Category Archives: Elections

Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Election

JordanIEC

Jordan’s Independent Electoral Commission.

This Wednesday, Jordanians will vote in a parliamentary elections to determine the composition of their 150-member Chamber of Deputies.  A number of significant reforms to the electoral law have taken place since the last election, including changes to the institution managing the election, voting procedures, and the electoral system.

The most high profile debate over the past year has been over reforms to Jordan’s electoral system. Reform advocates have achieved some success, though the system still doesn’t reflect all of their demands. Gone are the Virtual – or “Ghost” – districts from the previous election. The system now more closely resembles what was in place from 1993 to 2007, in that most seats will be elected via Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV). That means that every voter will cast one vote in a multi-member district with N seats, with the top N vote getters winning the open seats. This implications for SNTV are fairly well established. The system makes it very difficult for political parties to form as parties would essentially have to run their own candidates against each other. It also increases the incentive for corruption, as the marginal value of every vote is very high.  This is because SNTV systems often result in the winning candidates capturing their seats with a very small percent of the vote. In general, SNTV is viewed as favoring Jordan’s tribes while hurting organized political parties. Most changes to Jordan’s election law throughout the years have been viewed as finding ways to help tribal elites as much as possible, while making life more difficult for anybody wanting to form a political party.

The system isn’t quite normal SNTV, however, as there is a very low average district magnitude (seats per district). In fact, 18 out of the 45 districts have only one seat, making them First Past The Post (FPTP) races. The average district magnitude of all the districts is only 2.37.

JordanDistrictsDM

As with previous elections, the electoral law has provisions to ensure a certain level of ethnic minority representation. Nine seats are reserved for Christians across eight districts, while three seats are reserved for Chechens/Circassians across three different districts. For example, Balqaa’s First District has seven seats, five for Muslims and two for Christians. In this district, the top five Muslim candidates will win and the top two Christen candidates will take seats.  Any voter can vote for a Muslim, Christen, or Chechen/Circassian candidate if they are running. So in this sense, a Muslim can vote for  a Christian “seat” and vice versa.  This is similar to the consociational system that Lebanon uses, though in Lebanon, voters get as many votes as their are seats in a district.

In addition to districts based on the 12  governorates, nine seats will be reserved for Bedouins across three districts.  Participation in these districts, whether as a candidate or voter, is reserved for members of certain families who are listed as belonging to the respective locations. A breakdown of all the districts and  governorates is below.

DistrictsJordan

Gender Quota

There is also a gender quota component in the electoral law, which will guarantee at least 15 women are elected to parliament. For each of the 12 governorates, the female candidate who receives the highest percentage of votes in their district will be elected, regardless of their vote total compared to their male counterparts. This also applies to the three Bedouin districts.  This is the same way Afghanistan implements its gender quota, and it’s probably the most intuitive way if you are using an SNTV system.  Afghanistan, however, mandates the top two females from each province are elected, which guarantees that the Wolesi Jirga will be 27% female. Jordan’s minimum, will only be 10%.

Proportional Representation Seats

In addition to the 108 SNTV/SMD seats, 27 seats will be allocated using a closed-list proportional representation system. Opposition members from all political stripes have long advocated for a PR system or tier, which benefits political parties. Although the 27 seats are a small concession, most opposition members still seem to feel that it is inadequate. The PR tier will be comprised of one nationwide district, and seats will be tabulated using the Hare Quota.

Ballots and Other Reforms

Jordan has made several administrative reforms for this election, which will hopefully result in a better run poll. The first is the establishment of an independent Electoral Management Body (EMB), the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC replaces the Ministry of Interior, which previously ran elections. Now, of course, having the word “Independent” in your name isn’t  a sufficient condition to meet the requirements of being independent. The IEC commissioners are still appointed by the Monarch, so there are still some issues of influence here. With that being said, a separate body is probably preferable to the Ministry of Interior in terms of administration and legitimacy.

The other issue is with regards to ballot paper. For the 2013 election, voters will receive two pre-printed ballot sheets, one for the PR tier and one for the SNTV tier. In past elections, voters were given a blank sheet in which they had to write the name of their candidate. Aside from potentially disenfranchising illiterate voters, blank ballots greatly influenced the power of elites as it increased the marginal cost of casting a vote. Seeing a list of candidates in front of you is much easier than needing to memorize one beforehand; especially when there are so many candidates. For this reason, blank ballots benefit candidates with the highest name recognition and result in less informed decision making.

Libyan Election Posters

Though it’s been over two months since I returned form a work trip to Libya, I thought I would finally get around to posting some election-related photos I took. Luckily for me, people seem to leave their campaign posters up well after the election, which gives me a random, non representative sample of the type of campaigning done before the GNC election in July. If anybody can add any context to these pictures, or wants to make any corrections, please do so in the comments section. They would be much appreciated.

Most of these pictures were taking in the Hay Andalus district of Tripoli.  An upper class neighborhood, Hay Andalus, like most constituencies, had an individual and proportional tier. The proportional tier was given three seats, though shared with several other areas. Hay Andalus also had it’s own Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV) tier, of three seats. SNTV systems are notorious for creating weak parties, as well as creating the highest incentive for candidates to cultivate a personal vote. This is in part because the margin of victory needed for a seat is usually very small. In this district, there were 136 candidates competing for three seats. The three top candidates ended up receiving 12,099, 8851, and 6,807 votes respectively.

This pillar was covered with mostly individual candidates, though the purple poster in the middle is for the Salafi’s Al Watan Party. Despite high expectations, Al-Watan won no seats nationally, and came in fifth place in this district (only 3,992 votes, while as a comparison, the National Forces Alliance took just over 30,000).

It wasn’t uncommon to see candidate posters with faces scrapped off, like those below. I’m guessing this was either vandalism from individual Salafis (note above, that the main Salafi party still used a female face in one of it’s own ads), or just someone expressing dissatisfaction with politicians in general. Or I’m reading too much into this and it was simply some punk kids.

The next two photos are ads for the Union For Homeland Party (الاتحاد من اجل الوطن).  The Union won two seats overall and came in seventh place in Hay Andalus, with 2,703 votes. The slogan used in these posters says “New Libya, new faces” which matches the imagery used in the posters. The Union’s leader, Abdul Rahman Swehli from Misrata, was a dissident during Qaddafi’s rule, and advocates and entirely new system that is purged of officials from the old regime. This is relevant as many current figures, even liberal ones such as Mohamed Jibril and Ali Zeidan, have served in Qaddafi’s government at some point in their careers (even though they became opponents).

A billboard for the Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والبناء), which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing in Libya. The party finished with the second most party list seats, though significantly less than the secular National Forces Alliance.  Justice and Construction (abbreviated by their Arabic acronym, AB) used the horse imagery in most advertisements I saw.

This was a small sticker for the National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية), of Mohamed Jibril, which won the most party list seats out of any organization.  I actually saw more billboards and signs for them around Martyrs’ Square and on a few highways, but never in a situation where I could take a photo. 

I saw several posters, such as this one for Wafa Al-Sharif, that displayed affiliation with the National Party for Development and Welfare, led by now-Prime Minster Ali Zeidan. (Zedian was elected as an independent in Jufra). This appears to be a party-list poster as there is no mention of candidate number and I couldn’t find Al-Sharif’s name in the district results. It is interesting to see the party emphasizing candidates on their closed party list ads, whereas the Justice and Construction Party took the opposite approach. The party managed to get one party list seat nationally while finishing in 17th place where this picture was taken. The poster was on a main highway, however, so it was likely to have targeted voters throughout Tripoli.

Sign for a candidate running in the SNTV tier.

Here are two signs for the National Movement for Justice and Development. Another party-list ad, these two signs indicate that the party chose to have a women lead their list in this district. There were only three open seats in this district and parties were forced to stagger their lists by gender, as well as placing women at the top of half of their lists nationally.

People in Misrata were unfortunately better at taking their campaign posters down after the election, but I did manage to get this of a candidate, who finished in 63rd out of 117 candidates. Misrata also used SNTV for it’s candidate-based tier, though with a district magnitude of four.

Libya’s Electoral System

Against all odds, Libya is still planning on holding an election on July 7. This is a remarkable timetable for a country – especially one with no past electoral experience – to hold an election in. There are a lot of problems in the country, for sure, but Libyans should take pride in what they’ve done to get here.

Libyans will be electing a 200-member General People’s Congress, a body responsible for appointing a 60-member body to draft the Constitution. Following the example of some of their regional neighbors, Libya has opted for one of the most confusing systems around. The system basically incorporates every major system into one. Forty members will be elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies (SMD), 80 members will be elected by plurality vote in multi-member constituencies (commonly known as Single, Non-Transferable Vote or SNTV) and 80 members will be elected through a closed-list proportional representation (CLPR) system.

Depending on where one lives, they will vote in either one or two of these tiers. Most voters will cast ballots for two tiers (either SMD and SNTV or SMD and PR) while the others will vote in only a SMD, SNTV, or CLPR tier. Fifty of the 73 constituencies will be parallel, while 19 will have only a SMD or SNTV district and four will only have a PR district. (Figure one shows the breakdown by region of PR versus majoritarian districts.) Most districts obviously have more majoritarian seats than PR ones, although we can see that the cap between them is not consistent. Gheryen, for example, has no PR seats at all.

Figure One

I’ve never heard of such a breakdown and I imagine that such differences makes voter education and election administration a nightmare. The High National Election Commission (HNEC) – the body responsible for running the election – will have to print out many different forms of ballots and ensures the right ones get to the right areas. Moreover, some voters will have to be taught how PR works, while others will have to be told about SNTV or SMD, and others both. To make things easier for voters, SMD and SNTV ballots will be orange and proportional ballots will be blue. I’m unsure of the thought process behind so many different types of voting systems. I’m guessing it was less a grand plan than a set of many compromises. (If anybody has any insight into the process I would love to hear it.)

The electoral system makes it difficult to predict optimal candidate or party strategies. The 80 SNTV seats, in particular, will make any form of coordination very difficult. SNTV makes effective coordination for political parties nearly impossible, as organizations would have to essentially run their own candidates against each other in every district. It’s probably no surprise then, that it’s used in the countries that its in (Afghanistan and to some extend, Jordan). SNTV will be bad for party formation in Libya, but will greatly benefit local tribal elites. On top of that, candidates running in any of the 120 majoritarian seats will not be allowed to run with a party label.

Gender Quota

Over 80 women have registered as individual candidates, which is only a small percent of the 2,501 independent candidates registered overall. The best opportunity for women being elected, however, comes in the 80 seats elected by closed-list PR. Article 15 of the election law mandates that candidates should alternate genders on the lists and that half of all a party’s list must have a female at the top. The vertical aspect of this rule is commonly known as a zipper quota. The zipper, closed-list format is considered to be the most advantageous to female candidates (assuming the population is unlikely to vote for women otherwise, of course) but it it can’t always guarantee high female representation by itself. In Tunisia, for example, extreme party fragmentation, combined with medium district magnitude (average DM of 8) meant that many parties won only one seat per district. This had the effect of only placing the top candidate on most lists (usually a man) into parliament. In Libya, that average district magnitude will be only four (although Benghazi is an outlier with a DM of 11), which severely reduces the proportionality of the eighty seats and makes it less likely that many parties will win more than one or two seats per district. This is why, the “horizontal quota” of requiring parties to place women at the top of half of their lists, is such an important aspect.

This gender quota is pretty strong, and Libya should be commended for it. Of course there is the issue that parties could place women at the top of lists in districts where they know they will fare poorly. I doubt this will be much of an issue, however, as I could not imagine any party would have a realistic idea of their strength in each area. Districts are newly created, party ID is extremely low, and I’m guessing parties have little resources to conduct meaningful surveys. Some party elites may think they know their area, but there were plenty of NDP elites in Egypt who thought they “knew” their district, only to get beaten in the first fair election.

Additionally, SNTV, in theory, could be beneficial to women. I doubt this will happen, but I believe that SNTV can reduce the collective action problem that female voters looking to elect a female candidate would have. For example, in a single-member district, I may want to vote for a woman, but I know that they don’t have a shot, so will vote for a strong male candidate that I like the most. In a multi-member district, however, a female doesn’t need to be anywhere near the strongest. In fact, if a strong female candidate can muster even around 10% of the vote, they could gain a seat. One only has to look at election returns in Afghanistan to see how fractured SNTV districts can be. Usually, voter knowledge of candidates is low (the lack of party ID will only exacerbate this) resulting in many candidates getting a very small percentage of the vote. In Afghanistan, results can be so fractured that it is not uncommon for a candidate to win a seat with less than five percent of the vote! Of course we don’t know how this will play out in Libya, but it still holds that a credible female candidate attempting to build support would need to convince far less people to support her. The average district magnitude for SNTV districts is 2.58, which will mitigate this advantage (most districts only have two seats) but there are a few with more seats. Benghazi’s SNTV distrait has nine seats, and many others have four, such as Misurata, Zawia, Friday Market district in Tripoli, Misurata, Sabha and Ajdabiya.

The First Round of Egypt’s Presidential Election: What Actually Happened?

A little late to this, but I wanted to look at the first round of Egypt’s presidential election and evaluate what happened.

I only partially get to claim predicting this outcome. After noting that Moussa’s support was probably very overstated, I still went ahead and predicted “Shafiq and Moussa win the first round, although a strong possibility that it will be Shafiq and Morsy.” With that in the past, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on what happened. There are obviously many people qualified to provide more detailed analysis in a way that I can’t, but I hope this provides some original insight for others to mull over.

Moussa didn’t collapse, his support never existed

One of the most shocking things for many was that after leading every survey for the past year, Amr Moussa finished in a distant fifth place. I think the real reason Moussa lost is the people who would have voted for him didn’t vote. As I discussed before the election, Moussa was doing far better in those surveys which had a lower level of “undecided” voters. Many of these surveys also had turnout models of around 70-80 percent. Actual turnout, however, was around 40 percent. This is probably where to look when trying to explain the massive failure of those polling the election and I think it can explain where Moussa’s support went as well. Moussa’s support was among the undecided voters who are typically the least engaged and least informed. The most partisan supporters are going to be the mostly likely to vote on Election Day in any country. The ones less attached to any candidate are going to be the least. The causality of the relationship is that the most active and informed citizens will develop the most interest in candidates and issues. If Moussa’s advisers were smart, they would have told him he was going to lose early on May 23 when the initial turnout estimates started to come out.

Moussa was a consensus option. This may sound like a good place to be in, but consensus options are your second choice, not your first. In other words, Moussa was the guy everybody would have voted for in round two.

Aboul Fotouh’s benefited from Salafi support

It’s hard to pin down Aboul-Fotouh’s base of support. He seemed at times to enjoy popularity among liberals and Salafists.  The latter, we know, did endorse his candidacy (at least several leading figures). While it’s true that the Salafis don’t have the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, there is a decent correlation between Al-Nour party vote percentage in 2011 (the Salafi poliitcal party) and About-Fotouh vote percentage in 2012.

The relationship is robust, and Nour Party vote totals can explain 44 percent of the variation in Aboul Fotouh support.  One notable outlier is the governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh, where Aboul Fotouh did far worse than we would have expected given Nour’s performance in 2011. Two explanations for this are 1) Kafr el-Sheikh is the home governorate of Hamdeen Shabhi and 2) prominent Salafi cleric Abu Ishak was in Germany having his leg amputated,  severely hurting the Salafi network in the region.

Ahmed Shafiq’s support

The brief surge of Omar Suleiman in the polls, before he was disqualified, showed that there was a large constituency for a return to the Mubarak era. You can think of this what you will, but it’s the truth. Shafiq clearly understood this and tapped into this sentiment. There have been two things said about Shafiq’s support. That it is 1) based solely in the Delta, and 2) based primarily on Coptic Christians. These not only contradict themselves slightly (there aren’t a lot of Christians in the Delta) but the latter charge has a danergous ethnic element to it. I’ve heard that the MB played up this story to their own benefit, but I’ve also seen some on the left make the same charge.

Let’s first look at the Christian accusation. It’s obviously impossible to tell the religion of the person who cast each vote and the government has always refused to reveal religious demographic data by governorates.  But we do have a nice proxy for Coptic voters via the last parliamentary elections: the Free Egyptians Party. Although it presents itself as a secular party representing all Egyptians, The Free Egyptians’ base is well-known to consist almost entirely of Coptic Christians. So what happens when we look for correlations between Free Egyptians votes in 2011 and Shafiq votes in 2012? Well, it turns out there is nothing there. Does this mean no Copts voted for Shafiq? Of course not, many clearly did. But many Muslims voted for him as well.

The other charge is that Shafiq only did well because of the Delta region. This is partially true; thirty-three percent of Shafiq’s votes came from the governorates of Minoufiya, Sharqyia and Gharbiya. But the charge that this somehow undermines his legitimacy seems odd. Saying that Shafiq’s support is only a Delta thing is like saying his support is only a “half of the country” thing. Forty-four percent of Sabahi’s came from the two large cities of Alexandria and Cairo/Giza, but we don’t hear any complaints about that.

The Egyptian left failed to coordinate

Two-round presidential electoral systems are pretty common. The requirement to ensure a candidate receives an absolute majority of voters creates a level of legitimacy that a plurality winner would not have. It also reduces the need for voters and candidates to act strategically. There is more room for a voter to cast a ballot for their first choice, even if they don’t think they will likely win. It’s not wasting a ballot if they can assume their second choice (the consensus candidate) makes it into the second round.

This assumes, however, a consolidated political spectrum that has a clear line between the left and the right. It also assumes voters have some concept of the relative strength of the candidates (ideally they would be supported by a party, which would have a clear level of support). Egyptian voters didn’t have these options. Many on the left voted for Aboul Fotouh, thinking he was the least bad option that also had the most realistic chance of winning. Others choose Sahbahi, while some went for Shafiq. I’m hearing a lot of, admittedly anecdotal, stories of voters wishing they knew beforehand that Sahbahi would perform so well. This is understandable. Despite his late surge, a rational, secular Egyptian voter could have felt that voting for Sahbahi was a wasted vote.

It’s not just the lack of information about relative candidate strength that hurt the left, however; it was the lack of a defined left-right spectrum that made it difficult to coordinate. In Germany you could vote for the Greens in the first round, then the Social Democrats in the runoff.  This would be the logical shift in preference based on your options. What would have been the similar path for a liberal? Who would have come before Sahbahi? How would one even begin to place candidates like Aboul-Fotouh on any spectrum?

Predictions: Egyptian presidential election

The first round of Egypt’s presidential election is tomorrow, which means it’s time for everybody to make their predictions. I think the biggest story of late has been the surprise surge of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. I say surprise, although an Egyptian friend has been predicting his success for some time now. It’s difficult to get a handle on the race because the polling has been rather erratic.  With that being said, I think it’s possible to analyze some of the polls and make some comments.

I created a poll of polls, using Al Masry Al Youm’s and Al-Ahram’s weekly surveys. I chose these two because they were the only ones to be released at nearly identical times for seven weeks.

A couple thoughts and random speculations on these numbers:

The two sets of surveys had some notable differences. Al Masry Al Youm’s had a far higher number of undecided voters (It would have been nice to know how the questions were worded). Al-Ahram, on the other hand, gave a slight edge to several candidates, most notably, Amr Moussa. In fact, Moussa polled on average 23 points higher in Al-Ahram polls than Masry’s. It looks like Al-Ahram was pushing respondents harder to make a decision, as its lower undecided number produced higher numbers for every major candidate.  The fact that Moussa gained so much from this group, could indicate that a lot of the support we see for him in these surveys is not solidified, or even committed to voting. This would support the narrative that from the beginning, Moussa was largely running so strong due to name recognition.

People aren’t that undecided.  One of the most notable aspects of these polls is the high number of undecideds in the race. Al-Masry Al-Youm even has 33 percent of all voters listed as undecided in their last poll. The thing is, the surveys also have a very high number of people claiming they will vote. In fact, the last poll shows that 87 percent of all registered voters will turn out. Voter turnout models are hard, US pollsters still struggle with it, but these firms still need a better screen. Turnout in the recent parliamentary polls was around 54 percent. The difference between those two numbers (87 and 54) is roughly the number of undecideds in their poll. I’m definitely not claiming that all the undecideds did not vote in the last election, and will not vote in this one.  But I do think it’s safe to assume that opinions are a bit more solidified at this stage in the race.  We probably shouldn’t speculate about where this mass number of undecideds will go.  They might not go anywhere.

Shafiq’s surge is real. According the poll of polls, Shafiq is in second place with 21 percent of the vote.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsy and Hamdeen Sabahi are also enjoying small surges, although remain far behind.  Shafiq was smart in having a strong ground operation and playing to his base.  He probably also took note of the brief surge of Omr Suleiman, which showed that their was a constituency for a law and order candidate. Shafiq didn’t try to straddle several social cleavages (like Moussa and Fotouh), he just built a base within one group and developed a clear message.

We get to see if in Egypt, the Party decides. Morsy is enjoying a late surge but still looks like he will fall short of the top two. This seems like a great opportunity to really see the strength of the Brotherhood’s ground operation.  Morsy doesn’t have the personal popularity of other candidates. If he alone polls far better than the surveys indicated, we can probably infer a lot about the MB’s grassroots strength.

Final Predictions: Shafiq and Moussa win the first round, although a strong possibility that it will be Shafiq and Morsy.

Slovenia rejects new family law

Last week in Slovenia, voters rejected, via a national referendum, a new family law that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The new family code was passed by the then-governing center-left coalition in 2011 but a conservative religious group collected the signatures necessary to challenge the law in a referendum.With a low turnout of approximately 26 percent, around 55 percent of voters rejected the law, while about 45 percent supported it.

I’ve discussed several times my opposition to direct democracy without turnout thresholds. They allow a small, driven group of individuals to pass laws  so long as the rest of the population isn’t as equally mobilized to stop them.  This is a great example of that. Should Slovenia really be overturning such an important law based on the preferences of just over 14 percent of voters?

Cameras in Russian polling stations

From the WSJ comes this story about Russia’s plan to install web cameras in polling stations for the March presidential election.

Russia Friday launched the presidential election website, www.webvybory2012.ru, that will allow web users to access video recorded at any of the approximately 92,000 polling stations across the country. One camera will give a full panorama view of each polling station and a second camera will be directed at the ballot box.

[…]

The website allows users to select as many polling stations for monitoring as they wish, although only until Election Day. Users will be able to monitor the election from 12 a.m. to 8 p.m. Moscow time. For an hour, recording will continue but nothing will be shown to observe the secrecy of the ballot. Starting at 9 p.m., when voting closes in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost province, the service will show ballot counting and viewers will be able to see video from 8 p.m. local time.

Webcams in polling stations aren’t a bad idea by themselves, but I have a lot of problems with the way this is being implemented. My first concern is that it may contribute to the common development practitioner practice of assuming impact from an output. As with all transparency initiatives (making public records available, etc..) it’s not enough to simply produce the information and assume civil society will use it.  Often times they won’t. There are many similar “citizen monitoring” projects being done through the Ushahidi platform, which produce neat maps. Often the assumption is that people will actually do something with that map. I don’t want to bash Ushahidi too hard as I think it can do interesting things, but producing data should not be viewed as a behavior-changing impact of an intervention. It’s just an output that we hope will lead to the behavior change.

The webcams do, however, remind me of an innovative experiment done in Afghanistan: In 2010, local election monitors took photographs of the final tally sheets in local Afghan polling stations, which was shown to reduce fraud by 60%. The Afghanistan experiment was done through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), which brings me to my next problem with this experiment.

It’s always difficult to determine if election monitoring actually reduces fraud (although Susan Hyde has done great work showing that it can). This is for the simple reason that we don’t know the counterfactual level of fraud if the observation wasn’t there. Because of this, I think it would be much smarter if  – instead of trying to put webcams in nearly every polling station – they randomly assigned the web cameras to certain stations. This would  allow us to measure if the intevention was actually effective or not. Aside from the fact that so many webcams will make monitoring of any of them less effective, not randomizing the cameras will make it impossible to actually determine impact.  Of course this assumes the actual goal of the project is to reduce fraud and not just give the appearance of transparency.

Bad election administration has consequences

Croatians voted in favor of European Union membership in a referendum on Sunday, although turnout was officially placed at 43 percent.  Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic stated that this was a result of an inaccurate and out-of-date voter registry.  If the voter roll was accurate, Pusic claimed, then actual turnout may have been closer to 60 percent of voters.

I’ve previously discussed how I believe that most plebiscites should require some turnout threshold in order for a measure to pass.  Thresholds can prevent a small, driven group of individuals from easily passing beneficial laws assuming the rest of the population isn’t as equally mobilized to stop them.  EU membership is an important issue, so a turnout requirement would make sense here.  When nobody even knows how many voters exist, however, such a rule is impossible.

Institutions are still important, even in America

I try not to venture into American politics much on this blog but there is one thing that’s really bothered me that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere.  I know this is somewhat outdated, as Rick Perry is yesterday’s news, but why did no one challenge him on the idea that he would cut Congress’ pay in half?

“The idea that [a congressman or woman] makes three times what the average family makes is really obscene,” he said. “[They] need to have their salaries cut in half, they need to spend half as much on their budget, and they need to be in Washington half the time.”

It is somewhat depressing that in no debate, no member of the media, or no other candidate, bothered to ask Perry where in the Constitution the president has the authority to determine congressional pay.  If someone did, Perry’s famous three branches of government mishap would have have become his second most embarrassing debate moment.  That’s because the president does not determine congressional pay. Congress does.  The president is not the boss of congress, even though people only seem to hold the former accountable.   It’s this same lack of knowledge of how American institutions work that leads otherwise smart people to speculate how a third party president could really change things.

Electoral Choice and Ballot Complexity: Effects on Turnout

Work has been a little hectic lately, so the blogging has been light of late.  I do plan on resuming a more consistent schedule soon, however.  Before diving back in the Egypt numbers, however, I wanted to highlight two very good papers I saw presented at APSA several months ago.

When advising on electoral system design, election assistance practitioners often recommend that developing countries implement simple systems that their voters will be able to understand. While the theory behind this is sound, I’ve always wondered if we were overestimating the impact of ballot complexity. After all, I’m sure many Americans aren’t aware that many of their city council races are MNTV, while their congressional race is FPTP, yet our system still functions.  In two papers that actually attempt to answer this question, Aina Gallego of Stanford University and Saul Cunow of UCSD both looked at what impact various electoral variables have on voter turnout. Aina argued that increases in ballot complexity, while not impacting educated voters, has a negative effect on turnout rates of less educated citizens.  Aina used two strategies to test her hypothesis.  For the first, she conducted a field experiment where she sent several fake ballot questions to a random group of Spanish citizens.  The control group was given a straightforward ballot containing descriptions of candidates and which party they belonged to, and then asked to vote for one.  The second group was given the same list, but was asked to vote for up to five.  The second group had a 12 percent drop in responses from low-educated citizens.  For her second strategy, she ran a cross-national regression of electoral system design by turnout among various demographics and found that controlling for other factors, increased preference votes were associated with a decrease in turnout.

I had two problems with Aina’s methodology.  The first is her field experiment failed to simulate a realistic ballot structure that any voter would encounter.  The second is her classification of voting system type was binary (ability to cast preference votes or not) and did not account for the many rules that would significantly impact the level of ballot complexity within preference voting systems.  This could include the option of voting across multiple parties, the ability to rank candidates, and the ability to punish candidates on a given party list.  Also, her theory is based on the cognitive perceptions of voters before they decide to vote, not on what they actually experience in the voting booth.  Invalid ballots are evidence of voters who were unable to handle the ballot, but showed up anyway. Therefore, I would suggest a more realistic measure would be district magnitude, as an increase in candidate choice would, by her theory, intimidate the voter and make them less likely to turnout.  Despite these shortcomings, her paper provided a new look at a concept that has been assumed, but never rigorously tested.

Related, Saul Cunow conducted a field experiment in Brazil and found that there is a curvilinear relationship between the number of candidates on a ballot and turnout.  That is, at low levels of candidate choice, turnout is low as voters feel they have little options.  As the number of choices increases, turnout increases, due to the more choices.  After the number of potential candidates increases past a certain level, however, turnout decreases as people are confused by the number of choices and have a harder time distinguishing between them.  Saul also finds that the presence of party labels does not reduce the probability of abstention among higher numbers of candidates.

Both are good papers and you should read them.

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