The CEC abdicates its duty 中選會推動票票不等值原則

The Central Election Commission has abdicated its legal responsibility to oversee the drawing of fair district for elections to the Legislative Yuan. There are at least three cities in which population growth since the districts were drawn in 2007 has created large disparities in population between different districts in the same city. The law says that districts should be redrawn every ten years precisely to adjust for things like population growth, but the Central Election Commission has chosen simply to keep the old districts. In the bill it sent to the legislature on May 29, it proposed no changes in New Taipei and Taipei Cities and only a minor and inconsequential change in Taichung. With this egregious violation of the principle of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value,” the CEC has failed to uphold its public duty.

 

To be clear, I am not talking about apportionment to different cities and counties. That is a separate question, and frankly the differences between the various options on the table are small. The CEC’s press release stressed the apportionment, and the media is following that lead. Most news stories today are about Pingtung losing a seat or Hsinchu County gaining a seat. I am talking about a different – and much more consequential – topic. After eight seats are apportioned to Taichung City, for example, eight districts must be drawn. I’m talking about the drawing, not the apportioning. This latter process has gone wrong, and the media is completely missing the story.

 

Redistricting is based on the Civil Servants Election and Recall Law (see here for entire text in English and Chinese). The two important articles are Article 35 and Article 37. Article 35 says that electoral districts should be reconsidered every ten years, and any necessary adjustments should be made according to the guidelines in Article 37 (每十年重新檢討一次,如有變更之必要,應依第三十七條第三項至第五項規定辦理). Article 37 says that the Central Election Commission has the duty to draw a draft plan for electoral districts to send to the legislature (由中央選舉委員會劃分). The districts should “be divided with consideration of the administrative regions, population distribution, geographical environment, traffic conditions, historical origins, and the quota of electees” (前項選舉區,應斟酌行政區域、人口分布、地理環境、交通狀況、歷史淵源及應選出名額劃分之。).

In 2005, when it had to draw all the districts for the first time, the CEC issued a set of guidelines interpreting these laws. There were three main tenets. First, within each city or county, districts should not deviate from the mean population by more than 15% (每一選舉區人口數與各該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數,相差以不超過百分之十五為原則). Second, townships should not be divided unless their population exceeded 115% of the mean; otherwise all of a township should be entirely contained within a single electoral district (單一鄉(鎮、市、區)其人口數達該直轄市、縣(市)應選名額除人口數之平均數以上者,應劃為1個選舉區). Third, if it was necessary to divide a township, they should use tsun or li as the subunit; tsun or li were not to be divided (必要時,得分割同一鄉(鎮、市、區)行政區域內之部分村里(村里不得分割)).

The CEC guidelines also fleshed out the process. Each city or county election commission was instructed to draft a plan, and this should be submitted to the CEC by the end of March (各直轄市、縣(市)立法委員選舉區,先由各直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會研擬劃分草案及理由,於95年3月底前報中央選舉委員會). The CEC would then organize a districting committee to draft a bill to send to the legislature by the end of May, taking the drafts from local election commissions along with suggestions from legislators as a reference (本會組成立法委員選舉區劃分專案小組,參考直轄市、縣(市)選舉委員會之選舉區劃分草案,擬具立法委員選舉區劃分建議案,於95年5月底前提報本會委員會議審議). (These guidelines can be found in 第七屆立法委員選舉暨全國性公民投票案第3、第4案實錄, page 106).

I’ve been very careful to list the legal foundations because I want to stress several points. First, all districts are supposed to be reconsidered every ten years. Second, equal population is clearly listed as one of the criteria for drawing acceptable districts. Third, the CEC is given the legal responsibility to draft a bill to send to the legislature.

It has been suggested to me that the ten-year clause applies only to apportioning seats, not to adjusting seats within a city or county. There is some legal gray area here, since the rest of Article 35 deals with apportionment. However, I believe that this argument will not hold up to scrutiny. By this argument, it is unnecessary to adjust electoral districts no matter how lopsided the population distribution becomes as long as the city or county never gains or loses a seat.  The constitutional principle of equality requires some respect for ideal of “one person, one vote, each vote with equal value” (一人一票,票票等值). At some point, deviations in population must be addressed. If so, there is no reason not to address them when all districts are reconsidered every ten years.

It has also been suggested to me that the CEC doesn’t have the authority to (a) force a local election commission to propose a new plan or (b) reject a plan proposed by a local election commission because it violates the 15% rule. These are clearly wrong. The law delegates power to the CEC and does not mention any local election commission. The CEC set up its own internal rules, asking local election commissions to present drafts. However, the CEC’s rules made it perfectly clear that it would only “reference” those drafts when preparing its bill for the legislature. The CEC absolutely has the authority to reject a local draft.

Finally, I want to ask why the 15% threshold is sacred. It isn’t. The 15% threshold was adopted by the CEC in 2005 apparently without any public debate. As far as I know, no rationale was ever publicly provided. Nevertheless, the law requires that district designers take population distribution into account, and this was the guideline adopted. If you believe 15% is the wrong number, you still have to propose some guideline for taking population distribution into account. As a practical matter, 15% proved to be entirely workable. In 2007, it proved possible to draw all districts while respecting the 15% guideline and still respecting historical origins, traffic patterns, administrative districts, etc. It is still workable today; I could easily draw all the districts without violating the 15% guideline. 15% has proven to be flexible enough, and existing rules generally should not be changed without a good reason. At any rate, 15% is the guideline that the CEC itself set up, and now it has apparently decided – with no explanation at all – to ignore that guideline.

 

How bad are the current districts? In some cases, one voter’s ballot is worth 1.60 times as much as another voter’s ballot in the same city. These differences will get larger over time. The fastest growing areas already have the largest populations, so population growth will increase disproportionality over the next few years. If the districts are not adjusted for another three terms, some districts will probably have twice as many voters as others by the time the next redistricting occurs in 2031.

I can’t give exact numbers for Taipei since I can’t find the indigenous population figures for tsun and li in Nov 2017. The Taipei numbers are estimates, but they are probably not wrong by much. Red numbers are violations of the 15% threshold.

Six districts violate the 15% threshold, and another three districts are very close to that limit. There is no reason for such enormous population differences in so many districts. In New Taipei, District 1 has 1.60 times as many people as District 6. In Taichung, District 5 has 1.60 times as many people as District 8, and the second biggest district, District 7, has 1.45 times as many people as the second smallest district, District 1. In Taipei, District 4 is estimated to have 1.34 times as many people as District 7. To put that another way, compared to New Taipei District 1, every two people in Districts 6, 7, or 9 get three votes. Some people have much more valuable votes than others do.

(Taoyuan is fine, so it was reasonable for them to keep their existing districts. I assume most other places that kept their old districts are also fine, but I have not checked yet. I also have not looked at the new districts in Tainan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, and Hsinchu yet.)

 

New Taipei: mean=327579

New Taipei 1 421744 +28.7%
New Taipei 2 351193 +7.2%
New Taipei 3 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 4 360558 +10.1%
New Taipei 5 312074 -4.7%
New Taipei 6 263128 -19.7%
New Taipei 7 284186 -13.2%
New Taipei 8 316314 -3.4%
New Taipei 9 290712 -11.3%
New Taipei 10 345923 +5.6%
New Taipei 11 339628 +3.7%
New Taipei 12 303847 -7.2%

 

Taichung: mean=343911

Taichung 1 271558 -21.0%
Taichung 2 362357 +5.4%
Taichung 3 317986 -7.5%
Taichung 4 392303 +14.1%
Taichung 5 418126 +21.6%
Taichung 6 332553 -3.3%
Taichung 7 394972 +14.8%
Taichung 8 261436 -24.0%

 

Taipei: mean=327579

Taipei 1 (estimate) 341325 +2.4%
Taipei 2 (estimate) 328926 -1.3%
Taipei 3 (estimate) 357159 +7.1%
Taipei 4 (estimate) 406070 +21.8%
Taipei 5 (estimate) 303070 -9.1%
Taipei 6 (estimate) 308788 -7.4%
Taipei 7 (estimate) 302962 -9.1%
Taipei 8 (estimate) 318840 -4.4%

 

Taoyuan: mean=353118

Taoyuan 1 (estimate) 385916 +9.3%
Taoyuan 2 (estimate) 362369 +2.6%
Taoyuan 3 (estimate) 349239 -1.1%
Taoyuan 4 (estimate) 356003 +0.8%
Taoyuan 5 (estimate) 335798 -4.9%
Taoyuan 6 (estimate) 329386 -6.7%

 

Why didn’t they adjust the districts? This is not a pro-DPP or pro-KMT manipulation. It is a pro-incumbent manipulation. Incumbents want to keep their existing districts where they have spent years building up their mobilization networks. They don’t want to be exposed to new voters. They especially fear that they might be challenged by politicians who have better connections to those new voters.

It’s not surprising that legislators don’t want to change. But democracy isn’t set up to make things easier for politicians. Voters generally want politicians to be worried about public opinion. We want them to worry about being responsive to popular demands and to spend lots of energy doing constituency service. We don’t want complacent and entrenched politicians who are impossible to kick out of office. The point of democracy is for voters to choose politicians, nor for politicians to choose voters.

This is precisely why the law gives the power to draft a districting bill to the Central Election Commission. Individual legislators do not have the formal right to draw their own districts. Unlike legislators, the CEC is supposed to care about maintaining a fair playing field by insisting on respecting principles such as equal population. If they don’t do it, no one will. Not only does the CEC have the power to insist on following even population guidelines, it has the obligation to do so. It is precisely the institutional body entrusted with that task.

 

Instead, the CEC has abdicated its duty. Today, it deserves round condemnation and universal scorn. It blindly and obediently went along with legislators’ schemes to entrench themselves at the expense of the general populace. The CEC has failed us.

2 Responses to “The CEC abdicates its duty 中選會推動票票不等值原則”

  1. Michael Stainton Says:

    You need to get some academics and a “social movement” rep to hold a press conference about this. Maybe the New Power Party?

    The disparity in size between districts in growing urban areas and areas with stable population or rural districts with declining population is a problem in Canada as well. My own Toronto suburban riding was (maybe still is) the largest by population in Canada, with over twice the population of many rural and small city areas in Canada. At least Taiwan does not have the problem of vast areas of almost empty land!

    And the there is the USA which in its electoral districting is the worst negative example of perversions of democracy, as the US often is.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      The New Power Party benefits from this too. An equitable scheme in Taichung would affect everyone’s district, and there is a good chance Hung Tsu-yung’s district could be cut into two or three pieces. The current proposal is an incumbent protection scheme, and it protects all incumbents from all three parties that hold district seats.

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