All indications are that the NDP will defeat the incumbent Liberals, in power since 2001, by a wide margin, although the race has tightened during the campaign. BC’s First Past the Post electoral system has a history of periodically producing anomalous results, but a near-total wipeout of the losing party no longer seems as likely as it did when the election was called. The last time the NDP won a BC provincial election was in 1996, when it was the beneficiary of a plurality reversal: it lost the vote to the Liberals, 39.4%-41.8%, but won the seats, 39-33. The only other time the NDP won an election was 1991, when their 41%-33% vote lead translated into a whopping 51-17 lead in seats. Today’s result could be similar.
The Greens, who won their first seat in federal politics in a BC riding (district) in 2011, have some shot at picking up their first provincial seat. The Green Party has won as much as 12.4% of the vote in a provincial election; that was 2001, when the Liberals defeated the NDP in a landslide. In 2005 and 2009, the party’s votes declined to 9.2% and then 8.1%.
As the election has tightened, the Greens’ odds of winning a seat may have declined. The BC Greens leader says her party has a chance at 4-5 seats on southern Vancouver Island, and that she will resign if she does not win her own seat. She is running against an NDP incumbent; given the strong NDP winds blowing this year, her odds would seem not so good.
The Liberal Party ran an ad in the Victoria Times-Colonist that has created some controversy. It praises the Greens for their environmental leadership, apparently hoping that a strong Green vote in the region will allow the Liberals to win some three-way races. NDP leader, Adrian Dix, responded to the ad by saying:
They will say anything, they will do anything. What the Liberals are saying is our path to get to power is for you to vote Green. I say the way to change the government, to get a new and better government, is to vote NDP.
The Green candidate in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding also had an interesting response to the ad, saying that if his campaign could afford a full-page ad, it would say the same thing about their environmental leadership and the NDP’s “flip-flopping”. Moreover,
What it would acknowledge is Ida [Chong, the Liberal incumbent] is certainly not in the lead … she’s not even second in this riding.
That’s a great example of the expectations game in FPTP elections: if you can convince voters that a given candidate is in third place, you might be able to promote strategic defection your way. The district in question was won by the Liberal with a margin of only a few hundred votes in 2009, without the presence of a strong Green challenge.
The other small party to watch is the Conservatives, who long have been scarcely a factor in the province’s politics. The last time the party placed as high as third was in 1979, with 5.1%. The now defunct Reform Party, which was a Western splinter from the Conservatives that later re-merged with it, was third with 9.2% in 1996.1
The BC Conservatives could have a chance at a seat this time. As the Tri-City News notes about the contest in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain :
If there is one thing Shane Kennedy is hoping voters remember when they head to the polls next week, it’s this: they needn’t cast a ballot for the NDP to get rid of the Liberals.
A bit deeper into the story is this interesting policy note:
He agrees with the Liberal’s stance on bringing the Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. but said the money it generates for the province should be used to fund green industry.
Kennedy is also quoted as advocating more bus service for the area, so we have both local and provincewide–and not necessarily obviously “conservative”–positions being advocated in attempt to secure the seat.
Nonetheless, as with the Greens, the overall tightening of the race probably works against any BC Conservative candidate.
Apparently, Hugo Chavez’s personal vote is not as strong in death as many of us assumed it would be. His designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, has been elected, but by a very tight margin, according to official results. The opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, is contesting Maduro’s victory claim.
Just last October, an ailing Chavez defeated Capriles by a margin of about eleven percentage points.
The draft chapters for a co-authored book project in which I am involved are posted on my academic pages for anyone who might be interested.
A DIFFERENT DEMOCRACY?
A Systematic Comparison of the American System with 30 Other Democracies
By Steven L. Taylor, Matthew S. Shugart, Arend Lijphart, and Bernard Grofman
It is often said that the United States has an exceptional democracy. To what degree is this claim empirically true? If it is true, in what ways is US democracy different and do those differences matter? What explanations exist for these differences?
The study examines the choices made by the designers of the US government at the Philadelphia convention of 1787 and the institutional structures that evolved from those choices and compares them to 30 other democracies. The basic topics for comparison are as follows: constitutions, federalism, political parties, elections, interest groups, legislative power, executive power, judicial power, bureaucracies, and public policy.
Each chapter starts with a discussion of the feasible option set available on each type of institutional choice and the choices made by the US founders as a means of introducing the concepts, as well as discussing how specific choices made in the US led to particular outcomes. This is done by looking at the discussions on these topics from the Federalist Papers and the debates from the Philadelphia Convention. This approach allows a means of explaining the concepts in a comparative fashion (e.g., federal v. unitary government, unicameralism v. bicameralism, etc.) before moving into the comparisons of the US system to our other 30 democracies, which make up the second half of each chapter. Each chapter contains an explicit list of specific differences between the US and the other democracies as well as comparative data in tabular and graphical formats. The current draft of our book has 64 tables, 16 figures, and 10 text boxes. All of the figures and tables contain comprehensive comparative data featuring all 31 cases (save in a handful of instances) or specific thematic subsets of the 31 cases (e.g., presidential systems or bicameral legislatures).
The book is now under contract with Yale University Press.
In the New York Times, Sam Wang has an essay under the headline, “The Great Gerrymander of 2012“. In it, he outlines the results of a method aimed at estimating the partisan seat allocation of the US House if there were no gerrymandering.
His method proceeds “by randomly picking combinations of districts from around the United States that add up to the same statewide vote total” to simulate an “unbiased” allocation. He concludes:
Democrats would have had to win the popular vote by 7 percentage points to take control of the House the way that districts are now (assuming that votes shifted by a similar percentage across all districts). That’s an 8-point increase over what they would have had to do in 2010, and a margin that happens in only about one-third of Congressional elections.
Then, rather buried within the middle of the piece is this note about 2012:
if we replace the eight partisan gerrymanders with the mock delegations from my simulations, this would lead to a seat count of 215 Democrats, 220 Republicans, give or take a few.
In other words, even without gerrymandering, the House would have experienced a plurality reversal, just a less severe one. The actual seat breakdown is currently 201D, 234R. In other words, by Wang’s calculations, gerrymandering cost the Democrats seats equivalent to about 3.2% of the House. Yes, that is a lot, but it is just short of the 3.9% that is the full difference between the party’s actual 201 and the barest of majorities (218). But, actually, the core problem derives from the electoral system itself. Or, more precisely, an electoral system designed to represent geography having to allocate a balance of power among organizations that transcend geography–national political parties.
Normally, with 435 seats and the 49.2%-48.0% breakdown of votes that we had in 2012, we should expect the largest party to have about 230 seats.1 Instead it won 201. That deficit between expectation and reality is equivalent to 6.7% of the House, suggesting that gerrymandering cost the Democrats just over half the seats that a “normally functioning” plurality system would have netted it.
However, the “norm” here refers to two (or more) national parties without too much geographic bias to where those parties’ voters reside. Only if the geographic distribution is relatively unbiased does the plurality system work for its supposed advantage in partisan systems: giving the largest party a clear edge in political power (here, the majority of the House). Add in a little bit of one big party being over-concentated, and you can get situations in which the largest party in votes is under-represented, and sometimes not even the largest party in seats.
As I have noted before, plurality reversals are inherent to the single-seat district, plurality, electoral system, and derive from inefficient geographic vote distributions of the plurality party, among other non-gerrymandering (as well as non-malaportionment) factors. Moreover, they seem to have happened more frequently in the USA than we should expect. While gerrymandering may be part of the reason for bias in US House outcomes, reversals such as occurred in 2012 can happen even with “fair” districting. Wang’s simulations show as much.
The underlying problem is, again, because all the system really does is represent geography: which party’s candidate gets the most votes here, there, and in each district? And herein lies the big transformation in the US electoral and party systems over recent decades, compared to the party system that was in place in the “classic” post-war system: it is no longer as much about local representation as it once was, and is much more about national parties with distinct and polarized positions on issues.
Looking at the relationship between districts and partisanship, John Sides, in the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog, says “Gerrymandering is not what’s wrong with American politics.” Sides turns the focus directly on partisan polarization, showing that almost without regard to district partisanship, members of one party tend to vote alike in recent congresses. The result is that when a district (or, in the Senate, a state) swings from one party to another, the voting of the district’s membership jumps clear past the median voter from one relatively polarized position to the other.
Of course, this is precisely the point Henry Droop made in 1869, and that I am fond of quoting:
As every representative is elected to represent one of these two parties, the nation, as represented in the assembly, appears to consist only of these two parties, each bent on carrying out its own programme. But, in fact, a large proportion of the electors who vote for the candidates of the one party or the other really care much more about the country being honestly and wisely governed than about the particular points at issue between the two parties; and if this moderate non-partisan section of the electors had their separate representatives in the assembly, they would be able to mediate between the opposing parties and prevent the one party from pushing their advantage too far, and the other from prolonging a factious opposition. With majority voting they can only intervene at general elections, and even then cannot punish one party for excessive partisanship, without giving a lease of uncontrolled power to their rivals.
Both the essays by Wang and by Sides, taken together, show ways in which the single-seat district, plurality, electoral system simply does not work for the USA anymore. It is one thing if we really are representing district interests, as the electoral system is designed to do. But the more partisan a political process is, the more the functioning of democracy would be improved by an electoral system that represents how people actually divide in their partisan preferences. The system does not do that. It does even less well the more one of the major parties finds its votes concentrated in some districts (e.g. Democrats in urban areas). Gerrymandering makes the problem worse still, but the problem is deeper: the uneasy combination of a geography-based electoral system and increasingly distinct national party identities.
In recent weeks there has been considerable attention to proposals by some Republican politicians to change the allocation of presidential electoral votes from statewide winner-take-all to congressional districts–at least in states where doing so would help Republicans. If this method had been used for all electoral votes in presidential contests from 1968 to 2008, what would its impact have been?
I happen to have district-level presidential votes for each of these elections (but not, yet, for 20121 ). The graph below plots both the actual and hypothetical2 electoral vote percentages for each party against the popular vote. Red for Republican, blue for Democrat. The solid symbols indicate the actual percentage of electoral votes obtained, while the open symbols indicate the hypothetical allocation by congressional district. The plotted curves are local regression (lowess) curves for each party under each condition (solid for actual, dashed for hypothetical).
The exercise shows how any discussion of shifting to this method of allocation should be talked about for what it is: a GOP-biased proposal. Note that, under the actual allocation, the two curves are close to one another, at least through the part of the graph where it really matters–the relatively close elections. There does appear to be a slight Republican bias in the actual method, as that party’s line crosses over 50% of the electoral votes at almost exactly 50% of the (two-party) popular vote, while the curve for Democrats crosses over at just over 50% of the popular vote. In other words, the data plot predicts the Democrat needs a bigger vote lead to get the electoral vote majority. But the effect appears very small, consistent with what Thomas, King, Gelman, and Katz find.
However, under the hypothetical congressional-district allocation, there is a clear Republican bias. The Republican curve crosses over 50% of the electoral vote well to the left of the 50% popular-vote line, while that for Democrats does not break over 50% of the electoral vote until the party has a clear majority of the popular (two-party) vote.
The 2012 result is shown in the graph for the actual allocation, though I did not have the district data readily available. The 2012 result closely matches the fitted curve for the actual result. If it also matched the fitted curve for district allocation, the electoral-college result would have been very close indeed.3
Only in the case of landslides in the popular vote does the congressional-district method result in greater “proportionality”, as indicated by the flatter curve for congressional-district allocation. Otherwise, there is no sense in which the Republican proposal is “proportional“; rather, it is a partisan power grab. It is a power grab especially when employed only in states where the Republican candidate tends to have a better geographical spread of the votes in the state; it is a power grab even if employed for all electors, as assumed in the hypothetical allocations shown here.
Let’s turn to individual elections. Below is the change for the Republican candidate in electoral votes if the congressional-district method had been used instead of the actual statewide winner-take-all:
As we already saw from the graph, in landslide years, the Republican wins fewer electors via congressional districts. The only electoral-college landslides we have had during this time have been by the Republican candidate: 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988. All of these but 1980 were also huge wins in the popular vote. In every election since 1992, the Republican gains regardless of whether he wins or loses. He also gained in 1976.4
In 2004, despite its being a very close election, Bush would have won 317 electoral votes with a district plan, against the actual 286. His total also would have been better in 2000: 286 vs. the “actual” 271. Had Florida’s electors been awarded properly in 2000 under statewide allocation, Bush’s total would have been only 246, meaning that the congressional-district plan would have netted him 40 extra electors, despite losing the popular vote. That’s even more than his 31-elector gain in 2004, when he actually won the popular vote.5
Of course, an objection to any simulation such as this is that we do not know how campaign strategy might have changed under different rules. That is certainly true; if each House district actually would have awarded an electoral vote, campaigns would have targeted the marginal districts, some of which would have swung the other way. In other words, the votes themselves could have been different.
We can get a broad understanding of the opportunities for potentially swinging electoral votes by considering how often a district is marginal in the presidential contest.
There are 4,782 observations6. There have been 730 the entire time that were decided by less than 5 percentage points (15.26%).
Of course, this varies a great deal by year, as shown below (number in parentheses indicates winner’s margin under a congressional-district allocation):
Obviously, 1976 could have been swung by district-focused campaigning: there were many more close districts than the margin (two electors!) that Carter would have won by under a district-based allocation. Not surprisingly, 2000 is another year when districts within the margin of 5% outnumbered the overall electoral-vote margin under the hypothetical allocation. In 2008 there are as many close districts as the electoral-vote margin, and in 1992 the two figures are within a few districts of one another. Looking only at these four elections, we can see which party had the greater number of marginal district wins.
year Rep Dem
1976 62 40
1992 46 57
2000 27 35
2008 37 27
This suggests that Bush’s district-based win in 2000 would have been relatively secure, as he had fewer close races to defend against the Gore campaign’s (hypothetical) district-swing efforts. And there would have been little risk of the Republican swinging the 1992 or 2008 outcome, though the Republican could have made the race closer. But 1976 really would have been a complete toss-up, depending on how various individual district contests turned out.
We might think that the candidate who trails in the popular vote would have more marginal districts to defend, but this is not true in either 1992 or 2000.
All in all, it is clear that congressional-district allocation of electors benefits one party more than the other, and that in a close election, the Republican candidate would be likely to have an advantage. The Republican might even be able to win with less than 49% of the two-party vote.
It is easy to see why Republicans might like a district-based electoral college. It is much harder to see why anyone would think it was a democratic (small or large d) improvement over the current method, bad though that may be.
I am actually somewhat happy that some Republicans have opened the issue of electoral-vote allocation. The country needs this conversation. However, what it needs is not one party pushing a plan that would be blatantly distorting in its favor. It needs the Democrats to engage the conversation, and come out in favor of the National Popular Vote plan, which would remove partisan bias from presidential elections.
As is standard for such proposals, I assume that the winner of the statewide plurality of the popular vote would be awarded two electors, in addition to a number corresponding to the number of individual House districts won. Two small states, Maine and Nebraska, are the only two states to have used such an allocation in at least some of the years analyzed. [↩]
Andrew Gelman suggests that Romney might have won, given the “huge” distortion of congressional-district allocation. [↩]
In 1968, both major-party candidates lose electoral votes, as George Wallace obtains 56 under the congressional-district allocation, against the 46 he actually won. [↩]
It might have been a slightly bigger change in 2000, as I am missing three districts that year: AR3, IN10 and LA2. For two of these, congressional votes are also missing; IN10, is a very safe Dem district in 2000 House race. [↩]
would be 435*11=4,785, if not for the missing districts [↩]
In the week since the US elections, several sources have suggested that there was a spurious majority in the House, with the Democratic Party winning a majority–or more likely, a plurality–of the votes, despite the Republican Party having held its majority of the seats.
It is not the first time there has been a spurious majority in the US House, but it is quite likely that this one is getting more attention1 than those in the past, presumably because of the greater salience now of national partisan identities.
Ballot Access News lists three other cases over the past 100 years: 1914, 1942, and 1952. Sources disagree, but there may have been one other between 1952 and 2012. Data I compiled some years ago showed a spurious majority in 1996, if we go by The Clerk of the House. However, if we go by the Federal Election Commission, we had one in 2000, but not in 1996. And I understand that Vital Statistics on Congress shows no such event in either 1996 or 2000. A post at The Monkey Cage cites political scientist Matthew Green as including 1996 (but not 2000) among the cases.
Normally, in democracies, we more or less know how many votes each party gets. In fact, it’s all over the news media on election night and thereafter. But the USA is different. “Exceptional,” some say. In any case, I am going to go with the figure of five spurious majorities in the past century: 1914, 1942, 1952, 2012, plus 1996 (and we will assume 2000 was not one).
How does the rate of five (or, if you like, four) spurious majorities in 50 elections compare with the wider world of plurality elections? I certainly do not claim to have the universe of plurality elections at my fingertips. However, I did collect a dataset of 210 plurality elections–not including the USA–for a book chapter some years ago,2 so we have a good basis of comparison.
Out of 210 elections, there are 10 cases of the second party in votes winning a majority of seats. There are another 9 cases of reversals of the leading parties, but where no one won over 50% of seats. So reversals leading to spurious majority are 4.8% of all these elections; including minority situations reversals are 9%. The US rate would be 10%, apparently.
But in theory, a reversal should be much less common with only two parties of any significance. Sure enough: the mean effective number (N) of seat-winning parties in the spurious majorities in my data is just under 2.5, with only one under 2.2 (Belize, 1993, N=2.003, in case you were wondering). So the incidence in the US is indeed high–given that N by seats has never been higher than 2.08 in US elections since 1914,3 and that even without this N restriction, the rate of spurious majorities in the US is still higher than in my dataset overall.
I might also note that a spurious majority should be rare with large assembly size (S). While the US assembly is small for the country’s population, it is still large in absolute sense. Indeed, no spurious majority in my dataset of national and subnational elections from parliamentary systems has happened with S>125!
So, put in comparative context, the US House exhibits an unusually high rate of spurious majorities! Yes, evidently the USA is exceptional.4
As to why this would happen, some of the popular commentary is focusing on gerrymandering (the politically biased delimitation of districts). This is quite likely part of the story, particularly in some sates.5
However, one does not need gerrymandering to get a spurious majority. As political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden have pointed out (PDF), there can be an “unintentional gerrymander,” too, which results when one party has its votes less optimally distributed than the other. The plurality system, in single-seat districts, does not tote up party votes and then allocate seats in the aggregate. It only matters in how many of those districts you had the lead–of at least one vote. Thus a party that runs up big margins in some of its districts will tend to augment its total in its “votes” column at a faster rate than it augments its total in the “seats” column. This is quite likely the problem Democrats face, which would have contributed to its losing the seat majority despite its (apparent) plurality of the votes.
Consider the following graph, which shows the distribution (via kernel densities) of vote percentages for the winning candidates of each major party in 2008 and 2010.
Click image for larger version
We see that in the 2008 concurrent election, the Democrats (solid blue curve) have a very long and higher tail of the distribution in the 70%-100% range. In other words, compared to Republicans the same year, they had more districts in which they “wasted” votes by accumulating many more in the district than needed to win it. Republicans, by contrast, tended that year to win more of their races by relatively tighter margins–though their peak is still around 60%, not 50%. I want to stress, the point here is not to suggest that 2008 saw a spurious majority. It did not. Rather, the point is that even in a year when Democrats won both the vote plurality and seat majority, they had a less-than optimal distribution, in the sense of being more likely to win by big margins than were Republicans.
Now, compare the 2010 midterm election, in which Republicans won a majority of seats (and at least a plurality of votes). Note how the Republican (dashed red) distribution becomes relatively bimodal. Their main peak shifts right (in more ways than one!) as they accumulate more votes in already safe seats, but they develop a secondary peak right around 50%, allowing them to pick up many seats narrowly. That the peak for winning Democrats’ votes moved so much closer to 50% suggests how much worse the “shellacking” could have been! Yet even in the 2010 election, the tail on the safe-seats side of the distribution still shows more Democratic votes wasted in ultra-safe seats than is the case for Republicans.6
I look forward to producing a similar graph for the 2012 winners’ distribution, but will await more complete results. A lot of ballots remain to be counted and certified. The completed count is not likely to reverse the Democrats’ plurality of the vote, however.
Given higher Democratic turnout in the concurrent election of 2012 than in the 2010 midterm election, it is likely that the distributions will look more like 2008 than like 2010, except with the Republicans retaining enough of those relatively close wins to have held on to their seat majority.
Finally, a pet peeve, and a plea to my fellow political scientists: Let’s not pretend there are only two parties in America. Since 1990, it has become uncommon, actually, for one party to win more than half the House votes. Yet my colleagues who study US elections and Congress continue to speak of “majority”, by which they mean more than half the mythical “two-party vote”. In fact, in 1992 and every election from 1996 through at least 2004, neither major party won 50% of the House votes. I have not ever aggregated the 2006 vote. In 2008, Democrats won 54.2% of the House vote, Republicans 43.1%, and “others” 2.7%. I am not sure about 2010 or 2012. It is striking, however, that the last election of the Democratic House majority and all the 1995-2007 period of Republican majorities, except for the first election in that sequence (1994), saw third-party or independent votes high enough that neither party was winning half the votes.
Assuming spurious majorities are not a “good” thing, what could we do about it? Democrats, if they are developing a systematic tendency to be victims of the “unintentional gerrymander”, would have an objective interest in some sort of proportional representation system–perhaps even as much as that unrepresented “other” vote would have.
Matthew Soberg Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. [↩]
The original version of this statement, that “N is almost never more than 2.2 here” rather exaggerated House fragmentation! [↩]
Spurious majorities are even more common in the Senate, where no Republican seat majority since at least 1952 has been based on a plurality of votes cast. But that is another story. [↩]
For instance, see the map of Pennsylvania at the Think Progress link in the first footnote. [↩]
It is interesting to note that 2010 was very rare in not having any districts uncontested by either major party. [↩]
Writing at The Monkey Cage, Juhem Navarro-Rivera offers a detailed report on the elections just held in Puerto Rico. A few things stand out among the sorts of things we tend to emphasize here at F&V:
On Tuesday, November 6 voters in Puerto Rico narrowly voted out incumbent pro-statehood Governor Luis Fortuño of the Partido Nuevo Progresista in his reelection bid in favor of state Senator Alejandro García Padilla of the pro-Commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático. The margin of difference between the two candidates was less than one percent, the second-closest election since these two parties began competing against each other in 1968. At the time of this writing, the PPD is poised to win majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
Yet, despite the victory for PPD candidates at the polls, Puerto Ricans also voted on a nonbinding plebiscite to solve the political status of Puerto Rico in which a majority rejected the Commonwealth, voting to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the Union. The plebiscite consisted of two questions, the first one asked voters if they approved or not of the current political status, the second question asked voters to choose between three status options: independence, statehood, and an “enhanced commonwealth” in which the sovereignty of the island will belong to the people of Puerto Rico rather than to the U.S. Congress. As of this writing, the voters did not approve of the current Commowealth status 54% vs. 46%, while those who rejected the current status have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the statehood option (61%) while an “enhanced Commonwealth” received 33% of the vote, and 6% voted for independence.
Sometimes, elections do not provide the clearest of mandates, do they? (At least they got a clear majority in their three-part second question on the referendum!)
And as if the mixed messages were not sufficient already,
The following are some loosely organized thoughts about an initiative measure on California’s ballot, Proposition 37. The proposal is for a requirement to label foods sold in the state that contain–or potentially contain–genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
As someone who has grown organic, usually buys organic, and has some belief (which I can’t claim to be proven) of an allergy to some GM products, I would be inclined towards a yes vote. However, this is not an easy one for me, because there are numerous problems with the measure.
When I look at the list of supporters and opponents, I don’t really like those I’d be siding with if I voted no. If we look upon it as a battle of organized interests over distribution of rents, I’ll go with the organic industry over Monsanto and DuPont every time. But if we’re concerned about good government and sensible consumer-information provision, it’s an easy no.
This is a bad way to go about labelling. Prop 37 has zero tolerance for GM traces,1 which means the standard for commingling will be stricter for conventionally grown foods than for organic. The EU and Australia/New Zealand standards allow trace amounts, and it’s almost impossible to avoid some cross-contamination. So almost every non-organic item will bear the label, if 37 passes. What use is that? It’s better to have a standard for “GM free” (but not organic, given that organic us GM-free, within the allowed tolerance) than to label almost everything conventional as (potentially) having GMO. And, of course, there already exist third-party certifications for GMO-free, or you can buy organic. On the other hand, if you agree that our political system has been mostly deaf to calls for stricter standards–as I do–then it’s an easy yes. To me, a yes vote is more a crying out for political attention than a vote for the specific set of standards this would impose.
Fortunately, as far as I can tell. Prop 37 doesn’t have an amendment clause preventing legislative adjustment. One principle I adhere to in most propositions is vote no, whatever the seeming merits, if only a subsequent initiative can amend the proposition. Others require 2/3 votes of the legislature to amend–also bad, but not as bad. I don’t see any such clause in this one, which I think means it would be just like an ordinary statute.
I also dislike, on principle, prop 37′s clause allowing lawsuits against retailers without a “harm” standard.
Further, I dislike that dried fruits are classified as “processed” and therefore subject to labeling requirement. It won’t affect me, because I eat only organic fruits, usually grown right under my own watchful eye. But on principle, this just is non-sensical. (The “processing” designation also applies to smoking, canning, and other preparations that involve only the fruit or vegetable, which is not how I think of “processed foods” more generally.)
I will probably end up voting yes, despite my very significant reservations. It will be a political vote for me, not a policy vote. And that’s all right; as long as we have this nutty initiative process, I might as well vote to push things in a direction I favor, even if the measure is very far from perfect. If I were to learn before Tuesday that I am wrong in my belief that this could be amended by future action of the legislature, I might vote no. For sure, there will be “amendments” from the courts, but that certainly doesn’t make this initiative particularly unusual.
Much of this paragraph is based on my reading of the proposal itself (see first link above), and some of it on a report by researchers at the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at UC Davis. [↩]
A legal issue in Connecticut over the order in which each party’s candidate will appear on the ballot:
[A] lawsuit is causing a delay on the final order of candidates for Election Day ballots. The GOP took Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to court after she decided Democrats should get the top ballot line. Republicans say state law dictates otherwise…
State statute says “the party whose candidate for governor polled the highest number of votes in the last-preceding election” gets the first position on the ballot. But Democrat Dannel P. Malloy appeared on the ballot twice in 2010, on the Democratic and Working Families Party ballot lines. More votes were cast for Tom Foley on the Republican line than they were for Malloy on the Democratic line, but the Working Families Party votes handed Malloy the election.
I was not aware till I came across a Globe and Mail article from September 10 that Nova Scotia has provincial electoral districts that are drawn for the benefit of two groups: Acadians and African-Nova Scotians. These “dedicated ridings”, or what in the US would be called minority-majority districts, represent cases of affirmative gerrymandering: the drawing of district boundaries to enhance minority representation.
The article says that these districts are believed to be the only ones of their kind in Canada.
These districts were established 20 years ago. The NDP government of the province has appointed a boundaries commission to attempt to equalize populations of districts (ridings). The commission’s terms of reference require each riding be within 25 per cent of the province’s average number of electors. Nonetheless, the commission recommended retaining the affirmatively gerrymandered ridings. The commission regarded the terms as non-binding; the government’s attorney general has considered the proposed retention of the districts as “null and void.” (See map of proposed changes.)
Regarding the districts themselves:
Right now there are three Acadian MLAs representing the Acadian ridings, but there has not been an African-Nova Scotian MLA in the designated black riding of Preston (outside Dartmouth) for more than 13 years. The ridings each have about 7,000 voters, far fewer than the other 48 ridings which vary between 10,000 and 21,000 voters.
Thus the districts are not only gerrymandered–drawn for a political purposes–but also malapportioned, meaning having fewer voters per single-seat district.
A very interesting case not only of boundary-drawing for minority representation, but also commission-vs.-government conflict over the process!
Voters in Puerto Rico go to the polls next Sunday, August 19, 2012, to cast ballots in a constitutional amendments referendum, concerning the Legislative Assembly’s number of members and the right to bail.
The constitutional amendment on the Legislative Assembly’s number of members proposes a reduction of the number of senators from 27 to 17, and the number of representatives from 51 to 39, starting in 2016. The number of Senate districts would be increased from eight to eleven, but each Senate district would elect one senator, instead of two. In addition, each Senate district would include three House of Representatives districts (instead of five), for a total of 33 House districts; each House district would continue to elect one representative. Moreover, the number of at-large seats in each House would be reduced from eleven to six. Likewise, the minority party representation cap would be reduced from nine to six seats in the Senate, and from 17 to 13 seats in the House of Representatives.
If we go by the cube-root rule, which suggests assembly size tends to be near the cube root of the population, the current first-chamber size of 51 is already only about one third of expected. If this referendum passes, Puerto Rico will have an extremely undersized assembly.
There is some tendency for islands (especially in the Caribbean) to have undersized assemblies. And the cube root rule might not apply to assemblies of not fully sovereign entities (though its underlying theory makes no such explicit claims). In any case, this would be a really small legislature for a “Commonwealth” of around 3.7 million.
Quebec’s National Assembly (i.e. provincial) election is 4 September. It is a three-way race, which is always interesting–and potentially anomaly-generating–under plurality (first-past-the-post) rules.
The incumbent is a majority government of the Liberal Party, re-elected most recently in 2008, with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) as its main opponent. The newly created party in the mix is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and there are other smaller parties as well.
The CAQ is trying to make a splash by bringing Jacques Duchesneau, a “celebrity whistleblower” (as the Ottawa Citizen described him) into the contest as one of its candidates. This personnel strategy by an upstart party is an excellent example of attempting to use a high-profile individual to signal something about the party as a whole.
The PQ is attempting as well to use a newly recruited candidate to help re-brand the party. The “sovereigntist” message of the party is in danger of not resonating with younger voters who have grown up under policies implemented by past PQ governments, and continued by Liberal ones. So to try to counter this lack of appeal, it has nominated Léo Bureau-Blouin, a 20-year-old leader of the recent Quebec student strike. As Konrad Yakabuski comment in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Bureau-Blouin’s candidacy brings much more to the PQ than a chance at picking up a seat. It sends a message to Quebeckers that the party and its mission will live on.”
As for the three-way race, Eric Grenier notes in the Globe and Mail, even before Duchesneau’ entry, “the CAQ, even at these low levels of support in the polls, could still win as many as 11 seats, Québec Solidaire as many as two, and Option Nationale one, making it possible for either of the two main parties to form some sort of working arrangement or formal coalition in order to govern if they do not win a majority on their own.”
Quebec had a real three-way race in March, 2007, when the largest party was the Liberals, but with only 38% of the seats on just under a third of the vote. The Assembly elected then lasted only about a year and a half, and new elections were held in December, 2008, producing the majority that is attempting to defend its position now.
“Anglophones… should perhaps, in order to send a message to the Liberals, consider voting for the CAQ,” said Mr. Libman, “(but) only in areas where there is no danger of splitting the vote and electing the PQ.”
The ridings Mr. Libman has in mind are largely located in Montreal’s west end, with a few more in western Quebec. There are also a handful of ridings where any wavering by Anglo voters could spark big swings in close local races.
With so many outcomes being plausible–including a majority government by either major party–and dependent on results of key districts (ridings), this will be a contest to watch.
One of our students, Saul Cunow, currently in Brazil sends along this interesting tidbit:
In every municipal election there are 1-2 municipalities [among Brazil's 5000+] where the leading candidates for mayor tie. Per the constitution, the tie-breaker is age — the older candidate wins. Apparently, age is also used as a tie-breaker in civil service exams and elsewhere as well.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4