Elections are the institutional means by which large numbers of people participate in democratic governance. They determine opportunity for political access and representation, permit citizens to form and change governments, link state and society in mutually productive exchange of personnel, policy, and legitimacy, and, generally, organize the peaceful management of political conflicts.
The purpose of this presentation is to focus on the role of electoral systems in organizing elections and determining their outcomes. Electoral systems are sets of rules (or laws) that govern electoral competition.
They are a subset of a broader set of rules (which can be designated "election rules" for convenience) that define the overall institutional framework of elections. Election rules include, among other things: (a) registration requirements; (b) laws governing formation, organization, and conduct of political parties; (c) campaign financing; (d) districting procedures; and (e) electoral administration (e.g. the composition, tenure and functions of electoral commissions)
While this presentation does not focus on election rules, the viability of new constitutional democracies critically depend on them. These rules determine the fairness of elections, hence the very legitimacy of elections depend on them. As the experience of virtually all "third wave" democracies show, political actors spent a great deal of time, money and effort on formulating these rules. And external technical assistance to these democracies have focused almost exclusively on these rules. Adequate discussion of these rules and their potential contribution to constitutional viability will require a separate session.
Electoral systems are sets of rules under which one or more successive elections are held. These rules organize electoral competiton and determine its outcome.
ALL electoral systems must acommodate two contradictory imperatives inherent in a democracy: representation and governance. NO electoral system can achieve this accommodation pefectly. The relationship between representation and governance is best viewed as one of structured tension, and all any electoral system can do is to organize electoral competition in ways that permit peaceful accommodation of this tension.
Electoral systems are comprised of a number of dimensions which affect the organization and outcome of electoral competition:
1. Electoral Formula for converting votes into seats (majority, plurality, proportional representation, mixed)
2. District Magnitude or the number of seats per district. Electoral districts can be single-tiered or two tiered. District Magnitude also determines the threshold for winning seats, that is the minimum number of votes required to win a seat.
3. Ballot Structure, which can be categorical (permitting voters only an either/or choice among candidates) or ordinal (permitting voters to rank the candidates)
4. Size of the legislative assembly
6. Apparentment, which permits two or more parties to submit a joint list of candidates
7. Timing of executive and legislative elections. This is particularly critical in presidential systems.
The presentation will (a) describe these dimensions and their individual and combined impact on electoral outcomes in greater detail, and (b) provide information on their operationalization and measurement. Concrete examples will also be supplied.
Political parties are the key to interest organization and representation and the formation of stable governing majorities. This critical role of political parties is tied to the structure of the the party system. Electoral systems shape the the structure of party systems, specifically by affecting the degree of fragmentation or concentration of party systems.
Conventional wisdom suggests that electoral systems with plurality formulas and single-member districts are likely to produce concentrated two-party systems, while electoral systems with PR formulas in multimember districts are likely to produce fragmented multi-party systems. This conventional wisdom is generally, but not uniformly, valid in established democracies. Its validity is particularly suspect in new democracies.
The presentation will (a) describe with the help of concrete examples how electoral systems impact the structure of party systems, especially in new democracies and (b) will also describe how this impact is operationalized and measured.
Electoral systems, like all institutional designs, are chosen and crafted by political actors in specific historical and cultural contexts. The presentation will discuss three factors that affect the choice of electoral systems in new democracies: (a) the institutional legacies of previous regimes, both authoritarian and democractic; (b) the social structural clevagaes produced by these regimes; and (c) the power relations of contending actors involved in designing the institutional framework of new democracies.
Variations in the institutional design of new electoral systems, in other words, can be accounted for by variations in these three factors.
The consequences of electoral systems can be examined in several ways. One way is to measure the immediate impact of electoral rules on the party system, with respect to both the number of political parties running for office and the number of political parties actually winning seats.
A second way is to examine the degree to which the emergent party system contributes to the formation of stable governing majorities. This issue is especially relevant for new democracies, most of which have opted for presidential governments. While much of the scholarly debate is based on the broad distinction between presidential and parliamentary governments, this widespread adoption of presidential governments necessitates a more nuanced differentiation among them. One way to do this is to examine the role of the electoral system, especially the electoral formula for electing presidents and legislatures and the timing of the two elections (i.e. whether presidential and legislative elections are held concurrently or separately). The presentation will discuss the measurement, analysis and interpretation of the role and impact of electoral systems on the formation of stable governing majorities in presidential democracies.
SHAHEEN MOZAFFAR is Associate Professor of Political Science at Bridgewater State College and Research Fellow of the African Studies Center at Boston University. He has written on the colonial state, ethnic politics and democratization in Africa. He has served as a consultant to the US A.I.D. Africa Bureau on democratic governance and to the Fiji Constitution Review Commission under the auspices of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division. His current research project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a comparative study of constitutional designs and electoral systems in Africa's emerging democracies
SHAHEEN MOZAFFAR, Ph.D.
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