Electoral System in 2025: Diagnosis and Change Principles


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Democracy’s image is becoming increasingly impaired. Its deterioration is proportional to the descending credibility of the top politicians. Thus, the rationale behind the assumptions to the newly developed electoral system should be to reinforce democracy’s rating by promoting more effective decision-makers and more transparent forms of government. This diagnosis, along with the assumption that society behaves rationally, underlies my forecast on how the electoral system may evolve in forthcoming years and how to address key challenges of contemporary democracy.

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Electoral System in 2025: Diagnosis and Change Principles

  1. 1. ELECTORAL SYSTEM IN 2025: DIAGNOSIS AND CHANGE PRINCIPLES MARCIN SENDERSKI * POWER IS ACTION; THE ELECTORAL PRINCIPLE IS DISCUSSION. NO POLITICAL ACTION IS POSSIBLE WHEN DISCUSSION IS PERMANENTLY ESTABLISHED. (HONORÉ DE BALZAC, 1799-1850)EXECUTIVE SUMMARYDemocracy’s image is becoming increasingly impaired. Its deterioration is proportional to thedescending credibility of the top politicians. Thus, the rationale behind the assumptions to thenewly developed electoral system should be to reinforce democracy’s rating by promoting moreeffective decision-makers and more transparent forms of government. This diagnosis, along withthe assumption that society behaves rationally, underlies my forecast on how the electoral systemmay evolve in forthcoming years and how to address key challenges of contemporary democracy.If an advertisement agency or a business consulting company were in charge of the preparationof the new electoral system, we would be rattled of how many opportunities have not yet beenexplored. Let’s try to fill their shoes.DEFINING GOALSBetter is the enemy of good enough. Therefore, is the question what to reform or rather whetherto reform? Are there any universal recommendations, provided that the heterogeneity of theworld’s polities is enormous, and so are their needs that have to be addressed by the electoralsystem? Same systems may produce ambiguous effects under different jurisdictions. Finally,what is the most important feature in the election on which the efforts of the reformers shouldbe focused? The key principle may be to make the indirect democracy more legitimate, that is tobolster the turnout. But will the quality of the elected bodies or the voters’ satisfaction with theelection’s outcome improve along with the improved attendance? Not necessarily. Thus, perhapswhat should be pursued is a system that would reflect societal preferences in such a way that thelineups of the elected assemblies enable effective rule and sound cooperation between parties.The set of possible motivations is even wider: from the point of view of the Ministry of Financethe election should be cheap, while voters tend to value their transparency.The postulates stimulating the creation of the new electoral system should ideally have thefollowing dimensions:* email: marcin@senderski.pl 1
  2. 2. Consequence Electoral model should match country’s political model. The range of competencies should always harmonize with the strength of legitimacy. E.g. if the President is elected by the public, thus enjoying more legitimacy than the one elected by the Parliament, the range of presidential competencies should be adjusted to this broad-based support.Easiness The whole voting process should be intuitive. Younger generation will be in its element while voting electronically, but IT applications may not demand more skills from users than regular ATMs do.Effectiveness Stable authorities, able to govern, should emerge as a result of the election.Enforceability All components of the system must not be a dead letter. This remark applies predominantly to the regulations imposing compulsory voting or the election silence.Inclusivity The volume of wasted votes should be minimized. Within the framework of plurality voting system, a preferential voting ballot structure tackles this problem quite efficiently.Low cost Current voting procedures are undoubtedly byzantine and consequently very expensive. They might be digitalized to a great extent.Solemnity In the course of time, a computer will be a medium through which the election will be performed. It may be either just a technical amendment or it may trigger some externalities accelerating the process of trivialization of election. Low cost election must not encourage politicians to invite people to the polls too often. Switzerlandizing may turn out to be a dire strategy (Swiss people go to the polls around seven times a year and the turnout is declining).Transparency The public should be able to understand how results are generated. The process should not involve any built-in biases. This postulate also embraces accountability, i.e. clear-cut identification of parties responsible for governing, and legitimacy, i.e. wide acceptance of the results.Fairly similar electoral system values were enlisted by the New Brunswick’s Commission onLegislative Democracy. These are fairness (no built-in biases), representation (broadly reflectingthe way society looks), equality (wasted votes limited), accountability (voters can identify theparty responsible for governing), effectiveness (stable authorities able to govern), legitimacy(voters accept the results).As you might notice, some of the abovementioned dimensions mutually exclude themselves.These values have to be weighted. Plurality voting system (PV) supports accountability andeffectiveness, as it nourishes centrist, broad-based parties and lucid political outlook. On thecontrary, proportional representation (PR) allows for broader representation, reduces wastedvotes and accepts minorities or extremists to gain exposure for their formations.EVERLASTING QUERYPV with single-member constituencies or – prevailing in most countries and considered to bemore fair – PR. The latter was invented in Belgium in the end of 19th century for the purpose ofbetter reflection of voters’ preferences. Indeed, it fulfills its task, but is the game worth thecandle? PR ensures broader social base by compromising on political stability. Well, betweena rock and a hard place.Polish legislature uses the d’Hondt method, but in 2001, exceptionally, the Sainte-Laguë methodwas employed (both apply to the PR system, however, the second one is even more vicious). 2
  3. 3. That was the election when for the first time two populist parties were elected to the Parliament,causing much disruption for the democratic foundations of the country. The same applies toFrance and Le Pen’s National Front, which was elected to Parliament thanks to the PR.None of the systems is free of absurdities and paradoxes, including the PV, where brutegerrymandering may determine a stunningly implausible outcome. Only for small countries thenut to crack is not very hard – they may successfully run the election in just one constituency,embracing the whole state. The others face immanent puzzles how to shape them.The advantages and disadvantages of both PV and PR are commonly known among theorists.Nevertheless, there is one observation that needs to be emphasized. PV is transparent, it is theWYSIWYG method, i.e. what you see is what you get. In contrast, only a tiny percentage ofpopulation is able to grab the clue of PR with all its d’Honts, thresholds and other quirks. All inall, there is a clear trade-off between being fair and being effective. The societies, fed up withpoliticians’ quarrels, may be willing to abandon the delusive equality and gravitate towards PV.The opponents are those small parties that thanks to a PR are represented in the Parliament andsabotage these schemes, since they undermine their position in politics.TACKLING LOW TURNOUTIn most countries, the image of the elections is poor. They are not regarded as the feast ofdemocracy. In countries with relatively undeveloped democratic traditions, where voting is notregarded as civic duty, the turnout tends to be lower. Some institutions have undertaken reallyweird measures to tackle this problem, like organizing a nationwide lottery for voters. Asenumerated by Ellis et al. (2006) this was the case in 1995 municipal elections in Norway or andthe 2005 parliamentary elections in Bulgaria.Low turnout is considered undesirable, and there is much debate over the factors that affectturnout and how to increase it. I have a compelling impression that at least one significantadvantage of high turnout is frequently overlooked in these debates. Namely, it may be inferredthat non-voters are usually politically indifferent or not very enthusiastic about any party’sagenda. In other words, they are unwittingly centrists. In effect, compulsory voting schemes arelikely to purge the system from radical movements. It is easier to filter out fanatic politicianswith 90% turnout that, say, twice lower, and this is a direct factor stabilizing the democraticfoundations of a country.A widespread raison dêtre in favor of compulsory voting is the fact that such a model guaranteesthe government representing a majority of the population. Victorious leaders may claim greaterpolitical legitimacy than their counterparts from non-compulsory systems with lower turnout.Among European democracies, compulsory voting measures exist in several countries. However,fines for unruly non-voters are rarely applied.TARGET ELECTORAL SYSTEM – POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS AND DESIGN PRINCIPLESAlthough there is no single business case for the electoral system, there are still some commontargets to be accomplished. When it comes to presenting ideas that should be suggested to policymakers or when we want to foresee the reformatory actions undertaken by 2025, the essentialcriterion is implementability that involves not only the technical dimension, but principally thepolitical will to advocate certain solutions. 1. If we are able to log on safely to our bank account and pay by credit card via the Internet, we also may choose our representatives via the dedicated IT application. Official results will be obtainable almost at hand along with the detailed statistics. A pilot may be launched at the level of chosen municipalities to test for possible failures that may arise in practice. 3
  4. 4. 2. For the sake of transparency and the quality of society’s representatives in the governing bodies, the plurality voting system should be implemented, although the conversion from PR to PV is more awkward than the inverse one. Preferential voting subsystem is applicable. 3. If single-winner election is held, instant runoff voting appears to be the most accurate and quite intuitive. It achieves an identical effect to runoff voting without the time and expense of multiple voting rounds. Ireland and Sri Lanka elect their presidents in this way. The term instant runoff is used because the method simulates a series of runoff elections tallied in rounds, as in an exhaustive ballot election. 4. Compulsory voting, if not a dead letter, is free of failures: increases voter turnout, thus the legitimacy, and fines paid by the non-voters will contribute to fund the election. 5. At present, election is usually held during the weekend, but what about holding it on weekdays? Voters’ sense of civic duty would appreciably strengthen as a result of getting an additional day off during the week solely to take part in the feast of democracy. Naturally, this idea is subject to the economic analyses.CONCLUSIONAre we represented by the bests? Of course we are not, but it is not the deficiency that may befully addressed by any down-to-earth electoral system. Nowadays, only few negate democracy inits assumptions and any limitation of equal suffrage or underpinning census suffrage would beconsidered as very controversial. Although some people tend to become politicians as a result ofan adverse selection, the electoral system is never powerless. The key principle for it is to pickup an effective government that is simply able to push its bills through. This is roughlypragmatic and perhaps even heartless, but the state authorities’ primary goal is governing, notrunning a flea market or bargaining for coalitions.Having agreed that the step back to introducing censuses in order to vote or be voted for, isimpossible in this day and age, at least in a democratic society, we should agree on the fact thatthere are certain problems on which the whole population should not be invited at all to vote ina referendum. These involve particularly sensitive issues, say, economic (e.g. whether tointroduce Euro as a currency or not), on which the decision making procedure should be expert-driven.Coming back to Balzac’s thought: let people discuss in the electoral campaign, but do not extendit to infinity. There is right time for discussion and right time for action. Publication of theelection results marks the beginning of the latter. 4
  5. 5. BIBLIOGRAPHYPublications Arrow K.J., Social Choice and Individual Values, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1963. Blais A., Criteria for Assessing Electoral Systems, Université de Montréal, 1999. Courtney J.C., Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review, University of Saskatchewan, 1999. Ellis A., Gratschew M., Pammett J.H., Thiessen E., Engaging the Electorate: Initiatives to Promote Voter Turnout From Around the World, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2006. Pintor R.L., Gratschew M., Voter Turnout in Western Europe, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2004.Webpages http://www.allafrica.com http://www.bbc.co.uk http://www.gnb.ca http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/referendums.htm http://www.idea.int http://www.politicsresources.net/election.htm http://www.proportional-representation.org 5