnessed campaigning for a number referendums (and more!) that would be held the next week.

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On electronic displays this poster showed up as a gif, with the trucks rushing through

On the federal level (and in similar terms in most Cantons and municipalities), Switzerland has two types of citizen-initiated referendum:

  • Votes on ‘popular initiatives’, which amend the constitution. These require the gathering of 100,000 signatures in no more than 18 months. To be approved in the referendum, they require both an overall majority of those voting and a majority of Cantonal votes.
  • ‘Optional’ or ‘facultative’ referendums, which concern recently-enacted federal laws (I like to call these veto-referendums). These require the gathering of 50,000 signatures (or 8 Cantons – though I don’t think this happens in practice) in no more than 100 days from the publication of the act in question. For the act to be vetoed it merely requires to be rejected by a majority of those voting.

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    A striking multilingual poster near the Basel docks

When we visited there were four federal referendums about to be held, of which three were popular initiatives and one was an optional referendum. As it happened, all four votes would follow the government’s official recommendation: rejection of all the initiatives and approval of the federal law.

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Central Bern, a protest against the popular initiative for the deportation of criminal migrants

The campaigns were very visible and there were posters were everywhere, both in public places alongside regular commercial advertising and on apartment balconies and small shops’ doors. We also saw many different leaflets, including some published by political parties. Far more visible than in the UK, which I also visited during the recent referendum – in London, the only sign I saw of the campaign were some flyerers at a tube station at rush hour on the day of the referendum.

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Cantonal referendum posters in Basel. Note the middle one, sponsored by the Liberal Democratic Party

(As a side note, Switzerland has virtually no regulation of campaign finance, either on the federal or cantonal level. I wonder if that had anything to do with it.)

A number of Cantonal referendums were held on the same day as the federal ones, and we saw posters for these in both Basel and Bern.

We visited three legislative buildings:

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Basel-City’s Canton/City hall

Basel-City’s late mediaeval rathaus (city hall), home to the cantonal legislature which also serves (with the exception of a handful of members) as city council. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the chamber, as the tour clashed with our visit of the Federal Assembly in Bern.
Secondly, Bern’s legislature, the Grosser Rat/Grand Conseil. As far as we could tell there were no regular tours; we were let in by the janitor.

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The Bernese legislature, the Grand Council

Switzerland generally has relatively large legislative chambers. Basel-City, with a population of just under 200,000, has 100 seats, almost double what it should have per cube root; Bern, with a population of  just over a million, has 160, 60% over cube root. The Confederation as a whole is just right with 200 in the lower house for a population of 8.3 million.

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The Federal Assembly’s National Council 

The federal legislature is spectacular. The picture here is of the lower house, the National Council. The upper house, the Council of States, was more difficult to get a good photo of so here’s a link; the wall painting is of a traditional ‘landsgemeinde’ or popular assembly that used to be common in rural areas. Today the practice persists as the form of government of two cantons, where the citizens meet once a year, while the agenda for that meeting, and most details of legislation, are prepared by an elected assembly. One of the members of the Council of States is still elected by their canton’s popular assembly every four years.

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Poster with the candidates of the Socialist/Social-Democratic (depending on whether you translate from French or German) Party in the executive by-election of February 28th (and ultimately also April 3rd for the second round)

Lastly, in Bern, we saw a poster for another campaign – we weren’t sure when we saw it, but it turned out to be for a by-election over two positions in the cantonal executive. Unlike the federal government, the cantonal executive councils are directly elected, mostly (as in Bern) through a two-round system, though proportionally in some cantons. The unusual thing in Bern is that there is one seat reserved for the French-speaking minority of the Bernese Jura – and this seat was one of the two up in the by-election. But, even more interestingly, it turns out this seat is not just reserved to candidates from that region, but the winner is the candidate with the higher geometric mean between the vote total in Bernese Jura and the canton as a whole – a fascinating and likely unique arrangement!

 

 

Brexit vs. BC-STV: Help with my principles!

As I noted earlier, I happened to be in British Columbia while the British were voting to leave the EU.

[Note: If you want to make general comments on Brexit and what happens next, please comment at the earlier thread. I’d like to keep this one on the narrower topic raised here.]

I never liked the BC-STV vote having been “defeated” in 2005 despite a clear majority (57%), due to a threshold of 60% having been set. But I do not like the UK “mandate” to leave the EU by a vote of 51.9%.

Is there a principle that reconciles my two positions? Or do I just have no principles regarding referendums*, and assess the rules for passage by whether I like what is being proposed? Help, please!

(I have written about referendum approval thresholds before.)

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* Other than that, in general, I’d rather not have them. I rather like representative democracy and deliberative institutions.

Brexit (open planting hole)

I was in British Columbia during the Brexit vote (for both a vacation, and a public forum on Canadian federal electoral-system reform). So no time for a full post. But by popular demand**, here’s a discussion opportunity for F&V readers. Clearly, the outcome raises a whole host of F&V-relevant issues…

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* About which, more later
** I might note that Brexit reminds one that following the popular demand can be risky sometimes.

Polish electoral system referendum

Poland held three referendums on September 7th, one of which concerned a proposal of changing the Sejm (the country’s lower house) electoral system to one of single-seat districts. The proposals were submitted to referendum by outgoing president Bronislaw Komorowski. Under the Polish Constitution either the president, with consent of the Senate, or the Sejm, may submit proposals to referendum (article 125), the result of which is binding if turnout is over 50%.

Turnout in the referendum was extremely low: only 7.8% of Polish voters bothered to vote. Almost 79% voted in favour of changing to FPTP, which was very much in line with the polls, which had consistently shown large majorities in favour.

However, it is doubtful if the electoral system proposal could have been implemented even if the turnout threshold had been reached, considering that the constitution mandates proportionality in Sejm elections. Moreover, the procedure used was a ‘regular’ referendum rather than the procedure necessary for a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in the Sejm.

What led to this referendum? The issue was basically put on the agenda by Pawel Kukiz, a rockstar, social activist and presidential candidate, who came third in the first round of the presidential election in May with just under 21% of the vote. Electoral reform, in the shape of adoption of single-seat districts, was one of his few main issues in his grass-roots, anti-system campaign, with the stated aim of breaking up the ‘partocracy’ and making politicians more individually accountable. In response, after the first round Komorowski ordered the referendum on the issue.

This is not the first popular movement in favour of a move in the direction of more majoritarian electoral systems. Romania and Italy have had comparable movements, successful in Italy, almost successful in Romania. Personally I’m a little puzzled by Poland’s movement, or at least the supposed aim as I would expect that individual MP accountability would be a relatively strong side of Poland’s open-list system (which allows a high degree of voter influence over which candidates are elected from each list), while local representation wouldn’t be too big an issue under its moderate district magnitude (7 to 19, mean is about 11). Are they indeed grasping at straws, or am I missing something?

Luxembourg term limit referendum

On June 7th, the same day as the Turkish and Mexican elections, Luxembourg held three referenda: one proposal would have reduced the voting age to 16, another would have extended voting rights to foreigners living in the country for more than 10 years and the last one would have imposed a ten-year term limit on serving as member of the government. All three proposals were resoundingly defeated, though the term limit measure came closer to being approved than the others (30% in favour).

The background for the term limit proposal is the premiership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who served lasted for no less than 18 years before resigning in 2013 amidst a corruption and spying scandal (he went on to become EU Commission President). Following early elections, a new government formed which excluded Juncker’s party, CSV, from government for the first time since 1979. It is this government that initiated these constitutional amendment proposals.

Though being very common among (semi-)presidential countries, term limits are exceedingly rare among parliamentary systems; the only examples I know of are Thailand and South Africa.

[MSS adds: Perhaps also Botswana among parliamentary systems. In semi-presidential systems, there certainly are cases of term limits on the president, but I do not think there are any such limits on membership in the cabinet. We might also add here that, as far as I know, the only cases with term limits on legislators are all pure presidential systems–some Latin American countries, including Mexico, as well as the Philippines and some US states, including California.]

Vexing vexillological questions

New Zealand will go ahead with a referendum on its flag. In fact, two referenda, following a similar process to the electoral-system referenda that the country has held in 1992-93 and again in 2011: an initial selection from several choices, followed by a later binary choice between the status quo and the proposed change.* Both would be held in 2016. From ABC:

The first, at the end of next year, would ask the public to choose a preferred design from those selected by a panel of notable New Zealanders.

The second referendum would pit the winning new design against the current flag in 2016.

Stuff NZ has an image of one possible alternative, which retains the Southern Cross in addition to a fern. Another that is a silver fern on black has been widely discussed.**

The political parties will recommend members of “a cross-party panel”, and public consultations will follow, to select the options to be put to voters.

Questions for readers: Aside from the obvious (and, by all accounts, wildly successful) Canadian case, are there other democratic countries that have undertaken a major flag re-design?

There are, of course, numerous cases of authoritarian governments that have changed their country’s flag unilaterally. And, new democratic states have needed to adopt a flag (India, Israel, etc.). But ongoing democracies do not change their flags often. I can’t think of another case aside from Canada, but maybe someone else can.

An aside: is there any notable debate about the flag in Australia? Or other long-term democracies that anyone can report?

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* But apparently without the first referendum having a simple “keep or change” option in addition to a set of “change” possibilities. In the 2011 electoral-system referendum, the “keep MMP” option passed, rendering the choice among alternatives moot. Thus the second-stage referendum was not held, unlike 1992-93.

** Which, to me, looks too much like the national rugby team’s banner. Or that of ISIS.