Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Electoral Alternatives

As you all know, I personally believe that the future of the Jewish State of Israel is dependent upon a radical change of political process. The first step of which is making elected officals accountable to their electorate. Benyamin Natanyahu recently decided to ride this hobby horse, hopefully rightfully believing that a broad spectrum of people are interested in a significant change.

He has espoused the possibility of a two tiered house (similar to the Palestinians!) where a certain percentage of the members are elected as representatives of specifics riding while the balance are still elected by their political affiliation (i.e. party).

Just to broaded the perspectives I thought it might be valuable to explore other alternatives. I bring here some ideas from an article by Prfessor Paul Eidelberg, "Making Votes Count - They Don’t in Israel"

Voting for Candidates and/or Party Lists

As indicated above, the voters of different countries, and even of the same country, have different ways to vote. In a single-ballot system the voters vote just once. In multiballot systems two or more rounds of voting may be entailed. (In many countries a run-off election is required when no candidate receives a majority of votes cast in the initial ballot.)

Sometimes citizens vote for candidates only, sometimes for party lists only, and sometimes they have the option to do either or both. The number of candidate votes (i.e., votes cast for individual candidates) each voter possesses can range from one to the total number of candidates competing. The same holds for the number of list votes each voter possesses.

An exclusive candidate vote is one that benefits only the candidate for whom it is cast, and never transfers to any other vote total that is used for seat allocation. Single exclusive votes are cast in Anglo-American single-member districts as well as in Antigua and India.

A nonexclusive candidate vote, in addition to appearing in the vote total for the candidate for whom it is cast, also affects other vote totals used in the allocation of legislative seats. There are three main types of nonexclusive vote in current use: (1) the transferable vote, which transfers to the vote total of another candidate; (2) the pooling vote, which transfers to the vote total of the party list to which the candidate originally voted for belongs; and (3) the fused vote, which simultaneously affects the vote totals of candidates running for two or more different offices.

Preferential Vote

(1) The transferable vote system, also called the “Preferential Vote,” is used in Australia, Ireland, Malta, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Here is how it works for Australia’s House of Representatives: As in single-member plurality elections used in the United States and Great Britain, elections are held in single-member districts, but the voter is required to rank ALL candidates seeking election, from first to last. “The returning officer first sorts the ballot papers according to which candidate is ranked first. If at this stage any one candidate has a majority of the votes, he or she is declared elected. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest first-place preferences is declared defeated. The returning office then transfers the votes of the defeated candidate’s supporters to whichever of the remaining candidates they have marked as their next preference, again checking to see if any candidate has achieved a majority of all the votes. This process continues until some candidate does attain a majority, whereupon he or she is declared elected.”

Of relevance to Israel, the Preferential Vote system “allows small parties to document their contribution to a large party’s success. It is thus possible, even for parties that virtually never win seats on their own, to play a significant role.” In fact, by issuing “how to vote cards,” urging its supporters to adopt a particular ranking of candidates below first, a minor party can be instrumental in deciding which major party shall head the government!

In a real way, Israel was locked into its current system as a way of transferring the political process (read Zionist Congress) from overseas to Israel. In the pre-state reality of a Jewish community which resembled more a checker board than a continguous entity, no other "democractic" framework was really viable. It also offered the niche populations like the kibbutz movement (3% to 5% of the population) and the various religious "movements" to have representation in the Israeli parliament.

Whether this is necessary today, or even constructive is perhaps the question of the hour. I contend that Israel has outgrown the current system and needs to reevamp the electoral system to meet the challenges of an existing state with divergent populations and regional needs, something a "centralized" system cannot hope to adequately meet.

Pooling System

(2) The pooling vote system, used in Finland and Poland, may also be relevant to Israel. Here is how it works in Finland: Voters cast their votes for individual candidates. Once cast, however, these votes are “pooled,” since candidates join together in party lists. Parliamentary seats are allocated to lists before they are allocated to candidates, on the basis of list vote totals arrived at by summing the votes of all candidates within the list. Notice, however, that in Finland, unlike in Israel, party lists are not fixed, since the voters vote for individual candidates. But whether a particular candidate will be elected depends on the vote totals of his party’s list as well as on the vote totals of other candidates on that list.

If I believed in non-representational elections, which I do not as I feel the major lack in today's system is "accountability", something obtainable (if at all) only if a specific member of parliament knows which boby of people he requires to be reelected, this would be my choice. A kind of primary-election-in-one (although I would hope the party choose its list according to interal (primaries) vote).

Fused Vote

(3) By a fused vote, used in Uruguay, Bolivia, and Honduras, voters cast a single vote for a slate that includes candidates for the presidency as well as candidates for the Senate and the lower house. Split-ticket voting — supporting one party’s presidential candidate while voting for another’s congressional candidates (as in the U.S.) — is thus not possible.lit-ticket voting was made possible in Israel in 1996 when, for the first time, the prime minister was directly elected by the people. Citizens could then vote for one party’s candidate for prime minister while voting for another party’s candidates for the Knesset. This is precisely why the religious parties won 23 seats in that election, seven more than in the previous 1992 Knesset election. (Hitherto, many voters, who identified with Shas or Mafdal, cast their votes for the Likud because they did not want Labor to win, either because of its secular orientation or land-for-peace policy.) What is astonishing, and what attests to the poor quality of higher education in Israel, is that Labor MK Yossi Beilin, a political scientist, advocated popular election of the Prime Minister in the belief that it would diminish the power of the religious parties!

Yes Batya, there is no perfect system of governing large modern states.
There are, of course, many problems attending district elections (which do not deter the 74 countries that have them). Space permits only a brief summary. One problem usually associated with district elections is gerrymandering. The Single Transfer Vote System (STV) used for electing Australia’s Senate precludes this problem.[3] To digress for a moment, STV may be ideal for Israel since it involves preferential voting and proportional representation (PR) in multi-member districts. Of course PR requires an electoral threshold. Contrast Israel’s 1.5% threshold with that of other countries. In Argentina, only parties whose votes exceed 3% of the number of registered electorate are eligible to receive seats. In Greece, only lists that get at least 3% of the national vote are eligible to receive seats in districts having more than two representatives. In Sweden a party must either exceed 4% of the national vote or its list in the constituency must exceed 12% of the constituency vote. Germany’s 5% threshold is exceeded by little Liechtenstein’s threshold of 8%. Finally, in some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, joint lists face higher threshold requirements than single-party lists.

So what are the advantages of representative elections?

Needless to say, district elections generate local parties. How these would relate to national parties in Israel is problematic. Since a winner-take-all election for the premiership tends to generate a national two-party system, over the years a two-party system on the national level may diminish the number of parties on the local level. Much will depend on campaign financing laws, distinctive sectional interests, civic education and the felt sense of national priorities.

District elections obviously entail decentralization of power. Also, district elections, especially with residency requirements, strengthens the “representational bond” between parliamentarians and voters. Although this would make a Knesset Member (MK) more dependent on his constituents, it would also enable him to establish a local power base that would render him more independent of the national party. He could then resist government policies he deems unwise or pernicious without committing political suicide — the lot of MKs today. What this means is that a legislator, in deciding how to vote on a particular issue, will be able to make a balanced judgment between the views of his constituents, the position of his party, and what he himself deems right or expedient.

Moreover, the independence Knesset Members gain from district elections will enable that body to exercise the vital function of administrative oversight. Precisely because fixed party lists transform would-be legislators into apparatchiks, MKs lack the wherewithal to scrutinize the bureaucracy headed by their party bosses, the ministers of the cabinet. This is why the annual State Comptroller Reports are replete with evidence of official corruption and of violations of the law, only to be swept under the rug by the Knesset. But this means that ordinary citizens have no outlet or effective spokesman for the redress of their grievances. It means that dishonesty and injustice persist without remedy. But this makes Israeli democracy a sham. Without some form of district elections, representative democracy is virtually impossible.[4]

If you have any thoughts on this subjectr, please feel free to share them with me. I intend to launch a site www.OrangeRevolution.net to explore the vision of a better Israel, one truer to its original intent - a homeland for the Jewish People.

Please view also an article by Zeev, "Israeli Perspectives" on the "Value of Democracry in a Jewish State".