Category Archives: Elections
Bad election managment
From Al Masry Al Youm:
Disabled citizens faced difficulties while voting in this week’s round of parliamentary elections, a number of rights groups have said.
There were no sign language interpreters to help the deaf and the majority of polling stations were located on upper floors, making it difficult for voters in wheelchairs, the Egyptian Coalition for the Disabled in Alexandria said.
[…]Heba Hagras, an Egyptian Bloc candidate who has a disability, also said no facilities were available for those with special needs. Hagras said she found it difficult to go up to the polling stations in her wheelchair. She said one supervising judge refused to leave the voting station to help her.
Mohamed Mokhtar, who also uses a wheelchair, said his polling station was on the third floor and the scrambling of voters made it even more difficult to reach the ballot box.
There are a lot of people with disabilities in Egypt. This is embarrassing.
Compulsory voting in Egypt
Something I’ve heard surprisingly little about with all the election coverage is how Egyptians are responding to the High Election Commission’s (HEC) announcement that the government fully plans on enforcing the country’s mandatory voting requirements. I did find this from the Daily News Egypt.
“We do not have a polling station specifically for senior citizens so we have to take permission from other voters in the queue to go to the front because we cannot stand for too long,” said a voter who preferred to remain anonymous at one of Tora’s polling stations.
“Some of those senior citizens came to vote because they are afraid of the LE 500 fine if they fail to vote,” Fathy said, adding that they do not even know the candidates they will vote for and are asking others about their selected candidates.
The law requiring eligible voters to participate existed in the past, but was never enforced. The HEC, however, has publicly stated that it intends to levy a LE 500 (Approximately 83 USD) fine on any eligible voter who does not cast a ballot. (I can’t find out if this applies to both the first and second round). While LE 500 could be easily paid by richer Egyptians, it is the equivalent of many months’ salary for the large lower class. This raises serious concerns over the ethicacy of such a law that will disproportionately hurt lower economic classes. Given the unconsolidated nature of the political party system, it seems unfair to force voters to choose somebody, when it is more than possible that nobody represents their views. Turnout for the March referendum was only 41 percent of eligible voters, indicating a large number of Egyptians are not political engaged.
I could speculate on the effects of compulsorily voting in Egypt, but it wouldn’t be much more than that. I do think the greatest threat it could pose to the election process would be dramatically increasing the number of invalid ballots. From what I’ve gathered, both the ballots for the nominal and list tier of seats need to be filled out correctly for an elector’s votes to count. Given the high illiteracy rate, confusing ballot design, and the fact that mandatory voting is most likely to bring out apathetic voters, I could see how this would cause problems. Of course a well organized party could take advantage of this by providing voters with information on how to cast a ballot. Anthony Downs’ model is put to the test.
Hopefully somebody did an exit poll and asked how big of a factor this was in turning out voters. Until we have final turnout numbers, however, there isn’t much we can go on.
Egypt’s election law favors small parties, fractured parliament
Although it’s difficult to predict many aspects of Egypt’s upcoming election, most observers assume that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will win a plurality of seats, while the smaller, divided liberal parties will perform poorly. This is most likely true. What is not true, however, is the often-stated proposition that this is partially because the country’s electoral system works to the Brotherhood’s advantage. There are some good reasons people have said this. Under previous versions of the electoral law, I’ve made the same argument. As the rules stand now, however, this is not completely true. The details of the new electoral system, specifically the seat allocation method in the proportional tier, will give actually give a boost to the fractured liberal parties, while depriving the Brotherhood of a majority they would obtain in more commonly used electoral systems. The reason for this is due to the formula used to calculate who wins the two-thirds of seats in the proportional representation tier.
No proportional representation system can perfectly award seats in one-to-one relation to vote shares. There are various systems for allocating seats proportionally but broadly speaking, they all fall into two categories: the largest remainder method (which Egypt uses), and the highest average method. For the largest remainder method, each seat in a legislature corresponds to a raw number of votes, equal to a quota, and a party’s seat share depends on the number of quotas it wins in an election. How that quota is calculated varies based on the system, but under the simplest method, the Hare quota, total votes are divided by N (total) seats to create a quota used for allocation. After this number is calculated, parties are awarded seats for every time they reach that quota. However, after the quota is reached a certain number of times, there are bound to be some seats left over, as well as remainder votes that didn’t contribute to a full quota. Parties’ remainder votes are then tallied and used to determine who will get the remaining seats.
For the upcoming elections, it appears Egypt will use a Hare quota. Despite its recent use in Tunisia, the Hare quota is a somewhat unpopular method. Figure one shows that the largest remainder method, and the Hare quota specifically, isn’t nearly as common as the highest average method of seat allocation. I bring this up because it’s notable the government chose a less common system.
Hare quotas may be less popular because, while being easier to understand, they are slightly less proportional than other systems. In general, Hare quota’s favor smaller parties, and produce more fractured parliaments. In the case of Egypt, it will benefit smaller parties. To illustrate this, let’s look at how the Hare quota will play out. In Figure two, I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution in one of Cairo’s four districts (with a district magnitude of ten). For vote totals, I divided how well each party was doing in the most recent public opinion survey by the total voters. My total voters was calculated by taking how many Cairo voters participated in the March referendum and dividing by four (the number of districts in Cairo). The problem with this, of course, is that I’m using a national poll and placing it at a district level. Unless somebody is willing to provide me with crosstabs, however, this is the best I can do. First the Hare quota is calculated (576,640/N (10)), which equals 57,664. This is the number of votes a party needs to get one seat in the first distribution. After this, however, we still have five more seats to allocate. So the remainders are then ordered from highest to lowest, and the five parties with the highest remainders are given one extra seat.
Freedom and Justice gets four seats, Al-Wafd gets two, and the remaining four seats go to the next four parties. Note that in this scenario, Freedom and Justice isn’t being specifically disadvantaged; they are actually receiving the number of seats they deserve. It’s just that smaller parties, are getting more seats than we would expect if the system was perfectly proportional.
Now let’s look at how the exact same scenario would turn out if we used the much more common, highest average method. Specifically, the D’Hondt system, which is the most common method used across the world. Figure three below shows how this works. Party votes are first divided by 1, then 2, then 3, and so on until they reach N number of seats in the district. So in our Cairo district, they would keep dividing untill they reached ten. This produces the chart we see below. After this, the N (in this case, ten) highest distributions are found, and each one awards that party a seat. As we can see below, this method give Freedom and Justice six seats in total, Al-Wafd three, and Al-Nour one. In this case, Freedom and Justice overperforms, while the other parties generally get what should be expected.
Figure three (Click to enlarge)
It should also be noted that this method would favor Freedom and Justice even more in smaller Egyptian districts. Under the D’Hondt method, a decrease in districts magnitude can decrease the number of parties who win a seat. If, for example, this was a rural district in Masa Matruh Governorate, with four seats, then Freedom and Justice would get three seats and Wafd one.
There are several interpretations of why the SCAF would choose the largest remainder method. The first is that they were simply using the system closest to what was used the last time Egypt had PR elections, in the 1980s. (1) This would seem plausible. A second interpretation is that this is an attempt to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they knew would be the largest party. (Perhaps the Tunisian transitional authority made the same calculation with regards to weakening Enahda’s seat total). A third interpretation is that the SCAF wants to reduce the number of wasted votes (votes cast for a party that doesn’t enter parliament). A high number of wasted votes could jeopardize the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of many Egyptians. A fourth, very cynically theory that I don’t actually believe, is that the SCAF is intentionally trying to create a parliament that is as fractured and weak as possible. The SCAF’s reluctance to abolish the nominal tier of seats, which most people predict will be won predominately by independents; the low .5% threshold for entering parliament; and the Hare quota, are all rules that will favor a greater quantity of small parties, and MPs with no party affiliation. This could create a parliament that is weak and ineffective, either creating a strong president, or weakening the public’s trust in democratic institutions. An extreme cynic could argue that both of these would benefit the SCAF.
I’m more inclined to believe in the first explanation, and think that a large number of wasted votes is greater threat to the legitimacy of the election than a fractured parliament. Regardless of why these rules were chosen, however, it’s important to realize the implications they will have.
(1) In 1984 and 1987, Egypt used a modified Hare Quota, where seats that could not be awarded on the basis of full quotas were awarded to whichever party had at least half a quota. When no party achieved this cutoff, such seats were awarded to the nationally most popular party. This was a very unproportional way to allocate remainders, and served to boost the seat total of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, coverage of Tunisia’s election seems to be sparse, so I wanted to share two links I’ve recently found that I beleive are helpful.
- A 21st Century Social Contract is a good blog covering post-revolutionary Tunisia
- Tunisia Live is an English language news site that has lots of up-to-date news about the election.
Democracy in Libya
While watching Al Jazeera today, I became annoyed that so many experts and analysts kept referring to this mythical Libyan election that will somehow take place in 8-9 months. I don’t expect an election administration expert on every TV panel but I wish somebody asked if this was a realistic timetable (spoiler: it’s not). Libya isn’t the first post-conflict country to deal with the difficult decision of an election timetable. The optimal time to hold a first election is different from country to country, and the tradeoffs are important. The earlier the election, the harder it is to run a good one. The longer you wait, the less legitimacy the interim government will have. Libya will probably have the benefit of massive amounts of foreign funding and expertise, but that still doesn’t guarantee a well run election. One only has to look at Kosovo to see that unlimited resources, although helpful, are far from sufficient for avoiding major pitfalls in an election.
Another troubling thing I’ve heard on more than one occasion is the notion that institution building in Libya will be like working on a “blank slate.” I’ve also heard this used to describe South Sudan and in both cases, they aren’t completely true. When it comes to governance, there is not such thing as a black slate. Governing has been taking place in some way. There may be a lack of formal democratic institutions, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t doing things before we got there. It’s true that in terms of elections and governing institutions, Libya is much more of a blank state than most countries, but that doesn’t mean informal methods of governance, even at the local level, won’t influence the institutions that are eventually developed.
Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly Election
Tunisia will be holding its first ever democratic elections this week, where parties will run to fill the 217 seats of the country’s Constituent Assembly. This new body will be tasked with drafting the constitution for the country.
Seats will be allocated by closed-list proportional representation. There are 27 domestic constituencies and six out-of-country constituencies. Party lists are required to employ a gender “zipper” provision, where their lists alternate between male and female candidates. This closed-list, staggered format is considered to be the most beneficial system for women’s representation so Tunisia should be commended for taking such strong steps to ensure that women will be represented in the Constituent Assembly. It seams that seats will be counted using a Hare quota; a largest remainders system that is the simplest to understand, and tends to favor smaller parties. The average district magnitude is around 6 1/2, but that’s including some of the out-of-country districts that have less seats; in-country constituencies usually have around eight or nine seats. Those are mid-sized districts that should be fairly proportional.
The nascent political party system in Tunisia is extremely fractured; 110 political party lists had been approved by the new electoral management body, the Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections (ISIE). While this is a very high number of options, the vast majority of parties aren’t running a list in every district. In reality, there are about eleven parties that even have a semblance of name recognition. It’s difficult to say how the election will go because polling has been banned since October 1st. Survey blackouts may seem strange, but they are actually common in many countries, including consolidated democracies. A blackout this early, however, is unusual. The blackout coincides with the official campaign period, October 1st through the 21st. From September 12 to October 1st, any type of party advertising was banned by ISIE. The relativity short campaign period, coupled with the survey blackout, probably makes it difficult for the average Tunisian voter to cast a tactical vote. In order to cast a tactical vote, a citizen must know the relative strength of each party. This allows an individual to avoid wasting a vote on a party that has no chance of winning, while picking the best option that has a realistic shot at victory. In Tunisia, the electoral viability of any given party or candidate in a district will be uncertain. Not only will most voters not know the strengths of parties, however, but they might not know who all the parties even are.
A potential result of this is that every district will elect a large number of parties, with very few getting more than one seat. The polling that was done prior to the survey blackout showed that voters had little enthusiasm for any particular party. Enadha, a “moderate” Islamist party was receiving the most support, with around 20% of Tunisians planning on supporting them. In contrast, one poll placed those who support no party at 40%. I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution by taking the average of the two most recent polls (the only two I found that were conducted in September). The problem with this is there are still a fair number of undecided that I can’t place anywhere. While it’s very possible many of these undecideds will stay home on Election Day, many will probably vote for one of the main parties. Having so little knowledge of where they will go means we have to take this for what it is. The diagram below shows how each party would fair in a district with nine seats. I used 100,000 voters and awarded seats based on party performance from the last two polls.
In this scenario, two parties win two seats, while the other winners only get one each. Obviously this is very hypothetical, but it illustrates a situation – many parties getting few seats – that may take place. This isn’t a horrible scenario by itself, but it will mean that the country’s ostensibly very strong gender quota, may not be that effective. Most party lists will have a man at the top. This means that in our hypothetical district, only two lists would send their second candidate, and women would only receive two seats out of nine.
The other election in Africa this week
Most media attention has been focused on Liberia’s election this week, and with good reason. Also in Africa, however, Cameroon recently held presidential elections on Sunday. Opposition leaders demanded the election be nullified, after Paul Biya was reelected to a sixth term. Biya has ruled Cameroon for 29 years. In 2008, he passed a constitutional amendment, which abolished term limits.
Cameroon’s election wasn’t exactly fair, but what I found interesting was the assessment of what I would have thought to be a legitimate Election Observation Mission (EOM):
But France, which was Cameroon’s former colonial power and played a significant part in Biya’s rise to the helm in 1982, saw no egregious violation in the poll.
“According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, who followed the development of these elections, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
If you haven’t already, read Judith Kelley’s great paper, Election Observers and their Biases. It does a great job of exploring the behavior and incentives of EOMs based on a number of criteria. Her main argument is that the assessment of elections is influenced by the mission’s organization, the source of funding, and the host country.
She also discusses the problem that occurs when observers want to reward progress made in a country, but the environment does not warrant a positive assessment. It is in addressing this phenomenon that Kelley notices certain peculiarities in her data. The most striking is the fact that the more violent a pre-election environment is, the more likely observation missions will endorse an otherwise flawed poll. Kelley also touches upon some issues that have been addressed in previous writings, such as the phenomenon where pre-election irregularities are more likely to be ignored by an assessment team than those that occur during the polling process.
I really don’t know Cameroon, or France’s current interest in it, so I’m unsure of if any of these particular findings would explain this strange assessment. But this does fit Susan Hyde’s theory, which concludes that regimes have made the calculation that the presence of election observers has become a signal of democratizing, while the risks of a negative election observation report outweighs the benefits of not inviting any foreign observers. I would say that Paul Biya benefited from allowing an election observation mission, especially one from France.
I’m a bit confused as to what seems like contradictory aspects of Egypt’s election law. Article 37 states that the High Election Commission must publish results three days after the election or referendum. However, for elections that take place in stages, as the People’s Assembly does, results only have to be announced after the final stage. This seems like a strange requirement as the PA elections also contain two rounds. The decision to hold a second round, and which candidates would participate, would inherently require results from the first round to be published. Am I reading this wrong?
Latvian minority party wins most seats in parliamentary election
Harmony Center, a left-leaning, pro-Russian party, won the most votes in Latvia’s parliamentary elections last week. The party, which caters to the country’s Russian minority, captured around 28 percent of the vote, while a new party formed by former President Valdis Zatlers came in second place with nearly 21 percent. Unity, the largest member in the current ruling coalition, fell to third place with 18 percent. Then-President Valdis Zatlers forced the early elections by calling a special referendum in May to dissolve parliament.
Latvia has a lot of strange rules in its electoral system. The president can call for a referendum to dissolve parliament, but if it fails, he or she must resign. Also, parliament elects the president for a two year term. Zatlers called the referendum a few days before his term expired and parliament rewarded his move by voting for somebody else instead of renewing his term.
I don’t know of any other time when a minority party won the most seats in an election. This isn’t to say that Harmony Center “won the election” as they still have to form a coalition, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Recent election stories around the world
- Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote and run in the next municipal elections. They are sham elections, and no word yet if women will be able to drive to the polls, but…baby steps.
- Zambia averted a potentially horrible outcome in its presidential election when it looked liked post-election violence would escalate. The violence was a result of a slow counting process, which demonstrates how important effective election management can be in preventing conflict. Luckly the worst was avoided when President Rupiah Banda conceded to challenger Micheal Sata. The election was a rematch of the 2008 presidential poll. In that race, Banda narrowly defeated Sata by a margin of 40 to 38 percent.
- Russia will have elections next year but…
- Bahrain held the first round of legislative elections to fill the 18 seats that were vacated by the Shia Wefaq Party. Turnout was, not surprisingly, very low.
- The UAE also held local elections defined by low turnout. The government approves the list of eligible voters in the UAE, so its really more of an electoral college than a popular vote.
- Norwegians went to the polls last Monday to vote for county and municipal councils. This was the first election in Norway since the July 22 terrorist attack that killed 77 people. During the election, voters in ten pilot municipalities had the option of voting via the internet.