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About this book


Electoral Systems examines the six principle types of electoral system currently in use in more than seventy of the world's democracies. A common format is adopted throughout, dealing with explanations of how the system operates and its effects on the political system.

Table of Contents

1. The Study of Electoral Systems

Abstract
For people who do not specialize in this area, electoral systems are usually seen as a big ‘turn-off’. It can be difficult to instil much interest in the subject of counting rules; to enthuse about the details of how one electoral system varies from another. After all how many wars were fought over whether the electoral formula was ‘largest remainder’ or ‘highest average’; how many politicians have been assassinated over the issue of ‘single transferable vote’ versus ‘single-member plurality’? Pity the student on a hot Friday afternoon who has to struggle through the niceties of the ‘Droop quota’. Pity the teacher who has to burn midnight oil getting to grips with the issue of ‘monotonicity’. It does seem fair to pose the question: why bother? What is the point of spending time examining electoral systems?
David M. Farrell

2. The Single-Member Plurality System and its Cousins

Abstract
This electoral system has been given a range of different titles, such as ‘relative majority’, ‘simple majority’, ‘single-member simple plurality’ and the more colloquial ‘first past the post’. In this book we will refer to it as single-member plurality (SMP) as this best reflects the essence of the system. For its supporters the beauty of this system is its simplicity: to get elected a candidate must win a ‘plurality’ of the vote. This does not mean that the candidate has more votes than all the other candidates combined. It is not necessary to win an overall majority of the vote: providing the candidate has at least one vote more than each of the other candidates, then he or she is declared the victor.
David M. Farrell

3. Majority Electoral Systems: Two-Round Systems and the Alternative Vote

Abstract
As we saw in the previous chapter, Sir Russell Johnston (Liberal Democrat) won the seat of Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber in the 1992 British general election with just 26 per cent of the vote. It is results like this that give the single-member plurality (SMP) system a bad name. One view often expressed in political circles is that if it were possible to clear up these sorts of anomalies — but without ‘destroying’ the ‘essential’ character of SMP — then the system would not receive such a bad press. The ideal compromise is said to be one where the electoral system is still easy for the average voter to understand; where it produces strong and stable government; where there still is a single MP representing a single constituency (or district); and, in addition, where that MP enjoys the support of the majority of his or her constituents. The critical new ingredient, therefore, is that each MP is elected with an overall majority, as opposed to the situation that prevailed in the 2010 British election when barely a third of MPs were elected with an overall majority of all the votes in the constituency, a not uncommon result (see Figure 2.3).
David M. Farrell

4. The List Systems of Proportional Representation

Abstract
In this chapter we deal with one of the most commonly used family of electoral systems, the list PR systems of proportional representation. In Figure 1.1 we saw how almost one-third of our sample of democracies uses list PR systems for their national elections. It has long been used by most West European countries, the exceptions being the UK, Ireland (which uses STV), Germany (which partially uses it in its mixed-member system), and generally, though not always, France. List PR systems are also dominant across Latin America and in many of the newer African democracies as well.
David M. Farrell

5. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems

Abstract
For all the positive features of the different list PR systems of proportional representation reviewed in the previous chapter, the one negative point that they all seem to share in common, so far as many supporters of SMP and majority systems are concerned, is the lack of district representation. The alternative of regional politicians elected on regional lists, or even (as in Israel) national politicians elected on national lists, is not viewed by some with much enthusiasm. The electoral systems examined in this chapter are seen as providing an ideal solution because of their hybrid nature in offering both SMP and PR elections in the one system.
David M. Farrell

6. The Single Transferable Vote System of Proportional Representation

Abstract
The origins of the single transferable vote system of proportional representation (hereinafter STV) date back to the mid-nineteenth century. The two people credited most with its ‘invention’ — operating independently, and apparently without knowledge, of each other — are Thomas Hare (1806–92; an English lawyer) and Carl George Andrae (1812–93; a Danish mathematician and politician). Of the two, it was Hare who played the larger role. As we saw in Chapter 2, Hare’s Treatise on the Election of Representatives, Parliamentary and Municipal (1859) — and its subsequent amended editions — provided a considerable impetus to the debate about suffrage extension and the electoral system in Britain. Key Figures, among them the philosopher John Stuart Mill, enthusiastically endorsed Hare’s proposals (Hart 1992).
David M. Farrell

7. The Consequences of Electoral Systems

Abstract
Electoral systems have consequences for the political systems in which they operate. The truth of this statement is revealed in the burgeoning literature on electoral systems that seeks to show precisely what these consequences are. This chapter explores the main findings of these studies, addressing the areas of disagreement between the authors. As we shall see, a number of consequences of electoral systems have been identified, among them the effects on proportionality, on numbers of parties, and on the representation of women and minorities. These are dealt with in the first three sections.
David M. Farrell

8. The Politics of Electoral System Design

Abstract
The whiff of electoral reform is in the air. Everywhere you look some government or other seems to be discussing whether to change its electoral system. Examples abound: the New Labour Jenkins Commission in Britain in the late 1990s, the Dutch Burgerforum in 2006, prime minister Berlusconi’s move to change (yet again) Italy’s electoral system in 2005, repeated Irish parliamentary reviews of their electoral system throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the current discussions in Greece and New Zealand — the former to consider the possible adoption of a mixed-member electoral system, the latter to possibly drop that system. It seems that the contemporary fashion favours reform. However, things were not always like this. For long the mantra was that stability was best. Only France seemed to be prone to pretty regular change of its electoral systems; there were few other cases. In this context, Dieter Nohlen was quite correct in his observation that electoral reform was very uncommon, occurring only in ‘extraordinary historical circumstances’ (1984: 218).
David M. Farrell

9. Electoral Systems and Electoral Institutions

Abstract
At the outset of this book (p. 4) electoral systems were defined as: the means by which votes are translated into seats in the process of electing politicians into office. The focus throughout has been on the three main sets of characteristics of electoral system design first enumerated by Douglas Rae (1967) in the 1960s: electoral formula, district magnitude and ballot structure. In his 2007 treatment of this subject, Rein Taagepera refers to these as the ‘indispensible features’ of electoral system design (2007: 18).1 In a book of this nature it would, however, be a mistake to stop there: there are other features of institutional design that have an important influence on the electoral process, some of which are pretty closely intertwined with the electoral system itself, and some which have a more indirect effect on the wider institutional setting in which elections are held. This chapter deals with each in turn, starting in Section 9.1 with particular features of electoral system design that can have important effects on how electoral systems operate. In Section 9.2, we widen the scope of our enquiry to examine the management of the electoral process.
David M. Farrell

10. Electoral Systems and Stability

Abstract
Electoral engineers are spoilt for choice. As we have seen, there is no shortage of ‘off-the-shelf’ electoral systems to choose from, and, indeed, as Chapter 8 demonstrated, electoral engineers have not been averse to experimenting with new ‘mixed’ designs, thereby adding to the available pool of electoral systems. Chapter 7 reviewed the main systemic and strategic consequences of electoral systems, demonstrating the need to take due care when selecting a new electoral system for a country. Depending on that decision, a political system can be affected in any number of ways, but most notably in terms of the numbers of parties in the parliament, the degree of social representation (in terms of numbers of women and possibly ethnic minority MPs), the tendency to have more (or less) coalition governments, the nature of parliamentary representation, the style of party campaigning (and party organization), and the degree of electoral choice given to voters.
David M. Farrell
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