2014 European elections: A snapshot of three little known electoral systems (1st part)

By Fernando Feitosa Ribeiro, Intern at the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies, Université de Montréal

What is the story?

On late May 2014, the European parliament (EP) will be renewed. During 4 days, separate elections will be held in each of the 28 European Union member-states. As most of people already know, the entire parliament is elected following the principle of proportional representation (PR). However, what is often ignored is that there exist huge variations concerning the precise variant in use. In particular, very unique rules are applied in some member-states as regards to the possibilities given to voters to express their preference for individual candidates, as well as incentives for intra-party competition. On each Friday, for the three coming weeks, I will describe the electoral system of an interesting and little known case. Let it start today with Finland.

The Finnish electoral system for EP elections

In Finland, a variant of party-list PR will be used to elect the 13 representatives of the country for the next EP term. Despite the existence of parties, alliances, and joint lists, these organizations play rather a secondary role. The translation of votes into seats is actually focused on candidates. First, voters cast a single vote for their preferred candidate directly, and not for their preferred party, by putting the corresponding number on the ballot paper (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Sample of a Finnish ballot for 2014 EP election

Second, a comparative index is calculated and attributed for each candidate through the division of the overall number of votes obtained by all candidates of her party (including herself) by her rank relative to the numbers of votes she obtains compared to those of her fellow party candidates. As can be deduced from this calculus, the rank a candidate obtains plays a rather central role for determining whether she is elected. While the candidate who obtains the greatest number of votes within her party sees its overall score divided by one, the one who obtains the second best result sees it divided by two, even if the difference between the two is of one vote only.

Finally, after each candidate’s comparative index is calculated and attributed, seats are allocated to the candidates with the highest index.

Example

Imagine there are two seats to be filled and two parties: The blue party that nominates three candidates (Bob, Cindy and Paul), and the yellow party that nominates two candidates (Carol and Sebastian):

– The number of votes each candidate receives is used to rank the candidates by party.

Blue party:
Bob (20 votes, #1st rank)
Cindy (15 votes, #2nd rank)
Paul (10 votes, #3rd rank).

Yellow party:
Carol (25 votes, #1st rank)
Sebastian (5 votes, #2nd rank)

– The comparative index is then calculated for each candidate by dividing the overall number of votes her party obtains by her rank within this party.

Blue party:
Bob (45 votes / 1 = 45)
Cindy (45 votes / 2 = 22.5)
Paul (45 votes / 3 = 15)

Yellow party:
Carol (30 votes / 1 = 30)
Sebastian (30 votes / 2 = 15).

– The two district seats are then allocated to the candidates with the highest comparative index. In my example, these are Bob (Index = 45) and Carol (Index = 30).

Conclusion

The electoral system used to elect the Finnish representatives at the EP is very much focused on individual candidates, as indicated above. To maximize their chances to be elected, candidates should, on top of campaigning for the sake of their party, directly campaign for themselves. At the end of the day, their chances to win depends to a great extent on how good they are at catching votes compared to their party fellows. It can thus be argued that the system gives strong incentives to intra-party competition. Next Friday, I will focus on the electoral system in use for the European election in Latvia.

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