Electoral systems are ways used to determine the outcome of an election. The system used and how it is used varies in each country. What voters know about the system has an impact on how they vote or who they vote for. In the last of the two-part explanation of electoral systems, we unpack Mixed Member Systems and Plurality Systems.
Mixed Member Systems
The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system with two connected elections (where the results of the two elections are dependent on each other for seat allocations) is used in Lesotho, Mexico and Germany among others, and the Parallel System (PS) with two separate sets of elections (where the two sets of elections are not dependent on each other for seat allocations) used in countries like Libya, Japan and Sudan. In both systems, voters choose a candidate in a local constituency, and one for a party.
Both systems result in proportional election outcomes and ensure that elected representatives are linked to geographical districts. They also facilitate representation of smaller parties and enhance power-sharing between parties and interest groups. However, they both can give rise to strategic voting anomalies. These systems also create two classes of legislators – one bound to a constituency, and another bound only to the political party. They can give rise to coalition governments which are not always ideal.
Plurality Systems – the Block Vote (BV), First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and the Party Block Vote (PBV)
BV is candidate-centred and the number of votes is equal to the number of seats. BV is useful in reasonably-sized areas and strengthens parties that demonstrate the most coherence and organisational ability. However, BV may encourage members of the same party to compete against one another and produce disproportionate representation.
PBV is party-centred and the party with the most votes takes all the seats in the district. Voters only have one vote and choose between party lists, but there is no need for an absolute majority. PBV is used in Singapore, Chad and Cameroon and is said to encourage the formation of strong parties. It is inclusive, presenting diverse candidate lists for election. The highly disproportional results produced by PBV are a disadvantage, where one party takes almost all of the seats with a simple majority and minorities are left with little to no representation. Djibouti had to make electoral amendments in 2012 to allow for more representation, this led to fairer outcomes in their 2013 election.
FPTP lets voters choose one person from a list of candidates. It promotes a two-party environment, allowing for strong opposition in the legislature. FPTP prevents extremists from representation and promotes strong links between voters and leaders.
However, it may encourage ‘regional fiefdoms’ where political parties develop along ethnicity, clans, or regional lines. The system easily wastes votes and can even cause vote-splitting. FPTP can cause lack of response to changing public opinions because one party can continue to have exclusive control regardless of a decrease in overall support.
Other electoral systems include the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV), the Limited Vote (LV) and Borda Count (BC) systems. SNTV is an easy to use multi-member district, candidate-centred and semi-proportional system. The candidate with the most votes wins. There is more than one seat to be filled in each district and this yields proportional results in the larger districts and facilitates wider representation. However, it wastes votes when nomination requirements are so inclusive that anyone can contest the election. It can also force candidates of the same party to compete for one seat.
It is the same with LV. Regardless of its encouragement of strong party organisation, LV gives voters more than one vote. If there are five seats in a district, voters might get two votes. The candidates with the most votes take the seats. LV is simple to use and allows for minority representation. However, it produces disproportionate results and may lead to vote-splitting.
BC on the other hand allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. These are calculated as fractional votes – a first-preference vote is worth one, a second-preference worth a half and so on. The candidate with the highest total(s) wins. BC gives voters many options while enhancing the legitimacy of elected members. However, it is complex and may be difficult for voters to understand, with proportionality and wasted votes dependent on district size.
Elections are a defining moment in a country’s history. What voters know about the system has an indirect impact on how the country is governed. Unless a government chooses a system that works for its electorate, elections can never be free, nor fair.