Poland’s local elections–ballot problems

Poland held local elections–for three tiers of local government–in November, 2014. According to Aleks Szczerbiak, writing at the LSE blog, the elections to the regional assemblies produced significant controversy. There was a very high invalid ballot rate: 17.9% of votes cast,

a record for a Polish election (in previous regional elections the numbers ranged between 12.1 per cent and 14.4 per cent) compared with an average of 9.8 per cent across all three tiers and only 2 per cent in the mayoral elections. Some commentators claimed that the large number of invalid votes helped to explain the discrepancy between the exit poll prediction and the actual results. They argued that the reason for this might have been because some voters were confused by the ballot paper for the regional polls – which took the form of a booklet containing one page for each party’s candidates rather than a single sheet (as was the case in previous local elections) – and may have thought that they had to pick one candidate from each party list. Unfortunately, the State Electoral Commission was not required to record whether invalid votes in regional polls were incomplete or spoilt.

The separate page for each party reminds me of the Duval County, Florida, multi-page ballot for president in 2000. Instructions said “vote every page” (because some pages actually were for different offices), and some voters dutifully complied. And thus had their presidential vote (overwhelmingly for Gore) thrown out.

I gather that the Polish regional assemblies use open-list PR, like those to the Sejm, first chamber of national parliament. (Szczerbiak notes that the regional assemblies were the only elections in November to be partisan.) Open lists can create a challenge for ballot design (see the Colombian case*), but a booklet format seems like an especially bad choice.

Szczerbiak also notes that the Peasants Party did unexpectedly well, and this could have been due to their having the first page of the booklet. He cites other reasons as well, including their distancing themselves from the policy of the national government, in which they are a partner, over sanctions against Russia, which are hurting Polish apple growers (FRUITS & VOTES!).

The same ballot was used for the European Parliament election in May, “where there was no significant increase in invalid votes and no premium for the party which appeared on the first page.” But then Szczerbiak adds that the European ballot instructions were clearer.

Poland has presidential elections in summer and parliamentary in fall, 2015.

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* And two follow-up posts: 1, 2.