On election models

Petar Arsovski
Political analyst

These days, the discussion over proposed changes to the electoral models, which were supported by many political actors, is the main topic. Although there has long been talk of these changes, there has been no political will to implement them, nor have we witnessed a serious discussion and analysis of the causes of change, or the proposed solutions. I think that the decisions that are being discussed, as well as their implementation, deserve a little more extensive analysis, because, from such a discussion, it will depend on what kind of political representation the voters in the country will have.

First of all, what are the problems with the current proportional model of elections? In reality, there are many issues that still make our current model problematic in terms of electoral standards and the further democratization of political representation. First, the constituencies are not equal. Due to migration, different birth rates and other factors, some of the six constituencies (as the electoral map is currently divided) have more voters, and that’s significantly more than the others. This is basically a problem that violates the basic rule of equality of vote, because in some constituencies, more people vote for the same number of MPs, which means that their vote de facto is considered less worthy.
Secondly, the division of six constituencies, along with the average electoral threshold of 7,000 votes to elect at least one MP, makes all the parties who had under 7,000 votes in the constituencies, to lose, in each constituency separately. So, if one party had, for instance, 6,000 votes in each of the six constituencies, not one MP would win, and if the same votes were concentrated in just one constituency, it would have received up to four MPs, maybe five. This is a problem in the election model. Thirdly, this pattern of the model favors, both mathematically and politically, larger ahead of the smaller parties. First, the D’Hondt model disproportionately divides more quotients to larger parties, plus smaller parties are losing votes, unless they are part of a pre-election larger coalition. This forces pre-election coalition, where smaller parties lose their political identity.

Fourth (this is perhaps more an issue of approach rather than a normative electoral model), closed, ie unchangeable party lists, make party elites in the election of candidates for MPs not to worry about the quality of staffing decisions, because this way voters vote for the party, not for personalities. Thus, except that the party becomes the center of political loyalty, and the elected MPs do not have much to fear about their accountability to voters, given that it is enough to be loyal to the party to find themselves on that list. Thus, this electoral model forces non-democracy, i.e. closing of the intra-party elections.

What are the options? There are many electoral models in the world, but most of them fall under one of the two categories: majority or proportional, with many hybrid solutions in between. The majority model forces a choice between two MPs for one constituency, in which the loser irretrievably loses his/her votes. That is, the one who had at least one vote in the given constituency became an MP (similar to the mayoral or presidential elections in North Macedonia), and the one who had at least one vote less loses his/her votes. The advantage of this model is that it allows voting for persons linked to constituencies, slightly greater independence from the parties, and a stable majority, bearing in mind that in the huge number of constituencies in the election race, only the two major parties remain in that constituency. The problem, of course, is the loss of votes from those who will not be elected, making a huge number of voters not have a proper representation in power. Thus, for instance, during the last US election, Trump became President, although Hillary Clinton received a total of about three million votes more, precisely due to the loss of votes in those constituencies (in this case, electoral college states) where Trump won, and Clinton lost all her votes.

The proportional model, on the other hand, allocates the total number of MPs assigned to one electoral district in a mathematically proportional manner with the number of votes given for each party (party list) separately. Thus, depending on the division of constituencies and which mathematical model will be chosen, the loss of votes decreases, putting the threshold of votes at those parties that have not received enough votes, or for one MP. That is, all parties that have not received enough votes for no MP are losing their votes. Here, the threshold of vote loss (or if you want with a professional language, the degree of representativeness) increases or decreases depending on the number of constituencies, the electoral threshold, the size of the lists, and the like. The proportional model recognizes the so-called closed party lists (where the party defines the order in which MPs will enter the Parliament depending on the number of votes) or the so-called open lists, where voters, in addition to voting for a party, have the opportunity to change the order of the list itself, that is, to influence which MP from the offered ones will be chosen before the others. The question is – what model is the right one for Macedonia? Considering that we are a multicultural society, which has many smaller political, religious, ethnic and similar communities, so there are several smaller groups that participate in political life, who are at risk of losing their votes, or are forced to join larger pre-election coalitions, the electoral solution should be the one that will increase the level of representativeness to the maximum, that is, reduce the loss of votes to a minimum. As a rule, this means one constituency, because with multiple constituencies more votes are lost in each constituency separately. For instance, if now a party can theoretically lose up to 40,000 votes (six times per 6,600 votes lost in each constituency separately), by merging the constituencies (even if the current threshold is maintained), that loss would be reduced to 7,000 votes, that is, it would raise the level of representativeness to the mathematical maximum.

I also read about ideas for dividing Macedonia into as many constituencies as there are MPs (it was unclear whether the proposal refers to a proportional or majority electoral model), but such a division would only multiply the loss of votes, that is, the problem of representativeness that we have six constituencies, I would extend it to 120 constituencies. Therefore, the best model for Macedonia is a single constituency, because we are now a small country with a small number of voters. This would eliminate the inequality of the vote, increase the level of representativeness, and the like. The second variable is the openness of the lists. Here we come to perhaps the only essential dilemma – how voters can influence the order of the lists, and that does not create technical problems in the voting. Please note that if the state merges into one constituency, and the lists are open (meaning voters should indicate which of the MPs prefer), this means that all of the 120 eligible MPs from all parties that will run for all polling stations will be included on the ballot. Will voters have to sort everything in their order or just some (for example, each voter receives 5 so-called preferential votes for individuals). Will the whole list be open, or only one part, and the first x MPs will be chosen by the party? Do preferential votes have to be given to candidates of the same party? How will we deal (considering that this model is a little more complicated) with the increasing number of wrong or invalid ballots? Do we have enough time to educate voters?

In the end, do the larger parties have the political will to change the electoral model, if we know that the current right grants them an advantage, and they are the ones that need to decide on the future model?

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik