Saturday, June 23, 2007

Voting systems: "what if" in France recent elections

Warning: totally useless vote discussing voting methods follow. If you are into Venezuelan gore and blood, wait for future installments.


The French election results have raised a certain controversy: how come that the Socialists who almost won the second round ballot did not get more seats? The eternal question is thus raised, which is the voting system that allows for the best and fairest representation of the political tendencies of a country. But in the French case it is rather unfair to raise the question. Is it fair to penalize the right because the left preferred much more to stay home rather than voting two Sundays ago? Should the right be penalized because scared left voters came back last Sunday to make a difference?

Of course not, and Le Monde, of socialists sympathies, did not hesitate to publish an interesting work where it says that no matter what excuses the socialists seek, and no matter what the voting system were, they lost. Even more, the same nature of the French voting system had actually a built in correction factor that allowed for the socialists to get more seats than what they deserved considering their feeble first round voting performance! Thus avoiding a crushing majority to the right.

So what Le Monde did was to get the results of the first round voting of two Sundays ago and use other voting systems to see what the results in seats would have been. It is important to note that in these systems, voting takes place only once, not in two rounds like French tradition, a tradition found, by the way, in some areas of the US like Louisiana.

The winner take all system

Let's look first at the system known by most readers of this blog, the electoral system inherited by many countries of British origin: in a given district, whoever gets the more votes wins, even ifs he gets, say 20% of the votes, as long as she is the top vote getter, she carries the seat. The nature of this system is perhaps the most unfair of all, forces a country to limit itself to no more than 3 political parties as people must vote in an useful way, not necessary for what they would have liked to vote. In the US there are only two parties. In Canada and Britain there parties and some very minor ones, but the power is decided always between two parties who on occasion must fish for the minor parties for a more stable coalition. Third parties are usually regional expressions that make it to the national parliament.

The advantage of course is that it tends to promote political stability as in general everyone knows who is the winner, and thus deals with it. We see that if it had been applied to France, the UMP would have got a great majority of more than 2/3!!! Enough to make even constitutional changes at will!

The proportional system

At the other end of the British system there is the proportional representation. In the case shown here it is not absolute representation country wide (such as Israel) but according to the French territorial Department division. This tends to favor bigger parties some as the goal of the system is to allow everyone to get at least a voice, but still create a governmental majority. The system was used in France in 1986 (and some variations of it are used in other countries of Europe).

You can see that the results are significantly different from the "winner take all" system above, but the UMP still wins handsomely. Again, this is because such a repartition takes place after the first round ballot and the UMP cannot be blamed for too many Socialists staying home. The detail here is that the importance of electoral alliances is lost in such a system. The "Nouveau Centre", an electoral ally of the UMP, is now laminated whereas in the "winner take all" it got twice the seats it is getting now, courtesy of UMP votes. On the other hand, Bayrou's Modem that refuses any alliances this time gets a significant chunk of seats.

The German system

In this system half the seats are distributed on a proportional system and the other half is a winner take all system. But there is a catch: the Germans weary of the strict proportional system under the Wiemar republic which allowed for the rise of the Nazi party, have decided that unless you do not get 5% nation wide, you do not get seats in the Reichstag.

Application of this system in France yields very different results. If the UMP is still the winner with a majority large enough for a stable government, there are only two other parties left: the Modem and the Socialists. All the other parties are out. Probably if France were to chose this system it would end up like Germany where two large parties need one of the two small parties to make a majority. In France the 4th party could eventually come from a "Grünen" like formation of a coalition of trotskiste, greens and dissident communists.

The French system

And thus we get back to the French voting system who after having been compared to the other systems does not look too bad, no matter what some Monday morning political quarter backs would like us to believe. Not only it had that "inner corrective" measure that allowed for socialist voters to go back to the ballot the second Sunday (while many of the UMP supporters thought that it was all won after the first Sunday so that they were not needed at the polls anymore, their loss).

What is paradoxical in the result is that they end up being quite close from the proportional vote shown above. The difference is really the Modem result, a Modem bereft of alliances by choice and whose voters eventually allowed the Socialist to make a mini come back of sorts once the Modem candidates did not reach the second round ballot. If we conceive the first round of a French election as the "political will" of the country, thus we can see that this will is still represented in the final result. The negative outcome would have been an overwhelming victory of the right, a distortion also built in in this system which makes it resemble the "winner take all" in some cases (such as the 1993 result which laminated the socialists).

And what about Venezuela system?

The representativity of the Venezuelan people will has long ago been trumped by the CNE complicity with Chavez. Not only the "morochas" system kills the constitutional spirit of proportional representation of "minorities" but the cheating ways of Chavez and the CNE promote abstention so that the current parliament is 100% pro Chavez while 37% voted against him in 2006 (official results, questionable of course). The circumstances of 2005 are no excuse for chavismo who if it were a truly democratic movement would have found a way to repeat elections or avoided the opposition to abstain in 2005.

But let's not revisit this issue and instead wonder what would be a good electoral system. Obviously with the current strength of chavista parties and the divisions of the opposition, a "winner take all" system would create a distortion that would kill representativity. This was sen during the constitutional assembly of 1999 when with less than 60% of the vote chavismo got 97% of the seats. Even in 2005, when polls gave at most 40% of the votes for the opposition, the twisted "morochas" would have given less than 20% of the seats to the opposition, perhaps as low as 10 %.

A strict proportional system as in Israel would not be good either: with a Chavez who decides who runs and who does not run, parliament would be more than ever dominated by the executive, just as it happens now, even if the opposition had, say, 30% of the seats. That is, when you know that you owe your seat to Chavez and not to your constituents, you lose any incentive to act as a legislator.

Perhaps an adaptation of the German System would be best. I would have 100 seats elected in single uninominal districts ("winner take all"). That would already kill the "morochas" and force coalition build up. The remaining 60 plus seats would be divided in groups of 10 to 15 seats that would be distributed regionally by grouping the necessary number of states to reach at least 10 seats based on population. For example an Andes region with 3 states. Small Yaracuy would be added to Lara and Falcon for example. This would still imply a near 10% vote to enter parliament in some regions but if a region has 15 seats (Miranda-Aragua-Carabobo for example) with less than 7% you can still make it tot he National Assembly, no matter what a steam roller chavismo could be at a given point.

And as personal favorite of mine, something that could be made easy with the voting machines, the elector gets to chose within the list offered which is his favorite. That way political parties cannot offer sure seats to candidates by placing them on top of a list: the voter can chose the list but the bottom candidates if they please. now, what can be more democratic than that?

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But of course, I am pretty sure that the only thing that keeps the CNE awake at night is ways to please Chavez and to make sure that the opposition never reaches any significant quota of power.

-The end-

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