Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The List - 2014 German voting roundup part II

We have highlighted the tremendous importance of the humble list before.

A reminder: Lists are what makes us human, for better or for worse.
Not language, not tool use, not empathy -- many other animals have those.

In German elections, lists are the vehicle of power in the proportional representation system.

Getting a safe spot on "the list" can be called the single determining factor of a career in politics and access to the cash, any cash, that comes with it. Exceptions exist where a candidate gets elected in the "simple majority" head to head part of the vote. Every district has a winner takes all setup, very much like you know from the U.S., individuals from different parties run against each other, winner goes to Berlin.

The overall distribution of seats is done by the proportion of votes going to "the list".  The backroom deals, protegee and nepotism machinations, it happens around the rank on the list. While different parties go about their list-making in slightly different ways, the backroom deals are still how most roll.

To demonstrate that they submit to the choice of the people, the figure heads of the mainstream parties will be put up in a head to head district challenge against generally lesser known opponents.

To bolster the chances of, say, the current chief of Party A to win a district seat by straightforward majority poll, the chief is given a district leaning towards Party A.

To really ensure the chief gets into parliament, he or she is also put in the No. 1 list spot.

Making it next to impossible for voters to get rid of an incumbent from the CDU/CSU or SPD, and giving chiefs of small parties a good shot, too.

For the full time political jobs that come with good money (state, national, EU) this is how the system works.*

We certainly enjoy a bit of "everything is getting worse these days" doom and gloom but there is progress all around us, and here is one example.

Local and county elections have seen substantial changes in Germany since re-unification.
Ranked choice voting has swept the country. Town councils and country boards are where ranked choice voting plays out. There is no "write in" vote.

Here is how ranked choice voting works in our state or town council.

Say there are 9 seats on the town council, and three parties are in the race. Each party will present a list with 9 names, one for each seat in the event of a mother of all landslide victories. Let's say each party got a third of the votes last time, making list spots 1 to 3 the safest bets for the current poll.

Each voter gets 9 votes. The voter can follow the "party recommendation" and tick a box at the very top to give all the votes to that party and accept the list as ranked.

Or the voter can give up to 3 votes each to any individual candidate of any party standing in the election.

Under the traditional system there was 1 vote for the list, end of story. Nobody at the end of the list would get into office. Candidates would have to work the backrooms and hope for a better spot in a few years time.

Under the new system, even the number 10 candidate can land a seat if enough voters use their ranking power.

The 2014 cycle held on the same day as the EU elections has shown voters use this power.

The good news: 
Some "also rans" displaced "safe" candidates.

The bad news: 
Some politicians found a sweet way to spin losses. Experienced politicians lament that young hopefuls were in some instances relegated from a safe place to a "better luck next time" place on the list.

Which allows party establishment to have their cake and eat it too. By putting some unknowns higher up the list without promoting these candidates in the media and in campaign speeches, the reigning alpha males (or females) can still make the cut, although the absolute certainty of old is gone.
The new candidates they really, really want to win get face time and photos with the big boys, and lots of praise at rallies, which is enough for a good showing in most cases.

How likely is it that voters will be given ranked choice voting in state, national, and EU elections that come with a monthly stipend of 5000 to 10 000 Euros plus pension?

We like the idea our MPs are compensated well to vote as their conscience alone tells them to and are aware that "the list" may set different priorities for that conscience, so, please, don't raise the envy thing, thanks.

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