Writing at LSE’s Election Experts blog, Françoise Boucek takes on the arguments made by the UK Conservatives against electoral reform and “hung” (balanced) parliaments. She expresses surprise that a mixed-member proportional model–already used in Scotland, Wales, and London–is not more prominent in the discussions.
A “law” of political science–Gamson’s law–states that parties in (post-election) coalitions divide the cabinet posts in proportion to each party’s contribution to the coalition’s legislative basis.
In most cases, these proportions would closely match their proportions of the vote, because most cases where coalitions are formed following elections use proportional-representation electoral systems. But what about the current three-way UK campaign, where we could see a coalition including a party that was badly punished by the electoral system?
Senior Lib Dem sources have revealed that if the party secures a high share of the vote in the election, it will demand equal status in any coalition.
Most current projections have Liberal Democrats in second place in votes, with around 26-29%, yet only 90-100 seats (i.e. 15% or so). Thus a revision of Gamson, based on voting shares (if not parity), would be sensible. But could Clegg bargain successfully for it?
If the bargain is between Conservative and LibDem, on something like current polling, a “confidence and supply” agreement is probably more likely than a formal coalition. In that case, Clegg’s party has none of the cabinet seats (and maybe no pledge on electoral reform), but some policy influence.
Today’s Guardian notes that Conservative leader David Cameron has left the door open to a possible post-election deal with the Liberal Democrats.
This must have been quite hard for Cameron to swallow, as daily he warns of grave danger from a parliament with no majority party. But the reality is that his party’s fortunes will have to turn substantially in the less than two weeks that remain of this campaign if he is to govern at the head of a majority.
Cameron did not rule out including electoral reform as part of any such inter-party deal, although he reiterated his preference for FPTP:
I want us to keep the current system that enables you to throw a government out of office. That is my view.
That’s a view that is well past its sell-by date, given that this campaign has developed into one in which Labour might well retain a share of power due to the electoral system’s failure to replace a “defeated” incumbent, even if it drops 6-8 percentage points in the polls from where it was in 2005. Sometimes FPTP simply fails on its own terms, and this election looks set to become an iconic case of systemic failure: the second largest party in votes could be a distant third in seats, while it is still very possible that Labour could be a fairly poor third in votes yet have the most seats.
Cameron’s preferred institutional reform of late is one that would mandate an election within six months of any PM change that resulted from something other than an election.
LibDem leader Nick Clegg has taken steps to counter Tory warnings that if you vote Clegg, you get Brown. As the Daily Mail reports, Clegg “indicated that his price for supporting Labour in the event of a hung Parliament would be the Premier’s resignation.
“Foreign Secretary David Miliband is considered a likely alternative who would be acceptable to the Lib Dems, with Alan Johnson also said to be an option.”
A question for the readers: How common, in parliamentary systems with more experience with coalition or minority governments, is it for one party to state before an election that a potential post-electoral ally would have to change its leader? Quite unlikely, I would think.
Upon arriving at Heathrow, we stayed in Maidenhead (highly recommended: The Bridge Cottage B&B). We figured why pay London hotel rates for what are just “jet lag recovery” days? We’ll go into London after our current stay in Exeter, and then return after some other travel to be in London on election day.
We landed at Heathrow just over 24 hours before the total airspace shutdown. It was eerie, as Maidenhead is overflown by aircraft regularly, due to its proximity to the airport. In fact, just about noon, one plane evidently in a holding pattern, had flown rather low right over a park where I was reading by the river. That was the last plane I saw or heard–it suddenly got very quiet. Only later did I learn of the shutdown. We really got here just in time!
Maidenhead is famous for its bridges, especially this rail bridge:
This morning’s check of UK Polling Report, my first in a few days, turned up this note in the prediction part of the page: “Hung parliament, Labour short by 39.”
The projection has been for a “hung” (please, “representative” or “balanced”) parliament for quite some time, but with the Tories ahead in seats. The current projection has Labour on 287 seats to Conservatives’ 262, and LibDem 70. This despite the Conservatives still being ahead by five points in the polling aggregate, albeit with only 35% of the vote. The spike in LibDem support in the Voting Intention graph, to 24%, is impressive!
The projection is based on a uniform swing, which of course there will not be. Even with that caveat, the projection sure is an eye-opener.
The three-way leaders’ debate last Thursday, the first-ever debate in a UK campaign, really seems to have shaken things up, at least for now. The LibDem leader broke through the two-party din, and by all accounts (including my own at the time) “won” the contest. Various polls since have put the LibDems in second place, and at least one has the perennial third-place force in the lead.
Two more debates the next two Thursdays, and then the voting. Good time to be in the UK!
Vargas falling into last is interesting, although he was only polling around 6% in previous polls, so the movement isn’t especially dramatic. Really, since he is basically an uribista alternative to Santos and Sanín, and since the two of them already command almost 60% of the poll, there really isn’t much room left for him.
In case anyone is wondering, yes, we felt the 7.2 earthquake on Sunday afternoon. Even though it was about 180 km away, we rolled and shook a lot here. No damage, but a few minor things fell over. Lots of creaking could be heard in the house. The shaking started slow and gentle, then got more and more intense. It lasted for over 20 seconds, which does not seem very long–except when you are shaking and wondering when it will stop.
There have been numerous smaller quakes throughout the afternoon, many of them centered just to the east/southeast of us, north of the border.
The main quake would count as one of the largest I have personnally experienced, going back to 1971 Sylmar and 1987 Whittier Narrows (when I lived in Orange County), and the Northridge and Landers quakes in the 1990s (when I lived on the coast in San Diego County). It is hard to rank them, given the vagaries of memory, but this probably felt bigger than some of those others, despite the distance.
No, earthquakes are not something you really ever get “used” to, and, yes, I could do without them.
According to Mockus’ web site, Fajardo will be given a week to think about the offer to join the Green Party’s presidential ticket. He notes that a temporary VP nominee will be registered tomorrow (the legal deadline) with the assumption being that it will be changed on April 12th (which is the legal deadline for making amendments to the inscription):
“Sergio Fajardo solicitó una semana para acordar los términos del acuerdo y respetamos su decisión. La ley prevé que se puede inscribir un candidato a la vicepresidencia y luego cambiarse. Por eso inscribiremos temporalmente como fórmula vicepresidencial a Liliana Caballero, actual miembro de la Dirección Nacional del Partido Verde”.El candidato a la vicepresidencia se podrá modificar hasta el 12 de abril.
[Sergio Fajarado has requested a week to arrange the terms of the agreement and we respect his decision. The law provides that one can inscribe a candidate for the vice presidency and later change it. Therefore, we will temporarily inscribe a ticket with Liliana Caballero, current member of the National Directorate of the Green Party. The vice presidential candidate can be changed until April 12th.]
Some other posts that I never got around to cross-posting:
In presidential systems, the rare “counterhoneymoon” electoral cycle–legislative elections shortly before presidential–can have the effect of revealing the strengths of various parties and their prospective presidential candidates before the final phase of the presidential campaign itself. I have long thought that a counterhoneymoon cycle was normatively desirable, especially for multiparty systems, and have been surprised at how rare it is.
The effect is on display now in Colombia. For many months leading up to the 14 March, 2010, legislative elections and 30 May presidential first round, Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin, was doing well in the opinion polls that asked about hypothetical match-ups without incumbent Alvaro Uribe. (Uribe was recently denied a chance to run for a third term by a court ruling.)
However, the outcome of the legislative elections has changed the dynamic. As noted in El Tiempo:
Aunque llegó a liderar las encuestas sobre intención de voto para Presidente de la República, hace apenas tres meses, Fajardo se desplomó tras su fracaso en las elecciones legislativas, pues ni siquiera uno de los suyos llegó al Capitolio.
[my rough translation:] Although he was leading the polls of voting intention for president only three months ago, Fajardo fell flat after his failure in the legislative elections, when not even one of his candidates made it to the Capitol.
Fajardo has fallen so far that now he is in talks with the nominee of the new Green Party, former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus, about preparing a unity ticket for the presidential elections. (This is the main theme of the above-referenced article, and also the theme of Steven’s earlier planting.) If in coalition with other non-uribista forces, Mockus might even have a chance at finishing second in the first round of the presidential election, behind the successor to Uribe in the “La U” party, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
Mockus decisively defeated two other former mayors of Bogota in a presidential primary held concurrent with the legislative elections. The other main presidential candidate is that of the Conservative Party, Noemi Sanin, who narrowly edged out a more pro-Uribe contender, Andrés Felipe Arias, in that party’s primary.
While there is believed to be no chance that Fajardo would become Mockus’s running mate, there is speculation that Fajardo’s already-registered running mate, Julio Londoño, could now run with Mockus instead.
What is the broader significance of all this? I often write about “presidentialized parties,” by which I mean parties that become dependent on their leaders who run for president. In fact, I have co-written a book about such parties, and their fundamental difference from “parliamentarized parties,” in which the agency relationship running from parties to their executive candidates is more readily maintained, even after an election results in the candidate becoming the national executive (precisely the moment in which the agency relationship most breaks down, or even reverses, in presidential systems).
Few parties are more “presidentalized,” at least prior to their actually having elected a president, than are parties that are formed for the sole purpose of being some leader’s campaign vehicle. Compromiso Ciudadano por Colombia, formed by Fajardo, for example. (Fajardo is registered as an independent, but that is a mere technicality for present purposes.)
Yet the counterhoneymoon electoral cycle has the effect of requiring such a party’s first test to be a legislative election, rather than the presidential contest. Fajardo’s party failed that test badly, and now he is in negotiations with the leader of a party that actually performed respectably in the legislative elections, notwithstanding that it, too, was just formed in time for these 2010 elections. (The Greens won 5 of the 100 Senate seats, for example.)
Another Colombia related cross-post from PoliBlog:
El Tiemporeports that ex-Mayor of Medellín and presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo is in talks to quit the field and join forces with ex-Mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus of the Green Party (a party already populated with ex-Mayors).
Mockus is currently a distant third in polling behind two candidates from the governing coalition, Juan Manuel Santos of La U and Noemí Sanín of the Conservative Party. Three recent polls have provided almost the same results with the most recent one putting Santos at 36%, Sanín at 17%, and Mockus at 9%. It should be noted that to win the Colombian presidency that a candidate must win 50%+1 (i.e., an absolute majority) in the first round. A second round is all but certain this year. As such, the opposition must find a candidate that can win second place in the first round. While it appears unlikely at the moment, Mockus is the candidate with the best chance to be that candidate.
Fajardo is polling in the 5% range, so even if all of those voters were to go with him to the Mockus camp, Mockus would still be in third.
Also intriguing is that the article states that the PDA candidate, Gustavo Petro (polling at ~6%) may also be willing to enter into an alliance. If such a coalition could be built and kept together, then it is conceivable that Mockus could come in second. And, of course, the question of what the PL candidate might do (Rafael Pardo, who is polling in the 5% range). It would be tough, I think, for the candidate of one of Colombia’s grand old parties, to play second (let alone third or fourth) fiddle to an upstart party. Really, all of this will be a test of the Tocosán hypothesis (Todos contra Santos—all against Santos, or anybody but Santos) thesis.
Since we are ranging into the area of speculative thinking, my guess would be that while it would be better for competition and Colombian democracy in general for the second round to be contested between Santos and a true opposition candidate (as opposed to a contest between shades of the same color, i.e., La U v. the PC), I have a very hard time seeing Santos losing such a race.
I was looking at the vote for the Andean Parliament representatives and saw that the voto en blanco won the plurality of the votes in that contest. However, unlike what may happen in the indigenous set-aside seat where voto en blanco appears to have won an absolute majority, the Andean Parliament results will stand. More than just votos en blancos, the real winner in that Andean Parliament elections was votos no marcados, i.e., unmarked ballots, of which there were 2,186,486 (22.3% of ballots deposited in ballot boxes). Basically over two million voters received the ballot and then deposited the unmarked ballots into the ballot box.
It is worth noting that this was the first time that voters where allowed a say in picking Colombia’s representatives to the Andean Parliament, and one suspects that most people had no idea what the thing was or anything about the candidates running.
The final breakdown of seats was 2 for La U and 1 each for the PL and PC.
In a prior post I discussed the issue of Colombian ballots and noted the fact that voters have the right to check a box entitled voto en blanco which literally translated as “blank vote” or more accurately as “none of the above.” The average of such votes for Senate elections from 1974-2010, for example, has been 2.58% (as a percentage of all ballots cast). As such, the historic significance of the voto en blanco has been nothing more than a footnote.
However, in the election for the indigenous set-aside seat for the lower house of Congress, this may not be the case. Vote Bien is reporting (Elecciones de representante indígena deben repetirse) that the voto en blanco may have won the absolute majority of the votes for the seat, which will obligate the National Electoral Council (CNE) to toss out the candidates who ran and hold new elections with new candidates for the seat.
The story reports that according to the latest bulletin from the National Registry 205,442 valid votes were cast for the seat, and 111,573 were en blanco or 54.3%.
No decision has been made, but once the results are finalized the CNE will meet to determine if a re-vote will take place.
According to the story this happened once before, in a mayoral election in 2003 and the CNE ordered new elections with new candidates.
There is no indication when such an election would take place, although the logical time would be during the presidential elections in May. However, there is a major problem here, insofar as voting for the indigenous seat is a choice voters make in lieu of voting for representatives from the voter’s Department. As such, if a new election is held it will have to be open up to all voters (including those who chose to vote for their departmental representation, or for the afro-colombian seat for that matter, instead of for the indigenous seat), radically changing the nature of the electorate for the seat in question between the two processes.
An example of a Chamber of Representatives ballot is below. Note that Part C is the indigenous seat and there are a rather large (to understate the situation quite a bit) number of competitors for the seat, meaning not only did a lot of people vote en blanco but that the votes for candidates was quite fragmented.
One of the things that I have been increasingly interested in has been the topic of ballot design, especially in terms of Colombian elections. This interest was only enhanced after my participation as an electoral observer on March 14th. The notion that ballot design matters shouldn’t be foreign to US voters, given the prominence of the butterfly ballot in the 2000 elections.1
One of the specific issues I noted while observing the election was there was a visible amount of confusion over the ballot on the part of both voters and the poll workers. Now, it is one thing to think that one see something in a limited sample, and yet another to be able to demonstrate the fact in a systematic and empirical manner. However, there is a way to do so, and that is to look at the number of valid and invalid votes cast over time.
There are two basic categories of votes in Colombian elections: valid votes (either votes for a party/candidate or a blank vote, which is a formal expession of “none of the above”) and null votes (spoiled or incorrectly cast ballots). As such, a possible measure of voter confusion would be to look at null votes, which is what I have done below. The table contains data from Senate elections from 1974-2010 and details the number of votos nulos (null votes), votos en blanco (blank votes),2 total votes (valid+null), and then nulos and blancos as a percentage of all votes cast.
The blue years represent the elections using the old-style, privately-produced ballot papers, the red years are those using the state-produced ballot cards, and the black years are the elections using the newer version of those cards that conform to the 2003 electoral reforms (all of which I define and provide examples below). I have also highlight the null votes as a percentage of votes cast under the new system.
We clearly can see that changes to ballot design over time has had clear effects on vote behavior. The shift, for example, from the privately-produced ballot papers to the state-produced version clearly increased the incident of both null and blank votes starting in 1991. For example, a blank vote from 1974-1990 was literally a vote with an office indicated, but with a blank space for candidates. Starting in 1991, there was a box a voter could check (and hence a substantial increase in people voting thusly). Likewise it was harder to spoil the old ballots, and so the null rate was quite low. I have no idea at the moment as to why 1986 had such a spike in null votes. There was a an increase in the number of parties participating, and that may have had something to do with it, but I am guessing at this point.
The recent period, however, has a stark number of null votes. Indeed, in both 2006 and 2010, votos nulos, would have been the 4th largest party (by vote) in the country if, in fact, the votes were for candidates. In both elections, only La U, the PC and the PL were larger vote-getters than null votes (which, I would note again, count for nothing—unlike blank votes, which are relevant to calculating winners as well as the electoral threshold that parties must surpass to remain in good legal standing).
The main issue, it would appear in terms of the 2006-onward period is the introduction of the preferential vote (i.e., open lists where voters vote for both party and their preferred candidate on the list–more on that below).
So, what does this have to do with ballot design? To understand, it is necessary to take a look at the evolution of the Colombian ballot.
Ballot Types Over Time. Specifically, the Colombian system has had two eras in terms of ballots: the pre-May 1990 era, where ballots were not the responsibility of the state and the period from May 1990 onward, wherein the state produced the ballots. In the first era, ballots were referred to as papeletas (or ballot papers) and in the second they are called tarjetones (or ballot cards).
To the right is an example of a papeleta as published in a Colombian newspaper for the 1974 elections (click for a larger version). It includes the following offices: President, Senate, Chamber of Representatives, Departmental Assembly for Cundinamarca, and the Bogotá Municipal Council. Voters could cut out the ballot and place it in an envelope and then into the ballot box on election day. Theoretically they could also cut the papeleta up by office and mix and match with other lists, although in practice, such ballot-splitting was rare. The usage of this type of paper ballot dates well back into the early parts of the Twentieth Century (I am unsure as to the exact date of origin). I do know that the basic electoral system that used these types of candidate lists was instituted by a 1929 law.
Starting with the May 1990 presidential election, the state started producing the ballots. To the left is a thumbnail (click for a larger version) of that first tarjetón. And unlike the old papeleta each office has its own tarjetón, which makes ticket-splitting easier, but can lead to a lot of ballots for the voter to juggle on a given election (for example, up to five during the march 14, 2010 elections).3
For legislative elections, the tarjetón featured a candidate number, photo and party label, which corresponded to a list of candidate (like each segment of the papeleta above). Below are the front pages of the Senate ballot (which starting in 1991 was a national district of 100 seats) and the Chamber ballot for the Department of Cundinamarca. Note that starting with these state-produced ballots there was a box for a blank vote, which made such a “none of the above” vote easier, which is dramatically noted in the numbers above. Also, the chances for errors increased (like voting for more than one list) and hence an increase in null votes as well.
It should be noted that each of the ballots on the left are the actually the size of a standard sheet of paper and that the Senate ballot opened up like a folio with 4 total pages of lists. The Chamber ballot continued on the back (indeed, the images on the back bleed through a bit on the scan).
By the last usage of this exact ballot type in 2002, the Senate ballot was a foldout that had eight full pages of lists—the exact reason for which is a long discussion beyond the scope of this post.4
The 2003 electoral reform made such list proliferation illegal (and moot for other reasons) and required a ballot redesign. And so the 2006 and 2010 ballots were substantially different (the 2010 Senate ballot is to the right). Now instead of proliferation of lists within a given party, each party now has one list and voters mark the party they prefer at the top. Specifically, voters can vote in either Part A (the national district of 100 seats) or in Part B (for the 2 indigenous set-aside seats). Voters may not vote in both.
Voters mark the logo of their preferred party and then, if the party has open lists (most do), the voter has the option of voting for their preferred candidate by marking the number of that candidate–which is why campaign ads usually have a number by the candidate’s name). It is with the open list voting (or the voto preferente) where most of the confusion seems to enter in. It was not unusual to see voters on election day calling out to friends or relatives “what number is whatshisname again?” There is a book one can consult with names and faces, but I don’t think most voters were aware of its existence, and sometime poll workers would offer the book, and others times not. Considering that each party could have up to 100 candidates, it was a fairly thick book [PDF].
I believe that confusion about the votes for candidates is the main culprit in the radical increase in null votes—both in terms of voter error, but also in terms of errors in interpretation by poll workers (I and other MOE observers witnessed errors and confusion by poll workers in terms of interpreting whether a vote was null or not). Another problem is that a voter might mark the blank vote boxes in both Part A and Part B, which renders the vote null, even though voter intent is quite clear (by law you can only mark one of the boxes). It is even worse on Chamber ballots, which have Parts A, B and C and therefore three voto en blanco boxes. I personally saw ballots that had more than one such box marked and which therefore were counted as null votes.
There are some needed reform to ballot structure (at a minimum a clarification of the voto en blanco issue). I would also argue that they need to shift away from hand counts to an optical scan system, but that is an additional discussion that I will not engage in here.
Update after the original post: It came to my attention that the nature of the voto en blanco mechanism is such that there has to be one per each segment of the ballot and that there is a logic to counting multiple blancos as a null vote (as a subsequent post will make clear).
Although it strikes me that that is closing in on a decade-old example. How the frak did that happen? [↩]
This is different, btw, than an unmarked ballot, which is not counted as a valid vote. [↩]
Senate, Chamber, Andean Parliament, either the PC or PV primary and a non-binding referendum on regional autonomy for part of the coastal region. [↩]
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