Sunday, February 24, 2013

Un Nuevo Sistema Electoral para España

A New Electoral System for Spain
by Jesús Fernández-Villaverde on 24 May 2011

Today I'm going to propose a new electoral system for Spain.  Given that this is one of the core demands of the 15 million demonstrators, I want to be as practical as I can while staying away from simple slogans.  Equally, I want to be as specific as possible without being wordy.

Before getting into the details, allow me to clarify two things.  First, the system that I'm going to propose is derived from many years of studying electoral systems, teaching courses on the subject and reading the relevant literature.  In a post of a few hundred words, I hope that the reader will forgive me if I don't back up all of my assertions in detail.  Perhaps in future articles I would have time to do this (in Nada es Gratis I have published quite a bit on this subject, for example [one], [two], [three], [four] and [five]).  Second, the system that I'm going to propose is my own design and consequently, in this case, only, I only speak for myself.

The first thing we have to do is identify the basic objectives of a good design:

1) An electoral system that ensures governability.  At the end of the day the goal of an electoral system is to obtain a government in a reasonable amount of time without a minority having the power to influence the overall results.

2) An electoral system that reflects, approximately, the diversity of opinions in Spain.  In our country this has to include different ideologies but also, unpleasant as it may be (?), the undeniable geographic differences.  An equilibrium point must be found between objective 1) and this desire for diversity.

3) An electoral system that avoids the bureaucratic partisan excesses that we have seen in the past few years in Spain.

4) But also an electoral system that recognizes that the political parties are important, as they minimize information cost, exercise discipline when needed and that the great central party bureaucracies usually focus and moderate politics, doing this in a slow and perhaps frustrating way but also sensibly.

The second thing we have to do is recognize that EVERY electoral system is going to have serious defects (for once in this article allow me to be more technical: this can be demonstrated mathematically, assuming that all of the voters are sincere, serious and altruistic, this is a property of the systems of aggregate preferences).  Our task must be to find a system that minimizes, as much as possible, these defects given the structure of our society and the idiosyncrasy of Spain.

The third then that we have to do is forget for one moment what the Constitution and other laws do or do not say.  The legal system exists to serve society, not the other way around.  If it has to change, it will change and the change will be accomplished.  Equally, I'm going to ignore whether or not I the political parties could be convinced to accept the new system.  If you haven't decided where to go yet, it isn't possible to plan for bumps in the road.

Starting from these three considerations, and in what I think is the best constitutionalist tradition of checks and balances, my system is a mixture between majority and popular vote.  These are the details:

1.) The Congress of the Representatives will still have 350 representatives, as it does now.  I don't think that changing the number of representatives will do much and reducing it would create, as I will explain in a moment, constituencies too big (in reality it would be better to increase the number to 351 to avoid ties, but whatever...)

2.) Half of the representatives, 175, would be chosen from single-member districts by a single-round majority scheme.  This would allow a direct tie between the representatives and the voters and, most likely, over-represent the winning party in the elections in order to allow the majority of the government to work.

a) Each district, given its own population, would have some 200k votes (a reasonable ratio of constituency to representative).  An electoral commission of independent experts would design the districts to avoid manipulation, maintain districts of approximately equivalent size and use common sense when assigning districts' geographic boundaries (although there will surely be some exceptions).

b) The political parties can "support" one or many candidates, but this must always be on an individual level, such that the entry of independents is possible.  The position, if it is won, is of a representative, not of a party post.

3.) The other half of the representatives, 175, will be chosen by popular vote.  This second component of choice seeks to represent minorities and correct the possible defects of majority rule.

a) If the constituency is national, as seems simplest to me, the choice between a purely proportional system or a D'Hondt system is somewhat irrelevant as in constituencies with more than 50 representatives the results of both will be almost the same.  You might consider designing independent constituencies (the provinces with only 175 representatives would be almost all quasi-majorities, undermining the goal of correcting the problems of majority rule) but many communities (La Rioja, Cantabria, Navarra) would choose so few representatives as to defeat the purpose of the second half of the representatives.  For this reason I would recommend going with a national constituency.

b) Establish a minimum number of votes for consideration in the proportional allocation of votes would avoid excessive fragmentation of Congress and entry of more radical parties.  The 3% rule used in many elections now is sensible as it guarantees that each party has 5 representatives.  It's always possible to increase this to 5% to be precise.

c) The nationalist parties could be grouped together, as is done now for Europe, with joint listings.  On the other hand CiU and PNV would probably take many of the majority rule representatives and CC one or two (via Tenerife).  ERC, EA or BNG would have more difficulty and probably only enter into the proportional allocation on a joint list.

d) With 175 representatives on each list it is almost impossible to have openings but a limited system like that of Holland or Sweden, where the voter can choose 1 or 2 favorite representatives (or eliminate 1 or 2) may allow popular desire for control over the listings to be satisfied.  While I don't recommend it, it is a harmless option if implemented properly.

4.) Don't establish primaries for single-representative constituencies.  The experience with the EU makes it all too clear  that primaries mobilize the most radical constituents of each party (this happens even with presidential primaries).  Another option would be to have primaries but with a mandatory vote (to avoid radicalization) or what is called flash primaries: each constituent chooses a party ballot (for example, PSOE) and choosing his or her favorite from among the party members that have been nominated.  The district is won by the party with the most votes and, within that party, the candidate with the most votes among his or her compatriots.  I'm not in favor of any of the alternatives in particular but, given that we have 175 representatives elected by proportional vote, we can allow more leeway for the single-representative constituencies (especially if we don't introduce any element of favoritism on the national list).

5.) The election of the president of the government would be as it is now, by the Congress.  It's always possible to require that the president be the head of one of the national lists (or the second in the case of the first's inability to assume the role) to reinforce the sense of legitimacy.  A direct election of the President of the Government is complicated in a system like ours that isn't presidential ((focused on the president)).

6.) Get rid of the Senate, which actually doesn't do much other than waste money.  In the case of excessive opposition from the CC.AA. (although I would resist the temptation as much as possible), a Senate could be created with many fewer senators, 51 or so, elected by the independent Assemblies in proportion to the population of each constituency.  But if this is the case, the Senate should only address very specific issues directly related to the geographic structure of the State.

7.) Setting the date of the election in a systematic manner (for example, the second Sunday of October or so every 5 years).  If we want the representatives to be independent from the single-member constituencies, they have to have a clear timetable that allows them to organize without relying completely on the party.

8.) Eliminate restrictions like the prohibition of polls on the last week or the day of reflection, as these make little sense in the world of the internet.

9.) Establish a system of funding similar to the EU, with a percentage public and the rest private.  Private donations, limited to a reasonable amount, would be managed by a commission that would publish information on all donations.

I hope that I haven't left out any important party of the design.  A sharp reader will note that what I propose is very similar to the German system, borrowing from the American system as well.  It isn't incidental.  In the same way, we should be aware of how the system works in practice and allow adjustment with time.  Society changes and with it our political system.

On the other hand I haven't spoken of either the municipal elections or the independent elections.  I am leaving this for another day (although this is a post of mine about how to reorganize the municipalities).

In conclusion, I will only venture to say that I don't think the system I have proposed works miracles.  Although I think there is a reasonable possibility that it will improve the political system of Spain, there are many other important reforms and finally, whether we like it or not, modern democracies are always a bit "disheartening".  Let's be practical.

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