Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Venezuelan Regional elections of 2004: incongruence in the voting, Yaracuy as a case

The Venezuelan electoral system

Although one cannot blame it on Chavez, the Venezuelan Electoral system is not very good. And rather difficult to use for the average voter.

The problem resides in its orientation toward the top of the ticket, the executive in our strong man tradition. The executive positions are elected in a single round balloting, a system that favors polarization of the electorate. The legislative offices are elected separately perhaps but at the same time and thus suffer from the polarization generated at the top of the ticket. Significant minority parties have problems to make it to regional assemblies unless they pact with the major parties who will leave them with a seat here and there.

What complicates things more is that the legislative seats are divided in two lists: the ones elected by "name" in a given district and the ones elected state wide from a single list. The original idea was to dampen the polarization that comes from a single district winner take all (USA or Britain style). The sate wide list would allow the minority parties to manage to get representatives. This would be helped along by calculating an average votes per candidate and thus a political party that takes too many single seats is barred from getting seats from the state wide list. For example in Yaracuy state there are 4 individual legislative districts and a state wide list which elects 3. If one party gets, say, 45% of the vote it could capture the 4 nominal seats if the other parties are divided, but it would be barred from any of the three state wide seats.

At a glance one can see the system does not guarantee minority representation as with only 7 seats in total, no matter what, a political party will need at the very least a 15% vote share to get one seat, and realistically a 25% to be assured one or more seats.

But politicians have found ways to go around this hurdle in their search for power. Yaracuy now ex-governor Lapi was quite clever in 2000 in bypassing this hurdle: he founded a new party to support him. His original party, Convergencia, run only on the state wide list. The new party was L.A.P.Y. which improbable and coincidental name meant Lo Alcanzado Por Yaracuy ("what Yaracuy reached", as a clear allusion to how good a governor Lapi thinks he is). LAPY run only on the individual districts. Thus in 2000 LAPY got the 4 individual seats. Convergencia on the state wide list got 2 out of 3 and thus Lapi ruled his term with a very comfortable 6 to 1 majority. And the reader must know that in other states there are multi candidate districts where people have to vote for EVERY seat. Thus with 40% of share vote you can get 100% of the seats. A strategy that was applied in some Southern states to keep black voters from getting representation, until the courts finally struck the system down.

In other words, the intention of proportional representation and minorities voice was done with and chavismo is certainly not the one that will change an electoral system from which it greatly benefits today. Chavismo did catch up using one of its allies, varying in different states, to run different sets of candidates. Thus in Yaracuy 2004 chavismo run as MVR on the state list and PODEMOS/PPT on the individual districts. But since Lapi did again as in 2000, the strategy failed and Lapi lost the state house but did keep a 4 to 3 majority in the legislature.

The reader by now will start getting the idea that at voting time this whole set up can become quite intimidating for your average voter who must keep track of several top candidates for governor, at least a couple of legislative candidates for its district and the candidates running on the state wide list. Not to mention its local mayoral candidates. In a country which is still having massive alphabetization programs voters can be forgiven for bothering to vote only for the top of the ticket, and maybe mayor while just passing on the legislative votes. In fact this is the observed pattern in many states, the top votes are usually significantly higher than the legislature votes!!!!

The Yaracuy results

To understand better this electoral complexity we can look at the Yaracuy results of 2004.

This rather complex table is actually not too hard to follow. I have arranged by "group" rather than lineal. Thus we have in the first column the names of candidates and political parties. Then a group for the 2004 result divided in three sets, Governor race, State wide list results and individual results. Finally for reference the main results from the 2000 election of Lapi. The table is best read left to right first, top to bottom next.

2004 results

2000 results

Governor Race

State wide list

Individual districts

Lapi Governor

Lapi Coalition

94 835


79 139


56 075

75 585


75 753


74 725


2 seats


Yes August

88 287


Convergencia list

No August

135 099


54 455

Gimenez Coalition

101 481





55 563


63 995


2 seats




16 466


35 895


9 935



AD/Copei coalition

3 505


2 689


Total electors

Total voters


Total Voters


Total electors

304 877

200 040

≈ 34.5%

148 389

≈ 51.3%

260 000

The first two lines are the results of the Lapi coalition. I have separated the Convergencia result as some smaller parties supported Lapi, the global results are in red. Right there we can observe the first incongruence: Lapi loses the state house but he wins handsomely the list vote. Actually Convergencia numbers are almost the same! But when we reach the individual districts the numbers drop dramatically and this is not due to small candidates (not shown but you can access the CNE page for that). Simply it seems that 20% of Lapi voters did not bother to cast a vote for their direct state representative! The overall abstention is calculated at the bottom of the table, purple letters.

Between the Lapi and Gimenez results I have put the August yes/no votes. Lapi not only gets all the SI votes but improves his score by 7%. On the other hand Gimenez is very far from reaching the NO score! He actually drops by 25% from the NO result!!!

The same phenomenon is observed for the Gimenez vote. However in this case the drop in legislative votes is even more dramatic and explains quite well why he failed to capture the state house. I have detailed the Gimenez coalition for one simple reason: Gimenez was the PODEMOS mayor of La Independencia, and his own party is a distant third between the three major parties of the chavista coalition. Clearly, an indication that without Chavez he would have never made it to the top! The state wide list was only with MVR and thus we can easily see that he drops his total votes by 40%, from 101 K to 63.9 K.

Finally I have put AD/Copei as a coalition. The failure of these folks that used to toss back and forth Yaracuy among themselves without any challenge is more than clearly apparent. From an historical average of 80% they are down to a paltry 2%!

The third group or third column in green are the key results of 2000. From these numbers one can see that Lapi has gone down honorably. He improves, in defeat, his 2000 total by 20%!!! Surely he was not an unpopular governor and might become quite a thorn in Gimenez side.

How to explain the incongruent results observed in Yaracuy?

The first speculation that I can offer is that the Electoral Registry (REP) fraud reported by Alvarez probably played a significant role in Yaracuy. Shifting people between states in addition to the normal registration of the misiones beneficiaries could have helped Gimenez a lot. In only 4 years Yaracuy increased its REP by 15% (bottom rows, from 260 to 304 K!). And I am assuming that no one was allowed to vote more than once. Only a careful analysis of the different districts shifts would shed some real light in this, but it is the work of professional politicians, not this blogger who makes no money out of this.

The other speculation I can advance is that many Yaracuy electors are not very educated and just cannot be bothered in voting for all the ticket. Even more if they are late comer to the Yaracuy rolls! That is, they will accept that the electoral machineries that give them misiones benefits take them to the poll station. They go there, punch a button for governor and that is that! Indeed the wisdom of the people is great, the governor is the one that really calls the shots in the state and the legislature is a mild brake at best. So, why bother? Indeed there is a 34.5% abstention at the top of the ticket, on of the lowest in the whole country, but a 51.3% for the legislative votes!!!

Thus perhaps the Lapi electorate is a real electorate, depending more on educated folks and leadership that does not depend only on Lapi (a machinery to bring people to polls for example). The Gimenez electorate on the other hand seems to be a Chavez electorate. Since his managerial skills are lacking as for his performance at the head of the Independencia Town hall, he can hope that Chavez will do a good job for the next 4years if he wants a chance to retain his seat. If someone needs Chavez to send moeny to the misiones, it is Gimenez!

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