Brief review of constituent assembly electoral system


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This is in response to Matthew Shugart's comment/question from this previous post on Bolivia's constituent assembly election. I now have a free moment to give a slightly better (i.e. clearer) account of the upcoming election. First, some background.

Since 1994 (first used in the 1997 election), Bolivia has used a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. That means that roughly half the lower house (the House of Deputies) are elected in first-past-the-post single member districts, while the rest are elected from party lists in nine multi-seat districts (the departments) using proportional representation. (For you electoral system nerds, specifically D'Hondt PR w/ a 3% electoral threshold.)

The single-seat districts are known as distritos circunscripciones uninominales in Bolivia. The department-wide districts are known as distritos circunscripciones plurinominales.

In the constituent assembly, the compromise (after several different proposals) was to elect FIVE delegates from each department (cf. distrito circunscripcion plurinominal) & THREE delegates from each distrito circunscripcion uninominal. Of course, it's not "literally" a "uninominal" district if it elects more than one delegate, but here we mean that they correspond to the electoral districts used to elect uninominal deputies during general elections. For reference, see the Ley Convocatoria.

As for the electoral formula. The ballot for the constituent assembly will resemble the ballots in general elections. This is good, since voters are familiar w/ the structure.

Here's a sample ballot (from La Paz). The top part is for the "plurinominal" (department-wide) candidate lists; the bottom part is for the "uninominal" candidate lists. Each voter will cast one vote for each portion of the ballot (voters can cross-vote). Essentially, voters are voting for two parallel sets of lists, not for individual candidates.

Seats will be awarded using a pretty simple formula. In the "uninominal" districts, the list w/ the most votes wins two seats; the list w/ the second-most votes wins the remaining seat. No other lists win seats. In the "plurinominal" districts, the list w/ the most votes wins two seats, w/ one seat each for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place lists. In the case that the 4th or 3rd place lists don't win at least 5% of the vote, the top two parties will split up the remaining votes. See Article 14 in the Ley Convocatoria.

All in all, I think this electoral system is pretty simple, and not an entirely radical change from the current MMP system. I also think it might correct for some of the problems of first-past-the-post uninominal districts (where many candidates win w/ only 18-22% of the district's votes).

NOTE 1: Yes, I realize that the ballot includes the photos of individual candidates, so it seems that voters are actually voting for "individual" candidates. But the photo corresponds only to the titular candidate on each list. So the department-wide UN list in La Paz is headed by Samuel Doria Medina. But you'll notice that there are three other names below his. Also note that different parties have presented a different number of candidates on each list. Based in large measure on how many maximum seats they hope to win. Though I'm not sure why any list includes five names, since even in a blowout, no party could possibly win all five seats.

NOTE 2: Eduardo corrects me that the uninominal districts are usually referred to as circunscripciónes uninominales (not distritos). So perhaps to avoid confusion I should note that parties will present two slates of candidates: one for departamentos & the other for circunscripciones. But since the law officially calls both circunscripciones, it's just all a mess. My error, btw, was in thinking English & translating to Spanish (district = distrito). Mea culpa.

Posted by Miguel at 05:12 PM


I think the extra names are "just in case". I mean if the first four get hit by a bus, it's always nice to have a 5th alternate.

Posted by: eduardo at April 14, 2006 12:09 AM

Come to think of it, I think theoretically if the 2nd place list doesn't pass 5% of the vote, then all the seats would go to the 1st place list (assuming it passes the 5% threshold). The Ley Convocatoria only stipulates that the threshold applies to the 3rd and 4th place lists ... but one can assume a threshold is a threshold is a threshold.

Otherwise, I really think it's just a way for parties to put names on ballots (to appease their rank & file members who want some recognition).

Posted by: mcentellas [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2006 12:28 AM

So, it looks superficially like the congressional system, but isn't. From your description, it appears there is no linkage between the tiers. Am I interpreting correctly? That is, the system is not overall proportional within each of the 9 regional districts (corresponding to the congressional plurinominales), corect? The two tiers are allocated separately (in 'parallel'), if I am following your description.

This would be a fairly disproportional system, or at least one with an ambiguous relationship between votes and seats.

Off-thread: congrats, Miguel, on your good personal news!

Posted by: Matthew Shugart at May 1, 2006 07:52 PM