Topics: Plurality voting system, Voting system, Elections Pages: 19 (6897 words) Published: September 9, 2013
Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems Pippa Norris (Harvard University) For Contrasting Political Institutions special issue of the International Political Science Review Vol 18(3) July 1997: 297-312. edited by Jean Laponce and Bernard Saint-Jacques In the past, electoral systems have usually proved one of the most stable democratic institutions. Minor tinkering with the rules and regulations concerning the administration of elections has been common, including amendments to the laws governing election broadcasts, financial disclosure, or constituency redistricting. In the post-war period countries have occasionally switched electoral formulas between d'Hondt and LR-Hare, adjusted the effective threshold for election, and expanded their assembly size (Lijphart, 1994). Yet until recently wholesale and radical reform of the basic electoral system --meaning the way votes are translated into seats -- has been relatively rare. The most significant exception to this rule is France, which has vacillated between proportional and majoritarian systems. In their classic work on electoral cleavages Lipset and Rokkan (1967) described the party system in Western Europe in the 1960s as "frozen" in the mould established at the turn of the century with the enfranchisement of the working class. In a similar way, until recently electoral systems in liberal democracies seemed set in concrete. The parties in government generally favored and maintained the status quo from which they benefited. The critical voices of those parties or out-groups systematically excluded from elected office rarely proved able to amend the rules of the game. This stability suggests that electoral systems are inherently conservative. Nevertheless institutions have the capacity to experience a radical breakdown following shocks to their external environment. In Krasner’s model of 'punctuated' equilibrium, institutions are characterized by long periods of stasis, which are interrupted by intermittent crisis, which may bring about abrupt change, after which inertia again reasserts its grip (Krasner, 1993). Where radical reforms are implemented these may produce unexpected results. For example the widespread adoption of primaries in the United States in the late sixties produced unintended consequences, or failed to achieve their initial objectives (Polsby, 1983). In the last decade significant challenges to government legitimacy fuelled the issue of electoral reform. The issue of electoral reform has become the subject of serious debate in Britain, with all the parties except the Conservatives favoring alternative systems to first-past-the-post for different levels of government (Norris, 1995; Blackburn, 1995). In 1993, after almost a century and a half of first-past-thepost, New Zealand switched to a mixed-member system (MMS) (Vowels, 1995). New Zealand had long experienced a two-party system. In contrast 34 parties, resulting in the election of six and a coalition government, contested the first contest under MMS, held in 1996. The United States has experienced growing interest in electoral reform, generated by increasing concern about the representation of women and ethnic minorities (Rule and Zimmerman 1992), and the obstacles to third parties symbolized by Perot’s run for the presidency (Rosen stone, Beer and Lazarus 1996). Yet dissatisfaction has not been confined to majoritarian systems. In 1992 Israel introduced direct elections for the prime minister (Diskin and Diskin, 1995) while the following year Italy, long seen as an exemplar of proportional representation, adopted a mixed system after prolonged debate (Donovan, 1995). At the same time there has been a wave of constitution-building following the explosion of new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa (Huntington, 1993). In these states the choice of an electoral system generated heated debate, which needed to be resolved before other...
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