The Peoples Voting Preferences In Democratic States Politics

Essay add: 28-10-2015, 18:38   /   Views: 237

There is no such thing as the best electoral system, Harrop and Miller stated. In this essay our analysis will firstly address how the legislatures representatives are elected in democratic societies, to be precise, what are the major types of electoral systems and what are strengthens and weaknesses of each of them. What is more, we will discuss to what extent the electoral systems are significant and can make a difference. Once we make a comprehensive comparison of all the methods, we will lastly examine why there is not indeed an ideal system of representation for every country.

To begin with, the question ought to be asked is: what is an electoral system? An electoral system can be defined as 'the set of rules that structure how voters are cast at elections for a representative assembly and how votes are converted into seats in that assembly'. [] In fact, an electoral system denotes all the rules governing an election, yet the term is frequently restricted to three characteristics: the structure of the ballot, the 'electoral formula' (how votes are converted into seats) and the division of the territory into separate constituencies, or 'districting', which we will discuss further. [] 

The question which arises is: what determines the importance and legitimacy of an election? According to Gallagher and Mitchell, there are four underlying factors: the ease of access to the ballot for would-be candidates, the transparency of the counting of the voters, the right to vote and the fairness of the administration of the votes. [] 

Another important characteristic of any system is its scope: the powers of elected officials are as significant as the freedom of the voters. In Britain, for instance, few positions are filled by election and many officials hold their position by inheritance, examination, or patronage appointment. [] In addition, electoral systems influence party systems: the number of significant parties, their campaign strategies, the willingness to cooperate, their cohesion. Above all, the electoral system has a major influence on the stability of the political system. [] 

When comparing electoral systems, it must be taken into account whether the parliamentary seats obtained by a party are directly proportional to the votes it receives. Electoral systems can therefore be divided into non proportional systems, proportional systems and mixed systems.

In non proportional representation systems, which can be split up into plurality or majority systems, parties are not rewarded in proportion to the share of the vote they obtain.

In the single-member plurality system, also called 'first past the post', the winning candidate is the one receiving most votes in a particular electoral district. The characteristics of this system that are most often positively regarded are the enhancement of the stability of governments, as a result of their relative disproportionality, and the clear choices for voters or 'identifiability', as a result of a two-party pattern of competition.

We provide the example of India, one of the world's most remarkable democracies, in words of Shugart and Wattenberg. [] Indeed, India is the largest democracy with an electorate of over 671 million, around one-third of whom are illiterate. Notwithstanding the immense social and linguistic diversity, its system has been stable and effective. In fact, most observers agree that despite the corruption and the polling irregularities, its parliamentary system, which is based on the Westminster model, mainly reflects people's will. Thus, the world's largest democracy has 'continued to cope with the challenges it faces'. [] 

In view of the above, those who consider that the function of an electoral system is to deliver majority government by a single party would find this system appropriate. Nonetheless, the single-member plurality system shows obvious weak points. Above all, the party securing most votes can come second in seats. The plurality system works best when two leading parties compete and therefore minority parties are treated inconsistently. Furthermore, this system encourages gerrymandering, 'the art of drawing seat boundaries to maximize the efficiency of a party's support'. [] What is more, it is an incentive for tactical voting for those voters whose favoured party has no opportunity of winning in their local district and who therefore desert their favoured party. As a matter of fact, Lijphart argued that 'seat victories for parties that are mere runners-up in vote totals is probably the plurality method's gravest democratic deficit'. [] 

On the other hand, the majority system is a less common method in which the winning candidate is required to obtain a majority of votes. If no candidate wins a majority on the first round, an additional ballot is held. This ballot is typically a run-off between the top two candidates. The pertinent question is: what is the way of achieving a majority in a single round? The answer could be the alternative vote, in which voters rank candidates and if no candidate wins a majority, the votes of the bottom candidate are redistributed. This method takes into account more information about voters' preferences.

Having analyzed non proportional representation systems, we proceed to discuss the proportional systems. Nowadays, proportional systems, which emerged in Continental Europe towards the end of the 19th century, are more common than plurality and majority systems. The question ought to be asked is: are they truly proportional? In a perfectly proportional system, every party would receive the same share of seats as of votes. Nevertheless, in reality most proportional systems are not perfectly proportional, as they offer bonus to the largest party and discriminate against the smallest parties.

The most common method is the party list system, in which the electors vote for a slate of the party's candidates, rather than for a single person, and the number of votes won by a party determines how many candidates are elected. The list systems vary in their ballot structure and their district magnitude.

Taking into account the ballot structure, there are closed-list systems and preferential list systems. In a closed-list system, voters have no choice over candidates but can only vote for a party, while in a preferential list system voters are allowed or required to select one or more candidates from the party list. In Switzerland and Luxembourg there are exceptionally free lists, so electors can vote either for a party's list or for as many candidates as there are seats to be filled in the district.

It is worth noting the district magnitude as well, that is to say, the number of representatives chosen for each electoral district. It should be noted that the more representatives to be elected for a district, the more proportional the electoral system can be and the smaller the discrimination against minor parties.

Spain is an enlightening example of the discrimination against minor parties, which are denied seats frequently. The reason for this is that the country is divided into 52 electoral districts and therefore many of Spain's districts are too small to achieve reasonable proportionality.

On the other hand, Netherlands, Israel and Slovakia exemplify the opposite effect: the single country exceptionally serves as a single large constituency, and therefore proportionality extends even to small parties.

In the light of this, as Farrel stated, the basic relationship for all proportional system is: 'the larger the constituency size, and hence the larger the district magnitude, the more proportional the result'. [] 

Thus, the advantages of the proportional representation appear to be the fair treatment of smaller parties, so diverse views of the electorate are represented, and their encouragement of coalitions, as a single party that fails to capture a majority of votes is not permitted to govern alone. [] 

Last but not least, we discuss the mixed systems. Designers of electoral systems have tended to operate with either a 'plurality principle' or a 'proportional principle' in mind; however, there has been a tendency around the world to mix these two principles. [] As a result, the mixed-member electoral systems combine plurality and proportional systems, that is to say, geographical and party representation. In the prototype of a mixed-member system, half of the seats in a legislative chamber are elected in single-seat districts and the other half are elected from party lists allocated by proportional representation.

According to Shugart and Wattenberg, the best of both worlds would be a multiparty system in which most parties are aligned with one of two broad blocs such that voters can choose between potential centre-left or centre-right governments. [] 

Germany has been invoked as an inspiration for some recent experiments in electoral system design, possibly due to its political stability from the post-war period. [] The electoral system has enjoyed strong support and is unlikely to be changed. Some studies have noted that voters in Germany do not really understand whether the nominal vote (erstimme) or the list vote (zweitstimme) is more important, but have managed to make good strategic use of their votes over the years. [] 

The mixed-member systems have been largely successful thus far. According to Schugart and Wattenberg, they appear to be 'more likely than most other electoral systems to generate two-bloc party systems, without in the process reducing minor parties to insignificance'. [] Nonetheless, of all the criticisms of mixed-member electoral systems, the most serious is, as stated above, that they are too complex.

With respect to the foregoing, it is important to assess why is it difficult to choose an ideal system in order to reflect people's voting preferences. The impact of an electoral system depends on the social and political context. In other words, the same rules can produce political stability in one society but instability in another. In the view of Harrop and Miller, an electoral system should ideally satisfy three requirements which are worthy of consideration. First, it should help to make government possible for those at the top but acceptable to those underneath and encourage stability and continuity, but still permit change if that is the popular will. Secondly, an electoral system should help to reduce political frustration and encourage tolerance. Lastly, the content and application of electoral rules should convince all the people that the government was fairly elected, so minorities must be reassured that they will not be ignored or neglected. Unfortunately, a system 'can only meet one requirement at the expense of another'. [] 

In view of the foregoing, no electoral system is free of disadvantages. In the plurality system seats count more than votes. However, no candidate should be elected without being shown to be acceptable to a majority of voters. The majority system, although less common, is more democratic than the plurality system. Regarding the theoretically proportional party list systems, the preferential list systems appear to be more democratic than the closed-list ones. It is worth recalling that the more representatives to be elected for a district, the more proportional the electoral system is. Concerning the mixed-member systems, they have been criticized as introducing unnecessary complexity, when simplicity is usually considered to be desirable in electoral systems. The persistence and further spread of mixed-member systems will depend on whether they deliver the best of both words of electoral systems.

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