Fruits & Votes is the Web-log of Matthew S. Shugart ("MSS"), Professor of Political Science, University of California, Davis.
Perspectives on electoral systems, constitutional design, and policy around the world, based primarily on my research interests.
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31 October 2008
30 October 2008
Once again Californians are being asked at this election, in Proposition 11, whether we want to establish an “independent” commission to redraw legislative district boundaries after each national census. Notwithstanding that this measure is closer than the other 11 propositions on the statewide ballot to my own field of research, I remained undecided on it until today (whereas a decision on most of the others was immediately obvious).
I have decided to vote no, but it is not a decision I make with good feeling, as there are many positive things about the measure. And much wrong with the status quo.
As an advocate of reform away from plurality, I have a difficult time getting excited about tinkering within the framework of a plurality system. That we are debating, in 2008, whether to take drawing of district boundaries out of the hands of self-interested elected legislators, shows how far we have not come in democratic electoral politics.
That quotation is from Henry Droop, a passionate advocate of reforms away from plurality, and specifically of the single transferable vote. He wrote those words in 1869. Here we are in 2008, and the words still ring true, other than their needing to be amended by a recognition that in modern times divided partisan control has often resulted in an arguably even worse outcome: the bipartisan incumbent-protection racket, rather than an “honest and fair” bill.
Reforms to put map-drawing in the hands of “independent” agencies were adopted long ago in most plurality jurisdictions. But here we are, still debating it. And here I am, unable to vote for the measure.
There are actually several items in the measure’s favor. First is the obvious fact that legislators’ drawing legislative district lines is a conflict of interest, which we the people should take away. It is a clear “good government” reform. Also arguing in favor is a pragmatic reformer’s long-run view: Progress towards proportional representation (of whatever form) is unlikely so long as there is a claim to be made, such as is made by the proponents of Prop 11, that redistricting reform will result in a more responsive legislature with fewer ‘safe’ members. I suspect that the movement in that direction, while likely positive, is unlikely to be substantial. Maybe the PR movement needs a period of time for discontent about the impact of ‘fair districting’ to sink in before the public will be open to real reform.
Yet another argument in favor of this specific measure is that, unlike past proposals, this one does not include the state’s House of Representatives districts within the purview of the proposed redistricting commission. Of course, I would favor the drawing of House districts on independent criteria, rather than by state legislators–if we must keep plurality election of the House. However, I am not an advocate of unilateral partisan disarmament. A move to independent redistricting in one large and Democratic-dominated state without simultaneous moves by some significant Republican-dominated states risks the future partisan balance of the House. Thus redistricting reform in the House presumably should be done via constitutional amendment or an interstate compact (on the model of the National Popular Vote for the presidency).
The specific measure has some major problems, however. It has an extremely complex procedure designed to keep it free of partisan influence, yet at the same time it allows the leaders of the two major parties in Sacramento to strike names from the short list of candidates for commissioner.1
The commission would be comprised of 14 members, five from each of the two largest parties (based on voter registration) and four who are not registered with either of the two largest parties. Right there, that alone is almost a deal-breaker for me: it entrenches a role in election district-drawing for two parties, not even allowing for the possibility that a third party might one day win a seat or two. If such a party did win a seat or two, this commission would find it easier than a genuinely independent agency to gerrymander the third-party districts out of existence.
The Commission would be granted funds and software with which to draw maps, based on specific (and good–but, as discussed in the comments, potentially contradictory) criteria laid out in the measure.2 A decision on maps for each house of the legislature3 would have to be taken by nine votes on the Commission, including at least three votes by Commissioners representing each of the major parties and three Commissioners not representing the two major parties.
The appointment process is convoluted, but starts with self-selection in that voters submit applications. The State Auditor4 establishes an Applicant Review Panel (ARP), drawn randomly from auditors until there is one name from each major party and one who is registered with another party or nonpartisan. The ARP then screens the applicants, disqualifying those with stipulated conflicts of interest (including having been a candidate to partisan office or a family member of a candidate, and various other disqualifications).
Names are then drawn from the remaining pool to form a short list of 20 from each major party and 20 more who are not registered with a major party. These three groups of 20 are identified in the measure as the “subpools.” This is where the ‘strikes’ come in. The majority and minority party leaders in each house of the state legislature are now each allowed to remove two applicants from each subpool–for a total of 8 possible strikes from the original 60. Then the remaining names go forward to the State Auditor, who draws up the preliminary members of the Commission. The Auditor, however, selects only eight members (3 from each major party and 2 who are not). The remaining six (2 from each major party and 2 not from either major party) are co-opted onto the Commission by the originally selected eight (from the subpools). That feature limits the randomness inherent in the initial creation of the subpools, because if the initial six are comprised in part of members with partisan interest, they then have the ability to stack the rest of the Commission in their favor.
I actually am simplifying what is in the actual text of the measure! I wonder if a less complex process could have been devised? Perhaps even one with less input by top leaders of the partisan duopoly?
One troubling feature of the measure is the absence of any realistic role for the 19.5% of voters registered “Decline to State” [any party affiliation] or the 4.3% registered with parties other than Republican and Democrat.5 While voters from this pool of the electorate can submit their names, there is nothing to stop the leaders of the major parties from exercising their ‘strike’ option against anyone who enters the pool and is seen as an advocate for interests beyond those of the two main parties. And there is no representative of voters other than Democrats and Republicans delegated the ‘strike’ authority. In fact, one could doubt whether the legislative leaders are meaningful representatives for this purpose even of the voters who register with their parties.
In essence, the drafters of this initiative are trying to make the process appear to be driven by citizens,6 but were not willing to go as far as something resembling an actual Citizens Assembly.7 It looks to me as if this Commission is so structured as to recreate bipartisan dominance through what only looks like an independent commission. Yet it would be entrenched in the state constitution.
The disenfranchisement of actual independent voters reminds me of another of my favorite passages from Droop’s 1869 essay on electoral reform (part of which is enshrined in the blog’s banner):
Indeed, this measure shows–and entrenches–the difficulties those moderate and nonpartisan voters have of gaining representation in a fundamental part of the democratic process: districting. As I indicated above, of course, I doubt that such voters who care, above all, “about the country [or state] being honestly and wisely governed” can ever be fully enfranchised through single-seat districts. And, as I have often argued here, significant electoral reform is unlikely as long as no third parties make breakthroughs into our representative bodies. Californians have before them on Nov. 4 a measure that would make such a breakthrough no more, and perhaps less, likely than it is now, by entrenching a bipartisan dominance over the redistricting process. For these reasons, I will be voting NO on Proposition 11.
28 October 2008
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has dismissed Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, who had been in office less than a year.
According to the BBC, Saakashvili “did not say why the decision was made.”
Georgia has a president-parliamentary system, so there is no question that the PM is a subordinate of the president. The PM also must maintain the confidence of a majority in parliament.
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Playoffs & World Series
Well, Bud, Fox, and Company averted a near-disaster scenario for Major League Baseball last night when BJ Upton somehow was able to steal second base and then score on Carlos PeÃ±a’s single, despite an infield dirt that had the look of a slip-and-slide. He was not safe by much, and had he not scored, MLB would been faced with three bad options:
2. Call the game, thereby handing the 2008 Championship to the Phillies with a 5-inning, 1-run game.
3. Make an ad-hoc rule that even a game with a team in the lead after five innings is not “complete” if it is a World Series elimination game.
Not good choices.
It wound up as a suspended game due to the tie, and also due to a rules change just over a year ago. Prior to the recent change, stopping play part way through an inning would mean any change in the score in the top of that inning gets wiped out (i.e. officially it did not happen!). That would have put us at option 2, but by an even more unjust path.
It is remarkable that MLB has never before had a rain-shortened (or suspended) World Series game. This is a possibility that should have been addressed long ago with a simple rules change stating that any postseason game must go at least 9 innings, even if that means it has to be suspended (and even if one team leads after 5 innings).
Such a change is likely to happen now. It almost happened too late.
Somehow the Rays survived 6 brilliant innings by the best pitcher in this Series, Cole Hamels, and 4 less-than-brilliant innings by their own Scott Kazmir, to forge a tie and suspension. Whenever the weather permits a completion, the Rays once again have a fighting chance of sending the Series back to the dome in which they were 57-24 during the regular season (against 40-41 on the road).
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
27 October 2008
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has been found guilty on all seven counts. As the Washington Post headline puts it, with perhaps just a little understatement, “Conviction Mars Senator’s Reputation.”
Propagation: Seeds & scions (3)
26 October 2008
Kadima Party chair and PM-designate Tzipi Livni has called on the country’s president to call early elections, saying, “I refuse to pawn Israel’s future for the prime minister’s chair.”
The comment is a reference to the high demands made by Shas (as noted here at F&V on Friday) and now another religious party, United Torah Judaism, as Livni has attempted to build a coalition. Both parties clearly gambled that now was the time to bargain from strength, on the (justifiable, given polling) assumption that Livni, who just took over her own party’s leadership, would not be ready to face the electorate.
Livni also said, “There are others who are willing to pay any price, but I am not willing to sell the state and its citizens only to become the prime minister,” suggesting that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu would meet the demands of Shas if he were to become PM.
The Pensionsers Party has also rejected a coalition proposal. Without at least one of these parties, a viable coalition centered on Kadima and Labor is unlikely. Thus elections could be held as early as February.
This also means that Ehud Olmert remains PM in the meantime.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
24 October 2008
Interesting item from the NZ Herald about competition, both interparty and intraparty, in the Auckland Central district.
Labour’s Judith Tizard and National’s Nikki Kaye are in what could be a close interparty race for the electorate seat. However, the loser is not assured of entering parliament through the list.
The outcome of this contest thus has a potential impact on the intraparty dimension. That is, while district results in New Zealand’s MMP system generally do not affect the balance in the house among parties,1 they can affect the make-up of the party caucus.
An added wrinkle here is that the National candidate is courting some of the same voters who ordinarily vote for the Green party.
Tanczos is not a candidate in the district this time.
Does it make sense for a Green-leaning voter to pick a National candidate? It might, given that a strong list vote will give the Green party a voice in parliament even if (as is likely) it wins no electorate seats. The electorate vote will not change the balance between Labour and National, so if a given National candidate has more greenish appeal than the Labour rival in the district, why not? It is this sort of voter flexibility across the inter- and intra-party dimension that might have led some folks to suggest that MMP could offer the “best of both worlds” of plurality and PR.
Note, however, that the ability of voters to have a relevant intraparty vote in such a case depends on the district candidates not being assured of election via the list. Otherwise there is no opportunity to affect who wins within a party. In the past I have suggested that a mixed-member system really needs to have dually listed legislators2 in order to live up to its â€œbest of both worldsâ€ potential. Now I am not so sure.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (3)
Planted by MSS
Planted in: POLITICS/POLICY
First reaction: If not now, when?
Second reaction: Can we stop allowing our right-wing politicians to brand timid, not-even-quite social-democratic proposals as if they were for worker ownership of the means of production? (Apparently the WSJ thinks the actual policies could go much farther than the timid campaign themes–possibly even including (hold on to your hats here) single-payer health insurance, windfall profits taxes on oil companies, and a return to Clinton’s aborted BTU tax. Regarding that, see first reaction.)
Steve Conn pretty well sums up my feeling upon hearing of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama about a week ago.
The story goes on to note that an alternative government formula remains possible, bringing in “Labor, Meretz, the Pensioners, and all of, or a faction of, United Torah Judaism.” It would be a minority coalition.
There is little doubt that a new election would favor the right, and result in a government led by Likud. And that only enhances the bargaining leverage of Shas: Assuming Livni would prefer not to face the electorate just yet, Shas can hold out for more of its usual demands: expanded social welfare benefits for large poor families, a bigger budget for its yeshiva, no change to the status of Jerusalem, and an extension of rabbinic courts’ jurisdiction.
That’s some price. Is it worth it to Kadima and Labor as a means to forestall an election and right-wing government?
Nice try. Another Haaretz item: New Gallup poll shows 75% of U.S. Jews plan to vote Obama.
20 October 2008
Simon Jackman quoting a press item on a former student, Sean Theriault, notes that the US “Congress is the most polarized it has been in a century.”
A quote from Theriault states that “The electoral campaign has infiltrated the legislative process.”
Interesting choice of words, there–infiltrating. As Larry Bartels suggests in a comment to Jackman’s blog post:
The rest of Bartels’ comment suggests that if one were to answer the question, one would focus on, among other things, changes (if any) on the ability of presidents to get their way, as well as the tendency for party-line voting in congress.
I agree that these are among the best indicators of whether the US has reached something like ‘responsible party government’ (and whether, if so, it might be here to stay). However, I do not accept the premise of the question: that the US indeed has now what (some) political scientists in 1950 wanted, a responsible 2-party system.
If the â€œbailoutâ€ vote didnâ€™t reveal what 6 years of single-party control already should have made clear, let me give it a try: The US, even at its peak of party polarization and executive-legislative constituency overlap,1 does not have a â€˜responsibleâ€™ party system. Under the imaginary import of the idealized UK system, it would make no sense that â€˜earmarksâ€™ would go up precisely under partisan polarization and unified government. Nor would it make sense that the leaders of the parties (who in any case would not need to bargain with one another under a UK-style â€˜responsibleâ€™ 2-party system) could not deliver sufficient support on a critical piece of â€˜emergencyâ€™ legislation until they spread around copious amounts of pork.
The party system that has emerged in the last decade or so is the worst of both worlds: More frequent party-line voting (but notâ€“refreshingly!â€“ on the bailout), yet rampant ducking for cover through district- and interest-group-focused amendments for which a single ruling party as a whole canâ€™t be held responsible. I am pretty sure that is not what the 1950 APSA committee had in mind. And I am just as sure that what they had in mind is out of step with the institutional structure of the system they were attempting to graft it on to.
[The last two paragraphs are from my comment to Jackman's blog post.]
Propagation: Seeds & scions (2)
19 October 2008
At Ladera Frutal, we do have quite a variety of fruit trees, most of them (though not the avocados) planted by my own hands, in the days when my back could tolerate that sort of work. In fact, the number of fruit varieties remains not much below the 150 indicated [formerly] on the banner above, reduced only by the freeze of 2007 (which claimed the most tender subtropicals) and some ‘natural’ attrition (fruit trees are living beings, all of which must die at a time unknown to them–or to the grower).
However, we no longer have the means to irrigate a forest shooting up with trees. The photo above shows what the Ladera Frutal avocado grove now looks like. Yes, it is dying–by design. I had been leaning towards abandoning avocados for some time, for ethical reasons. Over time, as I became more steeped in organic agriculture and food ethics–and, especially as I have developed my own modern Jewish perspectives on those themes–I came to question why we grow what is essentially a rain forest crop in what is very nearly a desert climate. This is not a good use of our scarce resources. Yet what ethics did not lead me to stop doing, economics finally did. With water costs rising and increased imports, and more recently the general economic squeeze affecting most of us, it was time to let the avocado grove go.
The trees are now left to fend for themselves, despite what could have been a good crop in 2009.
Isn’t that a sad sight? A Hass avocado tree laden with fruit–but hardly a leaf to be found. Even if it suddenly began to rain, this fruit would be nothing but ornamental orbs. When a fruit tree has fruits, but loses its foliage for lack of water, it draws on the fruit to sustain itself as best it can. From the tree’s perspective, all that fruit is just an emergency pool of water.
Ideally, I would uproot the avocados and replace them with a more climate-suitable crop, like olives or grapes. Such crops are ideal for this dry Mediterranean climate, and at one time they were common in San Diego County. Then came the avocado revolution, thanks to cheap water ‘imported’ from our state’s northern reaches and some very crafty and state-subsidized marketing campaigns promoting California Hass avocados. Olive oil consumption is rising dramatically in the USA, so there could be a market. And wine production is returning to this county. Maybe we are in a transition. If so, it is a transition to be welcomed, back towards more sustainable and suitable crops. Avocados are a wonderful fruit, but the Hass (more water hungry than most varieties) really should not be taking up scarce water in a time of what appears to be an increasingly dry climate.
The quotes in this planting, as many a reader may have recognized, come from Ecclesiastes. This biblical book is traditionally read during Sukkot, the holiday just about to wrap up. As a read, it is a tad melancholy, even as it tells us to enjoy our days under the sun–or, in the case of Sukkot, the Season of our Joy, perhaps that should be under the stars and the rain (if only!) or the wind, or whatever else the elements send over our fragile existence.
Obviously there won’t be any more avocado harvests to be ingathered at Ladera Frutal, but aside from the former commercial production, “every kind of fruit tree” under the sun remains a core activity around the finca.
While we are on the subject of the fall season and Ecclesiastes, one last thing seems appropriate to the season:
Indeed. And this is the season not only for rejoicing in the harvest, but soon for using our individual voices as best we can to send a message that we have had enough with that frustration, enough with the scoundrels. Cast wisely and enjoy democracy’s days under the sun, for we never know when their end might come.
Now that is a lot of candidates! I shall have to ask my RAs to begin entering all of the candidate’s names, birthplaces, and prior electoral experience!
The Jakarta Post interviews Ani W. Soetjipto of the University of Indonesia about the election preparations. Here are a few highlights:
As one might imagine from such statements, the lists permit the voter to cast a candidate-preference vote. It remains unclear to me whether the lists are fully open (i.e. preference votes alone determine the order of election) or flexible/semi-closed (i.e. the preference votes only change a party-ranked ballot order when individual candidates reach some, usually rather high, threshold of votes). I think the latter (and I hope someone can confirm/correct). However, another comment by Soetjipto suggests that there is a party option in how to count the preference votes. The remark (which I put in bold in the following quote) comes within an answer to a question about the employment of quotas for women on the lists:
Another question from the interview:
A good question, and one that we could use some research on, and not only for Indonesia!
Propagation: Seeds & scions (7)
Lithuania uses an unusual two-round mixed-member majoritarian system. That is, the seats that are elected in the nominal tier, where single-seat-district, candidate voting is used, are elected by two-round majority runoff. The first round was held on 12 October, as was the vote for the party-list seats.
Regarding the ex-president:
Lithuania’s political system is premier-presidential.
Final results of the first round are to be announced today.
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Propagation: Seeds & scions (5)
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F&V time: This blog's date function is so set as to start a new day at approximately local sunset. (Why, if we have "day" and "night," should a new "day" start in the middle of the night?)
FRUITS: Support your local, organic growers; and, plant vines and fig trees and pomegranates for the generations to come...
VOTES: For democratization and full representation, for environmental sustainability, social justice, and peace, always sincerely...
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