2014 European elections: A snapshot of three little known electoral systems (2nd part)

By Fernando Feitosa Ribeiro, Intern at the Université de Montréal

What is the story?

During three weeks, I describe the particularities of the electoral systems applied to elect the members of the European parliament (EP) in three interesting and often forgotten countries. In particular, I focus on the possibilities given to voters to express their preference for individual candidates and incentives for intra-party competition. Last week, I talked about Finland. This week, I give a snapshot of the rules of the game in Latvia.

The Latvian electoral system for EP elections

As in Finland, a variant of party-list proportional representation (PR) will be used to elect the 8 Latvian representatives for the next EP term. The system consists in a rather original voting pattern, which allows voters to either add a ‘plus mark’ next to a candidate’s name to signify they support her, or cross her name out to signify they oppose her (see Figure 1). In addition, they might leave a candidate’s name blank if they are neutral about her. It is important to note that this action takes place within a single party list.

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Figure 1: Example of a Latvian filled ballot

Unlike Finland, seats are allocated among competing parties according to the Saint-Laguë method, which supposes dividing the overall number of votes each party obtains by successive uneven divisors (1, 3, 5, 7…). The seats are then allocated to parties with the highest quotients, before being distributed among individual candidates within these parties. In particular, individual candidates who obtain the highest index of support within their party receive a seat. This index is the result of subtracting from the overall number of party votes, the number of ‘cross-out votes’, added to the ‘plus votes’ they receive.

Example

Imagine there are two seats to be filled in one district 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 overall number of votes for each party is divided by successive uneven divisors.
The blue party obtains 45 votes:
45 / 1 = 45
45 / 3 = 15
45 / 5 = 9

The yellow party obtains 30 votes:
30 / 1 = 30
30 / 3 = 10

– The two seats are then allocated to the parties with the highest quotients. In my example, the blue party obtains one seat and the yellow party obtains the other (highest quotients are in bold).

– A support index is then calculated for each candidate in subtracting from the overall number of party votes, the number of ‘cross-out votes’, added to the ‘plus votes’ they receive.

Blue party:
Bob (45 party votes – 5 cross out votes + 17 plus votes = 57)
Cindy (45 party votes – 9 cross-out votes + 12 plus votes = 48)
Paul (45 party votes – 18 cross-out votes + 2 plus votes = 29)

Yellow party:
Carol (30 party votes – 1 cross-out votes + 12 plus votes = 41)
Sebastian (30 – 5 cross-votes + 9 plus votes = 34).

– The seat obtained by each party is then allocated to the candidates with the highest support index within the party. In my example, these are Bob (Index = 57) and Carol (Index = 41).

Conclusion

The electoral system used to elect the Latvian representatives for the next EP term is somewhat focused on individual candidates. In particular, the possibility given to voters to express both a negative and positive preference gives incentives to the candidates to campaign against some of their party fellows in order to maximize their chances of being elected. However, unlike in Finland, the possibility given to voters to express a preference for as many candidates as they are in the list tempers a bit intra-party competition. Next Friday, I will focus on the electoral system in use for the European election in Luxembourg.

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