Archive for the ‘electoral system’ Category

Apportionment Formula, Act Three

July 25, 2017

This is a continuation of my last post. If you haven’t read that one, you might want to go back and read it first. You could probably understand most of this without reading it, but you wouldn’t have that warm feeling that comes with a fuller understanding of a topic.

 

Act Three: The political machinations

 

There is a prologue to this post. In 2010, Taiwan carried out an administrative reform increasing the number of direct municipalities from two to five. As I discussed in the last post, under the old boundaries Kaohsiung City and County had both rounded up and gotten a total of nine seats while both Tainan City and County had rounded down and only gotten five seats. When the units were combined and the apportionment formula recalculated, the new Kaohsiung should only have eight seats and the new Tainan should get six. The wily Kaohsiung politicians did not like the prospect of losing a seat, so they introduced a bill to freeze the districts for ten years rather that reapportioning every cycle, as had always been the practice. Like the USA, Taiwan would now only carry out redistricting once every ten years. (Never mind that Taiwan doesn’t base its population statistics on the decennial census like the USA does or that since Taiwan has a four-year cycle it doesn’t even have elections on the tenth year.) Since a lot of other legislators were not crazy about the possibility of adjusting to a new set of voters, the bill sailed through the legislature. Kaoshiung cleverly stole a seat from Tainan, and it has kept this extra seat for the past two terms. Now the ten-year reprieve is up, and reapportionment is due. The time has come for Kaohsiung to finally lose that extra seat.

Apparently Kaoshiung politicians are not going to just sit by and let that happen. They tweaked the rules once to keep their extra seat, so maybe they can do it again. The mechanism they have seized upon this time is the apportionment formula. Someone noticed that the Central Election Commission changed the apportionment formula in 2006 and that under the previous formula Kaohsiung would have kept its ninth seat. All the news reports point to demands for the CEC to reconsider the formula as coming from Kaoshiung, particularly from legislator Chen Chi-mai. Chen is one of the sharper members of the legislature and he is angling to succeed Chen Chu as mayor, so I’m not terribly shocked to see that he is the one who came up with a credible plan to protect Kaohsiung’s ninth seat. This is not necessarily a DPP power grab; I have been told that KMT legislator Huang Chao-shun might also be one of the primary conspirators.

(There is a possibility that I am responsible for this whole thing since I wrote a post in March pointing out the formula had changed and that the old formula would have given Kaohsiung an extra seat. I have no evidence that some evil genius on Chen Chi-mai’s staff read that post and started evolving a scheme, but it is a plausible scenario. I prefer to think they dreamed it up independently. Otherwise I may have to be more careful in the future about my irresponsible musings on this blog.)

Let’s take a step back and look at the differences between the formulae. There are eight cities and counties that might experience a change from their current number of seats:

  2016 T7 T4 (June) T4 (Nov)
Taoyuan 6 6 6 7
Hsinchu Cn 1 2 2 1
Taichung 8 8 9 9
Nantou 2 2 1 1
Kaohsiung 9 8 9 9
Chiayi Cn 2 2 1 1
Tainan 5 6 6 6
Pingtung 3 2 2 2

No matter what, Tainan is going to finally get the sixth seat that it should have gotten back in 2012. This seat will be taken from Pingtung. From a partisan standpoint, this is means that one southern, mostly rural, deep green place will lose a seat to another southern, somewhat less rural, even deeper green place. It’s bad for Pingtung and good for Tainan, but there isn’t a lot of difference to the rest of us. Anyway, this change is set in stone, so this isn’t the part we should focus on.

Using current (June 2017) population data, the difference between the two formulae is that under the current formula (T7) Taichung and Kaohsiung will get eight seats while Chiayi County and Nantou will get two seats while under the previous formula (T4) Taichung and Kaohsiung will do better while Nantou and Chiayi County will do worse. However, the final apportionment will be done using November 2017 population figures, and, if current trends hold, T4 would also give Taoyuan another seat at the expense of Hsinchu County.

From a geographic standpoint, there isn’t a dramatic shift. One seat in north-central Taiwan (Hsinchu County) would be shifted slightly north to another place in north-central Taiwan (Taoyuan). One seat in central Taiwan (Nantou) would be shifted slightly northward within central Taiwan to (Taichung). And a seat in the south (Chiayi County) would be shifted slightly further south to Kaohsiung. It isn’t the case that the north would be getting three seats from the south or anything like that. The regional balance is basically unchanged.

There is slightly more effect from a partisan perspective, though again, it isn’t that big of a deal. Taoyuan is currently governed by the DPP while Hsinchu County is governed by the KMT, which makes it seem like a big deal to shift a seat from one to another. However, Taoyuan and Hsinchu County have historically voted in quite similar ways. If the KMT can’t dominate both areas, it isn’t coming back into power. The extra seat in Taoyuan might be in the fast growing areas around Taoyuan and Luzhu Districts, which the DPP has done particularly well in. However, a second seat in Hsinchu County would create a safe KMT seat centered around Zhudong and a very competitive seat centered around Zhubei. Overall, I consider shifting a seat from Hsinchu to Taoyuan to be at most a very minor DPP advantage. The story is roughly similar in central Taiwan. While Nantou is governed by the KMT and Taichung is governed by the DPP, the partisan difference between the two is not all that great. Moreover, the biggest beneficiary of a ninth Taichung seat might be KMT rising star Chiang Chi-chen, whose current district is dangerously green and also very small. With only eight seats, Chiang’s district will have to add a lot more green-leaning voters, making an already-challenging district nearly impossible. Again, shifting a seat from Nantou to Taichung is at best a minor DPP advantage. In the south, shifting a seat from Chiayi County to Kaohsiung is probably not very consequential. As things currently stand, both areas are completely dominated by the DPP. I think the KMT probably has a better chance of winning a district in Kaohsiung. Their best chance is in the Zuoying area with as few other voters added to Zuoying as possible. That is, the KMT would probably prefer to shift a seat from Chiayi County to Kaohsiung, though the advantage isn’t very large. Overall, there isn’t a whole lot of partisan impact. Changing from T7 to T4 might have a slight advantage to the DPP, but it probably isn’t worth losing sleep over.

The KMT representative at the CEC public hearing (Huang Teh-fu 黃德福) clearly didn’t see it that way. His arguments were unilaterally against the change. For whatever reason, he has decided the KMT is decidedly better off with the current formula than with T4. Huang is a top-notch brain, and it is quite possible that he is seeing something that I am missing.

Where there clearly is an impact of the proposed change from T7 to T4 is in the balance between urban Taiwan and rural Taiwan. All three shifts would be toward a more urban setting. The shift from Hsinchu County to Taoyuan would be only a modest increase in urban power (Zhubei is already pretty urban), but shifting as seat from Nantou to Taichung and especially from Chiayi County to Kaohsiung would be significant increases in urban political weight. The current apportionment formula is systematically biased against urban areas, so this would be a welcome adjustment. In the current system, the constitution gives extra representation (beyond what their population implies) to the east coast and the outlying islands. It further overrepresents indigenous voters, who are more rural than the rest of the population. As a result, cities are systematically underrerpresented. Taiwan’s main political cleavage isn’t centered on urban-rural divides or even on economic divides that might be related to urbanization, so the underrepresentation of urban areas doesn’t translate directly into an advantage for one party or the other. However, it does mean that progressive ideas (which tend to be centered in cities) such as marriage equality will face more obstacles than they should. Further, since clientelism tends to work best in rural areas, underrepresentation of urban areas arguably helps vote buying and factional politics survive. In Act Two of this post, I discussed malapportionment in general terms, noting that T4 is slightly fairer than T7. Here, I expand on that idea by pointing out that the specific form of malapportionment is to skew power toward rural voters. T4 would (somewhat) help redress that imbalance by transferring some power to urban voters.

 

This is all great, but what is actually going to happen? Will we get T7 or T4? After the CEC finishes its three public hearings, it will meet and decide to adopt one or the other. It will almost certainly opt for T7 since there is no real reason for it to want change. The CEC will especially want to reject the suggestion that it has been violating the constitution for the past three election cycles, and it has an interest in a depoliticized, stable process. What it does not want is pressure to rewrite the rules every election cycle.

After that, the legislators will get their chance. They can override the CEC’s decision by writing the formula into the election law. There isn’t a lot of time to get this done before the November deadline, but there is enough. A decade ago, Kaohsiung politicians quickly built a coalition to revise the law and protect their ninth seat, and now they need to do it again. We’ll see just how good Chen Chi-mai and his allies are at this game of politics.

I think they will probably succeed for the simple reason that the numbers should be in their favor. There are 23 legislators from Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Taoyuan but only 5 from Nantou, Chiayi County, and Hsinchu County. The legislators from Taichung and Taoyuan might not be aware that a seat is about to fall into their laps just yet, but this is not hard to explain. Once you make the effects clear to the legislators and voters from those three cities, it will be hard for any of the 23 legislators to oppose the change. He or she would have to explain to voters why it wasn’t important to protect their hometown’s interests. The Kaohsiung politicians also have an advantage when it comes to expanding beyond the initial 23-5. Their natural allies are the 20 legislators from Taipei and New Taipei who don’t benefit in this round but might benefit in the next reapportionment. T4 is clearly more advantageous to populous cities. That might seem to imply that T7 is better for small cities and counties, but that is not necessarily the case. The smallest cities and counties are guaranteed a seat by the constitution, and they aren’t going to get a second seat no matter what the formula is. The group of legislators with a direct interest in keeping T7 are those from smaller cities and counties that might actually lose a seat under T4, including Miaoli, Yunlin, Pingtung, and Changhua. That’s only 11 more votes. The enlarged potential coalitions are thus 43-16 in favor of T4. If the party leaderships stay out of the matter, that’s probably enough to pass an amendment. Surely the urban coalition could find a few allies among the party list representatives, most of whom are from urban areas.

The rural coalition’s best hope is probably to turn this into a partisan issue, accusing the DPP of manipulating the electoral rules to its own advantage. This might force the DPP leadership to intervene to snuff out the effort to amend the law in order to protect its own image. (Remember, there isn’t actually much of an advantage for the DPP or disadvantage for the KMT.) One of the KMT caucus leaders is already trying to do this. Several of the KMT floor leaders held a press conference lambasting the DPP for trying to manipulate the rules. You might notice that one of the KMT floor leaders is Lin Wei-chou 林為洲, who is from Hsinchu County (and is planning to run for county magistrate). He’s working hard to mobilize the KMT on his behalf. Another one of the KMT floor leaders is John Wu 吳志揚, a party list legislator from Taoyuan. Wu is the former Taoyuan County magistrate, and he is also maneuvering for the Taoyuan mayoral nomination. He might not realize yet that Taoyuan would directly benefit from T4. Once someone explains it to him, I’d be shocked if he continues to dance to Lin Wei-chou’s tune. If he has any political sense at all, he will insist that the KMT caucus should remain neutral on this question and leave the decision up to individual legislators. Otherwise, he’s going to have some questions to answer when Taoyuan voters ask him why they should vote for someone who wasn’t interested in defending Taoyuan. In short, the rural coalition’s best chance is to make this a partisan issue, but that will be very hard to do since many people within the KMT will favor T4.

In the end, I expect the legislator to amend the election law and write T4 into the law. I’m not terribly happy or unhappy about this. I would prefer a stable law that rarely changes, especially to benefit short term interests. However, I also place importance on equal representation, and I think underrepresentation of urban voters is a significant flaw in the current system. If I had a vote on the CEC I’d probably vote to keep T7, since the CEC’s primary responsibility is institutional stability and neutrality. If I had a vote in the legislature I’d probably vote for T4, since by that time the question has already been politicized and it is the responsibility of elected politicians to make the normative tradeoffs such as how much malapportionment is too much. Fortunately, I don’t have a vote in either body, so I can sit back and watch while other people make the choice.

Apportionment formula, Acts 1 & 2

July 19, 2017

A couple weeks ago, the Central Election Commission invited me to speak at a public hearing on changing the formula for apportioning legislative seats to the 22 cities and counties. I assume roughly half the people who read that first sentence are already nodding off to sleep. Let’s say that my reaction was exactly the opposite: my heart started pumping faster and my brain started racing. Change the formula! What in the world is going on!?!

I’m not quite sure how to best tell this story, so I guess I’ll tell it in three acts.

Act one: The technical details

Act two: The CEC public hearing and my testimony

Act three: The political machinations

 

Act one: the dry, boring, technical stuff that you need to understand everything else

 

Before the hearing, the CEC sent me an official notification of the meeting in which they laid out the reason for the meeting. The CEC is holding three public hearings in reaction to the demand from legislators, since legislators have raised concern that the current formula violates the constitution. The constitution sets out two criteria for allocating the 73 district seats: 1) every city and county should get at least one seat, and 2) the seats should be allocated according to the population of each city and county (not including the indigenous population, since they are represented by other legislators). The current formula uses a two stage process, and the legislators questioned whether the two stage process violates the second criterion. They suggested returning to an earlier formula which only uses one stage.

The current formula has been used for the three elections since 2008 (7th, 8th, and 9th Terms), so it has been dubbed the “7th Term Formula.” For simplicity, I’m going to label it T7. In T7, you take the national population and divide it by 73 to get a quota (Q1). Using June 2017 population, Q1=315019. There are six cities and counties whose population is less than one full quota, so we first give them each a seat (S1). Then the population of the other 16 cities and counties is summed and divided by 67 to obtain Q2=329837. This Q2 is used to apportion the remaining 67 seats. For every full quota, a city or county gets a seat (S2). If there are remaining seats after all the full quotas are allotted, they go to the cities or counties with the largest remainder (S3).

 

T7 Formula (using June 2017 population)

  Pop S1 Pop S2 R S3 S
total 22996448 6 22099102 60   7 73
Taipei 2673539   2673539 8 34843   8
New Taipei 3927273   3927273 11 299066 1 12
Taoyuan 2096623   2096623 6 117601   6
Taichung 2743103   2743103 8 104407   8
Tainan 1878892   1878892 5 229707 1 6
Kaohsiung 2744102   2744102 8 105406   8
Yilan 440228   440228 1 110391   1
Hsinchu Cn 528325   528325 1 198488 1 2
Miaoli 545096   545096 1 215259 1 2
Changhua 1278821   1278821 3 289310 1 4
Nantou 474319   474319 1 144482 1 2
Yunlin 690196   690196 2 30522   2
Chiayi Cn 507270   507270 1 177433 1 2
Pingtung 773446   773446 2 113772   2
Taitung 141245 1         1
Hualien 237493 1         1
Penghu 102908 1         1
Keelung 362548   362548 1 32711   1
Hsinchu Ci 435321   435321 1 105484   1
Chiayi Ci 268652 1         1
Kinmen 134527 1         1
Lienchiang 12521 1         1

 

The proponents of change want to go back to the formula used in the 1998, 2001, and 2004 elections, which I will label the “T4” formula. In T4, there is only one quota (Q=pop/seats=315019), which is identical to Q1 in the T7 formula. First apportion one seat to every city and county (S1), then if they have enough population for two or more full quotas, give them any additional full quotas (S2). Finally, allot the remaining seats according to the largest remainders (S3).

 

T4 Formula (using June 2017 population)

  Pop S1 S2 R S3 S
Total 22996448 22 46   5 73
Taipei 2673539 1 7 153387   8
New Taipei 3927273 1 11 147045   12
Taoyuan 2096623 1 5 206509   6
Taichung 2743103 1 7 222951 1 9
Tainan 1878892 1 4 303797 1 6
Kaohsiung 2744102 1 7 223950 1 9
Yilan 440228 1 0 125209   1
Hsinchu Cn 528325 1 0 213306 1 2
Miaoli 545096 1 0 230077 1 2
Changhua 1278821 1 3 18745   4
Nantou 474319 1 0 159300   1
Yunlin 690196 1 1 60158   2
Chiayi Cn 507270 1 0 192251   1
Pingtung 773446 1 1 143408   2
Taitung 141245 1       1
Hualien 237493 1       1
Penghu 102908 1       1
Keelung 362548 1 0 47529   1
Hsinchu Ci 435321 1 0 120302   1
Chiayi Ci 268652 1       1
Kinmen 134527 1       1
Lienchiang 12521 1       1

 

As you can see, the difference between the two formulae is not insignificant. In T7, Taichung and Kaohsiung both get 8 seats, while in T4 they get 9. In T7, Nantou and Chiayi County get 2 seats, but T4 only gives them 1 seat each.

To reiterate, the normative argument that proponents of T4 are pushing is that the two quotas (Q1 and Q2) in T7 are somehow violating the requirement that seats be apportioned according to population. Since the constitution and election law say nothing about discarding the populations of the small cities and counties and calculating a new quota, they argue that it is forbidden to do so.

Before we move on, there is one more (quite important detail). We are all using June 2017 data. However, according to the election law, seats are apportioned according to the population 26 months before the end of the term. That means that critical data is the November 2017 population. We still have five months to go. As my friend Donovan Smith keeps pointing out, Taichung is growing faster than Kaohsiung and is about to overtake it as Taiwan’s second largest city. For this exercise, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Taoyuan is growing fastest of all. Over the past year, Taoyuan has increased an average of a little more than 3000 people per month. By November, it should have at least 15000 more people. Right now, Taoyuan’s remainder is 206509. With another 15000, it will have a remainder of about 221000, which might even pass Kaohsiung for the fourth largest remainder. The loser will probably be Hsinchu County, which is growing by about 300 people per month. If you add 1500 people to its current remainder of 213306, it will be at about 215000, about 6000 behind by Taoyuan and Kaohsiung. Poor Hsinchu County! For a couple of years, it has been excited that it will get a second seat and now that second seat is about to be ripped away. Worse, nobody seems aware that this is happening. I also have no indication that the Taoyuan politicians are aware a seventh seat might fall into their lap.

From here there are two things that might happen. After the three public hearings, the CEC will assess the public feedback, hold a meeting, and vote on which formula to adopt. For reasons that I will delve into in Act Two, I’d be shocked if they didn’t vote to maintain the current formula (T7). Following that decision, the legislators have a choice. If they are dissatisfied with the CEC’s decision, they can choose to override it by writing the formula into the election law. I suspect most legislators will favor T4, and so this will be the eventual outcome. Those calculations are the subject of Act Three.

 

Act Two: The CEC public hearing

I’ve never been asked to speak at a public hearing before, so I really didn’t know quite what to expect. I was told that everyone would get only five minutes, with the possibility of another round if time permitted. Five minutes is not long, so I had to be concise. I think this is the shortest powerpoint presentation I’ve ever made. Here it is in its entirety.

Slide1

Slide2.PNGSlide3.PNG

Slide4

The first point is simple. Neither of these formulae violate the constitution. The constitution mandates the CEC to allot seats according to population, but there are many ways to do that. The constitution does not specify which formula to use, so the CEC has leeway to use its judgment as to which is the most appropriate. Every person who spoke today agreed on this point. In other words, we all explicitly rejected the current normative argument for changing from T7 to T4.

The second point is that there is, in fact, a solid normative argument to be made in favor of T4. T4 reduces the overall level of malapportionment relative to T7. My hope is that, since the politicians will probably continue to press for T4, I hope they will use this argument instead of the constitutional one. I’d like for all discussions of electoral system fairness to be conducted in terms of disproportionality.

I will say that one of the other scholars, Huang Kai-ping 黃凱苹 (NTU), and the KMT representative, Huang Teh-fu 黃德福 (who is also a political scientist and was one of my teachers two decades ago when I was a MA student at NCCU), disagreed with me about which system was fairer. They focused on comparing the four cities and counties that would change seats, looking at the ratios of voters in each one. For example, Huang Teh-fu, looked at the ratios of the each of the three larger districts to the smallest district among the four, adding up the differences to get a deviation index as follows:

T4 formula

  Pop Seats Ave Ratio Ratio-1
Taichung 2743103 9 304789 1.0000 .0000
Nantou 474319 1 474319 1.5562 .5562
Chiayi Cn 507270 1 507270 1.6643 .6643
Kaohsiung 2744102 9 304900 1.0004 .0004
Sum         1.2209

T7 formula

  Pop Seats Ave Ratio Ratio-1
Taichung 2743103 8 342887 1.4458 .4458
Nantou 474319 2 237159 1.0000 .0000
Chiayi Cn 507270 2 253635 1.0695 .0695
Kaohsiung 2744102 8 343012 1.4463 .4463
Sum         0.9616

As you can see, T4 yields a deviation index of 1.22, much higher than the T7 deviation index of 0.96. Huang’s conclusion was that T7 is fairer.

I have two responses to this. First, a deviation from the mean in Taichung is not equivalent to a deviation of equal magnitude in Nantou. In T7, Taichung has four times as many seats as Nantou, so a deviation of equal magnitude affects four times as many people in Taichung as in Nantou. If you think about the total number of people affected, it is more important that Taichung not be too far over or under whatever the fair number is than Nantou. Second, you should not consider the four cities and counties that will be affected in isolation. Malapportionment is a national level problem, and you have to look at it from a national perspective.

The standard measure used in the academic literature to measure is the Loosemore-Hansby Index, which considers the difference between how many seats each district should have according to its population and how many it actually has.

Taiwan has 79 nominal seats (73 district and 6 indigenous). I made a spreadsheet with 79 rows to calculate this index, but since that is a tad long I’ll just do one line for each county. Taipei has eight seats, so you should imagine eight identical rows for Taipei 1 through Taipei 8. (After the actual districts are drawn, Taipei 1-8 will each have a slightly different population, so each one will deviate slightly differently. This will increase the overall level of malapportionment slightly. For now, we will ignore that part.)

T7 Formula: modified Loosemore-Hansby Index

  S Ave Pop Exp obs Abs(diff)
Taipei 8 334192 0.0142 0.0131 0.0011
New Taipei 12 327273 0.0139 0.0130 0.0009
Taoyuan 6 349437 0.0148 0.0133 0.0015
Taichung 8 342888 0.0146 0.0132 0.0013
Tainan 6 313149 0.0133 0.0129 0.0004
Kaohsiung 8 343013 0.0146 0.0132 0.0013
Yilan 1 440228 0.0187 0.0145 0.0042
Hsinchu Cn 2 264163 0.0112 0.0122 0.0010
Miaoli 2 272548 0.0116 0.0123 0.0008
Changhua 4 319705 0.0136 0.0129 0.0006
Nantou 1 237160 0.0101 0.0119 0.0018
Yunlin 2 345098 0.0147 0.0133 0.0014
Chiayi Cn 1 253635 0.0108 0.0121 0.0013
Pingtung 2 386723 0.0164 0.0138 0.0026
Taitung 1 141245 0.0060 0.0107 0.0047
Hualien 1 237493 0.0101 0.0119 0.0018
Penghu 1 102908 0.0044 0.0102 0.0058
Keelung 1 362548 0.0154 0.0135 0.0019
Hsinchu Ci 1 435321 0.0185 0.0144 0.0041
Chiayi Ci 1 268652 0.0114 0.0123 0.0009
Kinmen 1 134527 0.0057 0.0106 0.0049
Lienchiang 1 12521 0.0005 0.0090 0.0085
Plains Indig 3 86959 0.0037 0.0100 0.0063
Mountain Indig. 3 98382 0.0042 0.0101 0.0059
Sum/2         0.0729

In Taipei, each of the eight districts has 334192 people, which is 1.42% of the total population of Taiwan. Since each Taipei district has 1.42% of the population, each should also have 1.42% of the representatives. What do they actually have? There are 113 legislators and each district gets one, so Taipei 1 has 1/113 of the representation. But wait, what should we do about the 34 party list legislators? We assume that they are perfectly apportioned to each district according to its population and thus do not create any further malapportionment. (This is the “modified” part of the modified Loosemore-Hansby Index.) Thus, Taipei 1’s total representation is (1/113) + (.0142*34/113). Taipei 1 thus has 1.31% of the total legislators, or somewhat power less than its 1.42% of the population would receive under perfect apportionment. The eight districts in Taipei are thus collectively underrepresented by 0.88% of the total legislature.

To get the total malapportionment, you add up the absolute value of all these deviances and divide by two. T7 will thus produce 7.3% malapportionment. What this means is that 7.3% of the seats in the legislature are apportioned to places that would not receive them under perfect apportionment. From a cross-national perspective, 7.3% is fairly high. When you consider that Taiwan is not federal system with an upper house (two factors that tend to be associated with higher malapportionment), Taiwan’s malapportionment problem is actually quite serious. I’ll skip the table for T4, but the answer is that T4 yields 6.7% malapportionment, or a slightly fairer outcome than T7. The difference is not enormous, but neither is it insignificant. If you care about malapportionment, T4 is better.

What’s going on with this? The essence of the problem is that the constitution requires a significant level of malapportionment. Politicians have made value judgments that it is important to overrepresent indigenous voters and voters from sparsely populated cities and counties. The six indigenous seats and six seats from cities and counties that are below the quota account for 6.3% malapportionment. That is, these voters are getting an extra 6.3% of the representation in the legislature beyond what their raw numbers would confer. Lianchiang County is the most extreme; it gets 0.90% of the power with only 0.05% of the population. Since the constitution mandates that these voters be overrepresented by 6.3%, voters in the other 67 districts must be underrepresented by 6.3%. Remember how Taipei is collectively underrepresented by 0.88%? In essence, Taipei is making up for Lianchiang’s 0.85% overrepresentation.

So why is T4 better than T7? In T4, other than the 12 constitutionally mandated overrepresented seats, there are also four other overrepresented districts (two in Miaoli and two in Hsinchu County). This means that in addition to making up the 6.3% deficit, the remaining 63 districts have to further give back an additional 0.4% of the total power. In T7, Nantou and Chiayi County both get two seats, making them overrepresented. This means that the remaining 59 districts now have to spit up 7.3% of the total power. Think about this from the perspective of Taichung. Under T4, Taichung gets 9 seats. Each of those nine seats accounts for 1.29% of the population but only gets 1.27% of the power. Under T7, Taichung gets only eight seats, each of which has 1.46% of the population but only 1.32% of the power. Taichung is already underrepresented under T4, but under T7 it becomes much more underrepresented.

(As noted above, if current population trends hold, T4 would take one seat away from Hsinchu County and give it to Taoyuan. This would reduce the malapportionment to 6.5%, an even fairer outcome. A reduction from 7.3% to 6.5% is not too shabby.)

 

Remember when I said my remarks at the CEC hearing were concise? Suffice it to say I didn’t have time to go into all that detail.

 

My third point was that T4 is vulnerable to a mathematical problem. If the populations are distributed just right, you can actually apportion more full quotas than there are seats. The slide gives an example of how you might apportion 74 seats with full quotas.

Now, this probably won’t happen. You need all the remainders to be pretty small. However, it isn’t impossible. I was able to manipulate the numbers to apportion 75 seats. And then with even further manipulation I got up to 76 seats. And in an extreme case, I got to 77. Theoretically, I think with six cities or counties below the quota, the absolute limit would be 78 seats. So 74 seats is quite possible, even if it isn’t likely. But as the world has seen repeatedly over the past couple years, improbable things happen all the time.

This isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw. As long as the bureaucrats are aware of the problem, they can write a rule for how to deal with it. The obvious fix is that the lowest remainder should lose a seat. However, you have to have this rule clearly spelled out in advance. Otherwise, if you try to tell a city that, even though it has a full quota for each seat, it isn’t getting all those seat, all hell will break loose. Remember, you can’t just compromise and allot 74 seats because the constitution clearly says that there will be exactly 73 district seats.

Fantastic! Now we are aware of the problem, and we can avoid the great constitutional crisis of 2037.

By the way, I suspect this mathematical vulnerability is probably the reason the CEC switched from T4 to T7 a decade ago.

 

My fourth point was a simple, normative point. In electoral systems, stability is a value. You shouldn’t change the rules of the game unless there is some compelling reason to think that the system is significantly unfair. The electoral rules are the playing field, and you shouldn’t modify the playing field for a particular party or area’s short-term interests. This time you lose; next time you might win. Populations grow or shrink in ways that are hard to predict. Further, it is entirely possible that we might have some administrative reform. Ten years ago, there were 25 cities and counties; now there are only 22. Ten years ago, Kaohsiung was a winner because it was still split into two pieces. Kaohsiung City had enough people for 4.7 seats and Kaoshiung County had enough for 3.8. Because they were independent, both numbers were rounded up. If they had been combined, as they were in 2010, Kaohsiung would have only had enough people for 8.5 seats, and this would not have been enough to get the 9th seat. Tainan had exactly the opposite situation. In 2006, Tainan County had the population for 3.4 seats, which Tainan City had enough for 2.4. Both remainders were too small to get an additional seat. After the two were combined in 2010, Tainan had enough people for 5.8 seats, so this time it will get a sixth seat. If you change the formula every time based on your immediate political interests, people will lose faith in the neutrality of the system.

 

You might have noticed that my four points don’t all point in the same direction. Points 1, 3, and 4 favor T7, while Point 2 favors T4. As a scholar, it isn’t my job to make the value judgement about which priority is most important. Rather it is my responsibility to point out whether the system has any serious flaws and what the impact of the various options might be. It’s up to the CEC and the legislators to make the value judgements.

(Don’t worry, I’ll take off my scholarly hat and tell you what I really think in Act Three. However, I’m too tired to write that story now.)

CEC hearing.php

Apportionment!

March 9, 2017

A few days ago, Mrs. Garlic looked up from the newspaper and said, “Here’s the story you keep blathering on about.” Liu I-chou 劉義周, head of the Central Election Commission, had said something about the upcoming legislative redistricting. Now, I’ve been chattering about redistricting for months (ok, a few years), so I eagerly picked up the story. My glee quickly turned to horror when I read that Tainan and Hsinchu County would get an additional seat and Kaohsiung and Pingtung would lose a seat each. Um, that’s not what I’ve been telling people for the past few months.

My initial reaction was to contact Dr. Liu, who I know better as a political scientist and my masters thesis advisor, to warn him that he had made a mistake. Hey, I just published one paper on redistricting and another on malapportionment, and I have been through those rules in excruciating detail. If anyone knows the rules, it should be me. However, doubt began to creep in, and I thought maybe I’d better check the rules one more time. So I looked up the documents and found a table (look on p 107) showing exactly how the apportionment had been done.

Well, isn’t this embarrassing. I’ve been doing it wrong. I omitted one step. I shouldn’t have doubted the excellent civil servants at the CEC. I really shouldn’t have doubted Dr. Liu. I guess the student isn’t the master just yet.

Taiwan uses a largest remainders system. You take the total population (minus the indigenous population) and divide by the number of seats to get a quota. In our case, the quota is 22,986,588/73=314,885. (These numbers are from December 2016. The apportionment will be done with August 2017 numbers, but it is highly unlikely that anything will change between now and then.) Every city or county with fewer than 314,885 people automatically gets one seat. There are six such places. Then take the remaining 16 cities and counties and get a new quota. ****This is the step I skipped.**** The new quota is 22088100/67=329673. For each full quota, a city gets one seat. New Taipei City can thus buy 11 full quotas (see column S2). We have now accounted for 66 seats. What about the remaining seven? To apportion those, you take what is left over for each city or county and give the seven largest remainders the last seven seats.

 

City pop S1 Pop2 S2 Remain S3 S
Total 22986588 6 22088100 60   7 73
新北市 3924326   3924326 11 297922 1 12
台北市 2679523   2679523 8 42138   8
桃園市 2077867   2077867 6 99828   6
台中市 2734190   2734190 8 96805   8
台南市 1878508   1878508 5 230142 1 6
高雄市 2745749   2745749 8 108364   8
宜蘭縣 440708   440708 1 111035   1
新竹縣 526274   526274 1 196601 1 2
苗栗縣 547911   547911 1 218238 1 2
彰化縣 1281569   1281569 3 292550 1 4
南投縣 476289   476289 1 146616 1 2
雲林縣 692532   692532 2 33186   2
嘉義縣 509510   509510 1 179837 1 2
屏東縣 776900   776900 2 117554   2
台東縣 141930 1         1
花蓮縣 238432 1         1
澎湖縣 102789 1         1
基隆市 362819   362819 1 33146   1
新竹市 433425   433425 1 103752   1
嘉義市 268826 1         1
金門縣 134109 1         1
連江縣 12402 1         1

 

Why did I take you through all that mess with such an emphasis on my stupid mistake? Hold on, there’s a point to this. But first, let’s see what would have happened in my alternate, error-ridden fantasy world. When you don’t calculate new quota but simply use the original quota (314885) to apportion seats, we get a different result. Pingtung, Nantou, and Chiayi County all lose a seat, and Tainan, Taichung, and Hsinchu County all gain a seat. Also, Kaohsiung gets to keep its 9th seat. The difference with the correct reapportionment is that two small counties (Chiayi and Nantou) would have lost a seat while two large cities (Taichung and Kaohsiung) would have gained a seat. Calculating a new, larger quota favors small counties.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate what could have been. (This still isn’t the big point.) I may have told a few Taichung politicians that they should start preparing for a ninth district. I even started drawing up some maps of what might happen. This is my favorite one. It meets all the formal criteria (all legislative districts are within 15% of the mean population and it doesn’t even need to split any administrative districts) and even a few of the evil political calculations. (Check out what it would do to Yen Kuan-heng!) Of course, if you have any local knowledge of Taichung, you will see in an instant that there is no way in hell this plan would ever be adopted. The deputy speaker, for one, might have some objections. (I promise this post wasn’t just a flimsy pretext to show everyone this picture that I spent a lot of time making and will never be able to use again. Well, maybe a little…)

Taichung 9D plan E

So after sulking for a while over my stupid error, I thought I’d go back and see what would have happened in previous elections if they had used my erroneous apportionment method. This is my idea of fun. Don’t judge me. Guess what I found. THEY CHANGED THE METHOD IN 2008!!!! In 2004, they used my method! Using the new method, Taipei County should have had 27 seats and Taoyuan should have had 14. But Taipei County actually got 28 seats and Taoyuan only had 13. My method yields the actual result.

Why did they change the formula? There were all sorts of little indications that the Chen administration had tried to influence the CEC’s decisions, so maybe the CEC was manipulating things for the DPP’s political advantage! Or maybe the CEC was stuffed full of career bureaucrats sympathetic to the KMT. Maybe it was a KMT plot! There’s only one way to find out. Which side benefited from the change? Who would have done better in 2008 using the original formula?

 

The answer is: no one. The 2008 apportionment would have been exactly the same using the old formula. The change had zero effect. Moreover, it isn’t as though 2008 was an aberration. The two formulae yielded exactly the same results in 1998 and 2001. 2004 was the only year it made a difference, and that difference was modest, to say the least. It’s a big deal if Nantou goes from one seat to two seats – it has doubled its clout. It’s not such a big deal for the largest county to get one more seat and the second largest county to get one less seat. In the old SNTV system, it is impossible to say if that helped the KMT, the DPP, or a small party.

I doubt the CEC made the change in 2006 or 2007 because it could foresee the effects in 2017. A lot has changed in the meantime. It’s hard to predict exactly how fast Hsinchu will grow or how fast Pingtung will lose population. Moreover, they would have had to guess that Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung Cities and Counties would merge. To put it another way, if I were given the opportunity to change the formula now to help one party in 2029, I’m not sure what I would do. Who can even say what the party system will look like then?

So why did they change the rule? My guess is that it was entirely apolitical. Some bureaucrat thought it would be fairer to apportion the last 67 seats according to their population rather than by taking into account the population of the six small counties. That bureaucrat probably had to propose a change, they probably held some meetings in which they discussed fairness and disproportionality, and they eventually rewrote the rule thinking it would probably never matter very much.

Only it has mattered. This year, two rural counties will double their representation. Because every county gets a seat and indigenous voters are given about 2.3 times as many seats as their population would merit, rural and agricultural areas are already overrepresented. This rule change furthers that overrepresentation. Sorry urban residents.

 

Let’s change gears and think like philosophers about fairness. Scratch that, let’s ask a question that economists would love. Is it fairer to have fixed prices or to allow competitive bidding?

Go back up to the table and look at Pingtung and Nantou. Pingtung has 776900 people, while Nantou has 476289. Even though Pingtung has far more people, both counties will get two legislators. Is that fair? Suppose the country only had these two counties. Should Nantou really get equal representation?

The CEC formula essentially uses fixed prices. Our new country, “Pingtou,” has 1253189 people, so a quota is 313297. Pingtung can afford two full quotas, and Nantou can afford one. After paying those prices, Pingtung has a remainder of 150306, while Nantou has a remainder of 162992. Nantou thus gets the last seat.

However, what if they could bid? Nantou could offer 476289 people for one seat or 238144 each for two seats. Pingtung, however, can offer 258966 each for three seats. Since Pingtung can offer more for the fourth seat, maybe it should get three seats and Nantou should only get one. Wait, now Pingtung gets three times as much power even though it has less than twice Nantou’s population? This is clearly unfair, and I’m not just saying that because I used to live in Nantou and my wife used to live in Pingtung.

I don’t have an answer to which system is fairer. Largest remainders systems, like the CEC method, tend to favor smaller areas. The divisor method used above is called the D’Hondt system, and it favors bigger areas. Before you put on your urban hat and decide that the D’Hondt method is clearly more progressive / pro-industry and therefore more desirable, please remember that these methods are most commonly used for allotting seats to party lists in PR elections, not apportioning seats to different regions. Hey Green Party apologist / Faith and Hope League zealot who can’t stand the sellouts in the establishment, now you probably think the largest remainder system, which is good for your crazy fringe party, is the best way to go.

Since I know you are dying to know, if we used the D’Hondt method to apportion the 73 seats, the big cities would do much better. New Taipei would get a 13th seat, and Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Taipei would all get a 9th seat. The mid-sized cities and counties including Taoyuan (6), Tainan (6), Changhua (4), Yunlin (2), and Pingtung (2) would be unaffected. The rest would only get one seat, which is not good news for Hsinchu County, Miaoli, Chiayi County, or Nantou. Power to the (urban) people!

 

As you’ve been reading along, I’d be willing to be that in each scenario, you judged whether something was reasonable or not by whether it helped or hurt your side. Maybe you thought about it intentionally or maybe it was just an involuntary reflex, but I’ll bet you did it. We all do. It’s not an accident that my crazy map of Taichung with nine districts shows how well Tsai Ing-wen did in each of them. When I realized that the CEC had changed the apportionment formula, my heart sank. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to be able to conclude that there was no obvious partisan motive behind that change. Whether or not one system is objectively slightly fairer than another is really beside the point. We have one system right now that wasn’t designed with obvious partisan motives. This year, it might advantage one side or the other. However, it matters that it was not intended to produce this result. It matters a lot. It is better to have a slightly imperfect but nonpoliticized electoral system than to chase perfection and risk politicization. This apportionment system is just fine.

 

Redistricting, on the other hand, is already a problem, and it is probably about to get worse.

 

Note: This post was written at 37000 feet. If it seems a bit loopy, I’m blaming altitude sickness.

Taipei LY districts

July 10, 2016

For the KMT, it was a dismal legislative election. Even many seemingly entrenched incumbents were swept aside in the enormous DPP wave. For almost all KMT challengers, it was beyond hopeless. Amidst all this ruin and rubble, there were a couple of KMT newcomers who bucked the trend. In particular, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀 and Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安 Wayne Chiang) managed to push their way into the legislature. Assuming it can’t get worse for the KMT and the pendulum will probably swing back toward the blue camp,[1] Lee and Chiang survived the harshest test and should be set up for long careers in the legislature. They both have districts that should be solidly blue in most years, so defending that turf should be less challenging than winning it in 2016.

I’ve got some bad news for Lee and Chiang. They are about to lose their districts. More precisely, Taiwan is due to redraw legislative districts before the 2020 election, and their districts are almost certainly going to change in ways that they will not like. To make things worse, they really can’t do much to stop the process. The DPP, by virtue of controlling both the legislative and executive branches, has the final say. If the DPP wants to screw Lee and Chiang over, it can.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has ruled that legislative districts within any given city or county must be within 15% of the mean population. Here’s the problem. Lee’s District 4 is no longer within that range. It was barely under the 15% limit when the districts were drawn in 2006, and it had grown to 21% over the mean by the 2016 election. It has to be redrawn.

    2006   2016  
    Pop. % of mean Pop. % of mean
1 Beitou, Tianmu 334363 1.03 332274 0.99
2 Shilin, Datong 325598 1.00 342977 1.02
3 Zhongshan, Songshan 345086 1.06 361907 1.08
4 Nangang, Neihu 371665 1.14 405507 1.21
5 Wanhua, Zhongzheng 307665 0.94 304815 0.91
6 Da-an 311626 0.96 311718 0.93
7 Xinyi, Songshan 308313 0.95 304577 0.91
8 Wenshan, Zhongzheng 300300 0.92 323189 0.96

1

Let’s take a step back and discuss some of the basics of redistricting. In principle, administrative districts are supposed to be respected. That simply is not practical in Taipei, with its eight legislative districts and only twelve administrative districts. Some of them will need to be split. However, that does not give designers carte blanche to go crazy and draw Americans-style districts. Take a look at the official map of the current districts. No administrative district is divided into more than two legislative districts. Moreover, the lines don’t look like they go around particular neighborhoods. The Tianmu 天母 neighborhood is put into D1. In Songshan 松山區, the dividing line between D3 and D7 is Nanjing E. Rd. 南京東路, a major thoroughfare. The only one that seems somewhat arbitrary is the line between D5 and D8 in Zhongzheng 中正區, though even that line roughly corresponds to the old Guting area 古亭區. It turns out that the first two of these were somewhat strategic, helping the KMT (who dominated the process in Taipei City in 2006) to ensure that D1 and D4 would be good KMT districts. However, the point for us is that the strategic aims are not obvious at first glance. They weren’t too brazen. (In fact, the DPP might not have even recognized they were being played.)

The Taipei City Electoral Commission (TCEC) gets the first crack at drawing the new districts. Someone in the city government (usually a deputy mayor) will likely chair the TCEC, and they should be able to nudge things in the directions that they prefer. The TCEC plan is sent to the CEC, which can alter it if there is a problem. Unless the TCEC violates the 15% rule, the CEC will probably respect the TCEC recommendation. The CEC then submits the plans to the legislature. The legislature cannot revise the plans. It can only pass them. If it does not pass the plan, the speaker and premier jointly decide what the final electoral districts will be. This means that the speaker and premier can throw away the CEC plan and substitute anything they like. Since both the speaker and premier are DPP members, the DPP can pass anything it likes.

The DPP’s priorities will be to (1) protect the two DPP incumbents in D1 and D2 and the NPP incumbent in D5, (2) create more winnable districts, (3) cause problems for the KMT incumbents, and (4) even out the population differences across districts.

 

I originally thought that D1 and D2 might be ripe for redrawing. D2 has more than enough DPP voters who might be redistributed to other districts to make them more competitive. However, there are a couple factors that make this unlikely. First, D1 and D2 are almost exactly the right size. There is no obvious reason to redraw the lines. Any change would be attacked as being made solely for the DPP’s political benefit. Second, these are the two DPP incumbents, and incumbents generally don’t like changes. The DPP incumbent in D1 might not mind giving away some of Tainmu (a relatively blue neighborhood) and getting better areas of Shilin 士林區, but the DPP incumbent in D2 would probably resist this. So I’m going to assume that D1 and D2 will be unchanged.

D5 is the other green camp seat. It is slightly undersized right now (9% under the mean), but that is still within the 15% range. Moreover, there are no good neighborhoods to add to it. Everything to the south and east is heavily blue. Keeping the current district is defensible, so that is probably what they will do.

If D5 is unchanged, D8 should probably be left alone as well. One of the informal guidelines is that no administrative district should be broken in more than one place. Since the other part of Zhongzheng is almost exactly the right size when combined with Wenshan 文山區 and D8 is so blue that there is almost no hope that the DPP could ever win it, there is little reason for green designers to want to change D8.

 

That leaves the other four districts, and this is where it gets fun. Let’s start with the current D4, which includes Nangang 南港區 and Neihu 內湖區. This district is too big and will have to be split up. At first glance, one might think about splitting one of the two administrative districts, but I have a better option. Neihu plus the Dazhi 大直 area of Zhongshan District 中山區 is almost the perfect size. (On the map, Dazhi is the area of Zhongshan north of the Keelung River 基隆河. Roughly, connect the northern borders of Songshan 松山區 and Datong Districts 大同區 in your mind and take the area north of that.) Dazhi and Neihu run together, so this is a natural fit.

This new D4 is also politically devious. Dazhi is a fairly blue area, so taking it out of D3 and putting it into D4 will be a minor disaster for the KMT’s D3 incumbent, Chiang Wan-an. For D4, replacing Nangang with Dazhi will make Lee Yan-hsiu’s district bluer, but there is another problem for her. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

What to do with Nangang? It turns out that Nangang and Xinyi 信義區 can fit together nicely to form a new D7. Since the actual boundary between the two administrative districts are small streets and it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, this is another fantastic (read: defensible) combination.

What are the political effects? Lee Yan-hsiu is from a Nangang family. We have now divided her Nangang base from the majority of her electoral district. (Her old city council district was also Nangang and Neihu, so she has spent decades working these voters.) She can either go with 70% of her district into the new D4, or she can try to keep her core areas but contest a completely new set of voters in Xinyi. If she chooses D4, she might well lose a primary fight to a Neihu politician. If she chooses D7, she will either have to beat the incumbent or convince him to retire. Neither way is very appealing for her or for the KMT.

This leaves two districts in the middle of the city. D3 now includes the southern part of Zhongshan and all of Songshan. This D3 should be a competitive district. D6 is Da-an, and it is solidly blue. But wait, we have one final trick. This D3 is 19% over the mean, a bit too big. Meanwhile, Da-an is 7% below the mean. We can shift a few neighborhoods from D3 into D6. Since Zhongshan has already been divided, the neighborhoods should come from Songshan. Which neighborhoods? That depends on how daring you want to be. There is a square in the middle of Songshan district that is very blue (the Minsheng Community 民生社區), while the border areas of Songshan are all greener. If you just take the southwest corner of Songshan, there isn’t much political effect on D3. However, if you stretch that up a bit into the center of Songshan, you start to remove some of the KMT’s best areas. This could be deadly to Chiang Wan-an. However, it would also be patently obvious to anyone looking at a map. This is not a natural line. I decided to split the difference, taking only one extra neighborhood on the southern border of the Minsheng Community. This probably won’t be the actual final district. The DPP will either take the high road and not include that extra neighborhood or go ahead and take one or two more neighborhoods on the logic that, since there are going to be screams anyway, they might as well go ahead and transfer 10000 more deep blue votes from D3 to D6.

 

What does that leave us with? This table shows I’m going to use eligible voters as a substitute for population since the CEC election database doesn’t report population for each neighborhood. The two rarely differ by more than 2%, so the difference is negligible. All of these districts are within 10% of the mean of eligible voters, so I am confident that they are also within 15% of the population mean. (* indicates no change in district boundaries.) I’ve also included a column with Tsai Ing-wen’s (DPP) presidential vote in each of the proposed districts. If these numbers look high, remember that Tsai won 52.0% citywide.[2]

 

  Proposed districts 2016   2016
    Eligible % of mean Tsai
1 Beitou, Tianmu* 275449 1.02 54.9
2 Shilin, Datong* 268464 1.00 61.3
3 S. Zhongshan, Songshan 287040 1.07 52.8
4 Neihu, Dazhi 256018 0.95 50.1
5 Wanhua, N. Zhongzheng* 248868 0.93 53.1
6 Da-an, SW Songshan 278852 1.04 47.0
7 Xinyi, Nangang 283372 1.05 49.7
8 Wenshan, S. Zhongzheng* 252360 0.94 43.9

 

Here’s a map of the central parts of the city (excluding most of the northern two and the southern administrative districts). You can see that the district lines appear to be fairly reasonable looking. There aren’t any crazy and unnatural shapes, with the exception of that one little bump going up near the Minsheng Community.

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v2

The green side currently holds D1, D2, and D5, and these are the three districts in which Tsai got the highest vote share. In my new plan, D3 has been redrawn so that it is almost as green as D5. In the original D3, Tsai won 51.9%, so the DPP has gained 0.9% (and the KMT lost 0.9%). If Chiang Wan-an runs for re-election in 2020 in this district, he will be fighting on significantly tougher turf. The new D4 is actually a bit bluer than the old D4 (Tsai: 51.9%), but I’m fairly sure Lee Yan-hsiu would rather have her old district than have to choose between the new D4 or D7. The DPP has a slightly better chance to win in the new D7 (old D7 Tsai: 49.3%) and D6 (46.6%), but these are going to be tough targets.

What’s my advice to Lee and Chiang? They probably have no way of avoiding these districts (or whatever other districts the DPP wants to impose on them). They have three choices. First, they can put their heads down and try to win re-election in the new, less friendly districts. Second, they can avoid the problem by trying to move up the ladder. The conventional wisdom is that they are too young and inexperienced to be viable mayoral candidates, but successful politicians often climb the ladder faster than expected.[3] The KMT doesn’t have an obvious nominee already in place, so why not Chiang or Lee? Third, they could try to change the game. If the electoral system is changed to a German-style MMP system,[4] these lines won’t matter so much. Chiang and/or Lee could publicly call for electoral reform, which would both give them a national reputation as a forward-looking reformer and also resolve their impending re-election challenge.

 

There is still one other possible twist to the redistricting story. There exists a fifth possible winnable district for the DPP. However, producing that district would require them to violate all the established norms of fair play. They could do it, and it will tempt them. There are several ambitious DPP city councilors who will probably never get into the legislature without this district. Best of all, it barely overlaps at all with the DPP’s current four winnable districts. I could draw this district with minimal disruption to DPP concerns. Do the DPP leaders have the moral fiber to resist this temptation?

Since I love a good moral conundrum, here is the district. If you take most of the neighborhoods along the Keelung River (the border between Nangang and Neihu) and then also add in the northeastern corner of Xinyi and the southeastern corner of Songhan, you can draw a district that would have just enough population (eligible voters: 251411; 6.5% below the mean) and would be roughly as green as D1 (Tsai: 54.4%). Of course, it would cut up four administrative districts, look terrible, and it would require all the neighboring districts to look terrible as well. Some of the areas south of this district would only be connected to the next district only by mountain hiking trails. I could draw this district and satisfy the letter of the law, but I’d have to step all over the spirit of that law. In the USA, they would do this without a second thought. At least in 2006, Taiwanese designers showed some restraint and eschewed this type of district.

TGPIS 2016 Taipei downtown v3

Does this post make you queasy about Machiavellian partisan machinations? It’s only going to get worse each redistricting cycle as the parties learn how to game the system and knock down norms of restraint one by one. The long-term solution is electoral reform (MMP!) so that the district boundaries do not have such a dramatic effect on winning and losing.

[1] The way the KMT is going these days, this may not be such a reasonable assumption.

[2] 52.0% for the DPP presidential candidate in Taipei City??? Are you kidding me!! I’m still not used to the idea that the DPP can win a straight party to party fight in Taipei.

[3] Barack Obama is a classic example.

[4] In mixed-member proportional systems, the party list ballot determines the total number of seats a party will win. Winning an extra district seat doesn’t increase the party’s total number of seats, so there is little reason to violate norms of fairness to draw friendlier districts.

(too many) legislative candidates register

November 28, 2015

379 candidates have registered for the 79 district and indigenous seats. This includes 356 for the 73 single seat districts, or nearly 4.9 candidates per district. In Taipei City, a whopping 63 people have registered for 8 seats. That’s nearly 8 candidates per seat. If that seems like a lot of candidates, it is. Many of these are not serious candidates. They clutter up the ballot, making it harder for voters to find the real candidates. They also slow down vote counting, raise printing costs (for the ballot and public election notice), waste bureaucrats’ time checking the candidates’ qualifications, and, worst of all :-), they force me to spend extra time whenever I construct a database.

If all the candidates really wanted to run, it would be excusable. However, many of these “extra” candidates don’t really want to run. They have registered so that their party can qualify to run a party list. According to the election law, a party can run a list if it meets one of four conditions: (1) win 2% in the previous presidential election, (2) win 2% in one of the three previous legislative elections, (3) have five incumbent legislators, or (4) runs 10 candidates in district or indigenous races. Newly established parties and minor parties almost all have to rely on the fourth method. They know they have almost no hope of winning single seat races, as those tend to be the province of the two major parties. However, in order to run a list, they have to run ten people in districts, hopeless or not.

This year, 18 lists have been registered, and six of those have qualified by one of the first three methods. That means 12 lists are relying on the fourth method. To put it another way, those 12 lists have nominated 120 district candidates, of whom about five have a prayer of winning a district seat. There are probably at least 100 extra district candidates because of the party list requirement. That’s about 1.25 extra candidates per seat.

Ironically, the election law is designed to discourage frivolous candidacies. Each candidate (or the endorsing party) is required to put down a deposit of NT200,000, and they forfeit this deposit if they do not win at least 10% of the eligible voters. Assuming 75% turnout, the threshold for getting the deposit back is 13% of all valid vote, a level that frivolous candidates rarely reach (almost by definition). In other words, you can enter the race on a whim, but it will cost you a pretty penny. The deposits are supposed to be set high enough to discourage frivolous candidates but low enough not to be a serious barrier to any realistic candidates. In elections without the party list provision, it has, in fact, worked pretty well. There are always a few hopeless candidates, but not too many.

Currently, a party that wishes to present a party list with five people on it must pay a deposit of NT3 million (10 district candidates + 5 list candidates * NT200,000). Basically, the NT2 million for the 10 district candidates is the cost of doing business. Even parties that hope to win a few party list seats know they have little hope of recovering that NT2 million in registration deposits. The requirement to find 10 eligible people adds very little to the financial deterrent.

Clearly, it is time to get rid of the fourth provision. It isn’t working, and it is arguably counterproductive by encouraging, rather than discouraging, frivolous candidacies. If the goal is to discourage frivolous party lists, a large registration deposit of NT2 million for a party list would do the job just as well as the current rule.

And if you like frivolous candidates, don’t worry. You can still have黃宏成台灣阿成世界偉人財神總統. He has registered as an independent.

Should the DPP yield districts?

May 27, 2015

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the DPP’s nomination controversies, but while I was dilly-dallying around Solidarity.tw beat me to most of what I was going to say. Hats off to you, S.tw.

Let’s recap. Last week, Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 publicly lambasted the DPP for refusing to yield 20 legislative districts to the Social Democratic Party and the New Power Party. While Lin Yi-hsiung is a self-appointed Moral Beacon who we are not supposed to question, his logic was terrible. This had the useful effect of forcing many DPP mouthpieces to point out all the reasons why the DPP should not simply stand aside. Let me see if I can summarize these arguments (plus a few of my own).

 

For:

  1. The DPP cannot get a majority on its own. It needs to cooperate with smaller parties. The DPP should extend the Ko Wen-je 柯文哲 model to the legislative elections.
  2. If it only yields 13 districts and the two smaller parties must run in at least 20 to be eligible for the party list, the DPP is effectively suffocating them.
  3. The DPP is nominating several city councilors who just won new terms last December. Those people have a solemn democratic contract with the voters and must serve out their terms.

 

Against

  1. It is up to the voters to decide if they can accept a serving politician’s decision to try to jump to a new office before finishing the current term.
  2. The Ko Wen-je model involved convincing people who had previously voted for the blue camp to vote for him. There is no indication that the SDP or NPP candidates have cross-camp appeal.
  3. Arguably the most important element of Ko’s success was his opponent. None of the KMT’s legislative candidates seems as inept and unlikeable as Sean Lien.
  4. Ko got DPP support by defeating the DPP choice in a poll. Lin is demanding that DPP aspirants simply step aside. The DPP has been willing to let the strongest candidate run, but the NPP and SDP haven’t been able to find many (any?) strong candidates.
  5. DPP voters might not be able to accept being told to vote for a NPP or SDP candidate. The parties don’t have strong party reputations or popular candidates. How can the DPP tell its supporters to vote for a candidate who is a stranger from a party they know almost nothing about?
  6. It isn’t the DPP’s job to devote resources to other parties. If those people wanted to draw on DPP resources, they should have joined the DPP. In fact, they explicitly decided that they didn’t want to be part of the DPP. They valued purity over power. By the way, Lin Yi-hsiung dropped out the DPP several years ago. Why does he think he can tell the DPP who to nominate?
  7. Electoral politics is a game of opinion aggregation. You have to combine the support of many people who will inevitably have some differences of opinion. Successful electoral parties are all big tents. The SDP and NPP have failed at this basic concept. They started with a fairly narrow base and then further divided into two parties. If they can’t even cooperate among themselves, why should the DPP pay them any heed?
  8. Is the DPP also supposed to yield 10 seats each to the Green Party and Tree Party, who also subdivided an already tiny electoral base?
  9. Taiwan has a majoritarian electoral system that crushes small parties. If the DPP wants to win governing power, it has to pay attention to the incentives created by the electoral rules. By the way, Moral Beacon Lin Yi-hsiung is more responsible than any other person for Taiwan’s current electoral system. Ten years ago, he knew what was Right and used his Moral Superiority[1] to shame anyone who took the Wrong position or simply even dared to question his proposed electoral reforms.
  10. Some of the SDP and NPP candidates want to run in districts such as New Taipei 12, which include significant rural populations. Elections in these areas run along a different logic from urban areas. You need to slowly build organizational power over a period of several years. Yielding to a SDP or NPP candidate in such a district would be tantamount to yielding that bloc of voters to the KMT candidate. That, in turn, would ruin any chance of winning the district.
  11. The DPP can’t afford to even signal to voters that it is ok to vote for the smaller parties in the party list tier. The “progressive” side has six(!) parties (DPP, TSU, NPP, SDP, Green, Tree). With a 5% threshold, that means the DPP would have to yield more than 25% of its support to them (and spread it evenly) or risk throwing away votes. If the five small parties each got only 4%, that would swing about six seats to the blue side. Given that the electoral system already gives a mild advantage to the blue side in malapportionment (ie: Lienchiang and Aborigines are overrepresented), the green side cannot afford to give away any PR seats. Perhaps if the four smaller parties merged into one party, the voters might have some confidence that it could pass the 5% threshold. However, they have instead chosen to subdivide their already tiny base.

 

If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t think much of Lin’s arguments. Electoral politics is a high-stakes game for political power, not a summer camp for nurturing naïve but earnest activists. Supporting idealistic but hopeless candidates at the cost of yielding governing power to the other side is simply irresponsible.

If the green side is to win a majority, it will have to be competitive in some of the “difficult” districts and even win a few. In fact, the DPP seems to think that its people have a chance in some of them. I have seen comments that the potential DPP candidates lead the KMT incumbents in both New Taipei 1 and New Taipei 12 in internal DPP polling. Take that with a grain of salt, but if there is any chance at all the DPP has to doggedly go after it. They should resist any thought of yielding those districts simply to make some tiny splinter party look better.

If Lin wanted small parties in the system, maybe he should have thought about that a decade ago. Perhaps he should have listened to voices trying to tell him what would happen instead of shouting them down.[2]

One nice thing is that the small parties seem to have clearer heads about their relationship with the DPP than Lin does. A few have commented that they are not in the DPP and want to maintain some distance from it. I don’t particularly share their enthusiasm for purity, but at least they understand the consequences of their choice.

 

 

[1] It was a good week for Morally Superior people. Morally Superior presidential candidate Shih Ming-teh 施明德 went on a talk show this week. When DPP city councilor Kao Chia-yu 高嘉瑜 asked him if his proposal of a Greater China above the ROC and PRC was basically the same as the KMT position he threw a temper tantrum. How dare she put a hat on him! She is such a lazy student! Shih punctuated his petty outburst by slamming his fist on the table. Yes, of course! It is completely unacceptable in a democratic system to ask someone running for the presidency to clarify and defend their position on the most important question facing the country, given that that person is Morally Superior. (I wonder what St. Wang Chien-hsuan 王聖人 was doing this week.)

[2] Why am I so wary of people with a strong sense of right and wrong? A basic premise of pluralistic democratic politics is that people have different values and want different things. In an authoritarian society, someone can designate certain values as “correct,” and this implies that other values are “wrong.” People holding “wrong” values are often struggled against. To give two examples, communist states often label people as “enemies of the people,” and Thais will put you in jail if you dare to question the existence of the monarchy. In a democracy, we don’t have to struggle against people who disagree with us. We simply label them as partisans. If they are in the opposition, we ignore them as harmless crackpots. If they are in the governing coalition and implement policies consistent with those values, at least we don’t have to publicly acknowledge that those policies and values are “right.” We can openly disagree and try to reverse them in the future. Acknowledging that there is no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” allows us to accept diversity of opinion in society, promotes tolerance, and provides democratic politics with space to breathe.

How about open list?

March 26, 2015

Last week DPP legislator Kao Chih-peng 高志鵬 proposed that Taiwan should adopt open list proportional representation for the party list tier. Taiwan currently uses closed lists to elect the 34 party list seats. In closed list systems, the parties submit ranked lists to the electoral commission, and voters cast votes for party names. If a party has enough votes to win five seats, the candidates ranked #1 through #5 are elected. Open list is slightly more complicated. Parties submit unranked lists to the electoral commission. On the ballot, voters still only make one choice. They can vote for any name on any list, and in some systems they also have the option of simply voting for a party rather than any individual candidate. So, in a 3 seat district with three parties, the ballot would look something like this:

 □ People’s Party  □ Business Party  □ Fifth Column Party
 □ Chen  □ Yin  □ Xi
 □ Lin  □ Tsao  □ Li
 □ Huang  □ Kou  □ Hu

Voters can mark their stamp in any of the twelve boxes. The votes are then all pooled up to the party level, and seats are distributed to parties just as in a closed list system. For example, all the votes in the first column are summed to get the total for the People’s Party. Let’s assume that the People’s Party got 1000 votes: 700 people voted for the party without expressing a preference for any individual, 80 voted for Chen, 20 voted for Lin, and 200 voted for Huang. If the 1000 party votes were enough to win one seat, that seat would go to Huang. If it were enough for two seats, Huang and Chen would be the winners.

Vote totals for individual names are not compared across lists. For example, assume the Business Party got 220 votes (4 for the party, 201 for Yin, 7 for Tsao, and 8 for Kou) and the Fifth Column Party got 215 votes (2 for the party, 210 for Xi, 1 for Li, and 2 for Hu). According to the current formula, the People’s Party would get 2 seats (Huang, Chen) and the Business Party would get one (Yin). The fact that Xi got more individual votes than Huang, Chen, or Yin is irrelevant. (This is the major difference between open list and the single non-transferable vote system used in local elections and in legislative elections until 2004.)

I like open list PR. In fact, if you let me choose Taiwan’s next electoral system, I’d probably opt for some version of open list PR. Some of the attractions include:

Proportionality. Unlike the old SNTV system and especially unlike the current mixed system, open list distributes seats according to the party vote.

Opportunities for small parties. This depends on the size of the districts. With larger districts, smaller parties have an opportunity to win seats. It isn’t quite as easy as in the old SNTV system. For example, in the old 10 seat SNTV districts in Taipei City, a candidate might win a seat with as little as 3-4% of the vote. In open list, a party would probably need to get closer to 7-8% to win a seat in that district. However, winning seats is still far easier for small parties in open list than in the current single seat districts.

Parties can win seats all over the country. One of the worst things about the current system is that the KMT has become a northern party and the DPP has become a southern party. The KMT legislative caucus thus is constantly tempted to ignore the south while the DPP caucus has almost no one to speak for northern interests. The two big parties also have a hard time fielding credible candidates for executive races in the other area since they don’t have any incumbent legislators in those areas. Whatever the next system is, it is imperative to remedy this flaw.

Disincentives for party unity. The current system empowers party leaders. The party lists are ranked by the party leaders. This means that anyone who wishes to win a seat on near the top of the party list has to curry favor with party leaders. (Note that “leaders” can be plural; winning the favor of the party chair is a good strategy, but you might also try to impress some other faction, party power broker, or interest group that can demand a space on the party list. For example, the military traditionally gets one or two spots on the KMT party list.) Legislators from single seat districts have to worry more about the general public. However, many of those legislators represent safe seats. They are more likely to lose their seats because of internal party challenges than because the voting public turns against their party. In sum, legislators in the current system have strong incentives to respond to the demands of party leaders. My personal judgment is that this has swung too far in the direction of party power, and I would like to see legislators become more responsive to the general public. Open list gives party leaders far less power over whether a legislator can win re-election. (It may even go too far in the opposite direction, which is why my ideal system would be some sort of modified list in which parties rank candidates but voters have the power to modify those ranks.)

Empower list legislators. For the past 20 years, Taiwan has had two types of legislators: list legislators and “real” legislators. List legislators have always been seen as second class legislators. On the one hand, they are looked down upon because many believe they didn’t win their seats in an open contest. Instead, the seat was given to them by a party leader. On the other hand, because they weren’t forced to contest a general election, many of them have never needed to develop power resources (networks, money, mass popularity). District legislators have these sorts of power resources and can often simply push list legislators aside. You can see this condescending attitude toward list legislators in the two term limits. No one thinks of limiting district legislators to two terms since they win their seats and do a service to the party, but list legislators are seen as consuming party resources and are therefore a net drag on the party. Sooner or later, Taiwan is going to have to come to grips with this caste system, especially if the legislature is expanded by expanding the number of list legislators. The open list system would force list legislators to “earn” their seats by winning large numbers of votes, and it would thus narrow the gap in power between district and list legislators.

Drawing districts. Open list uses multi-member districts, so it is not necessary to manipulate district lines for political advantage. This is one of the worst problems with the current system.

One thing that I don’t care about might be the prime attraction to political parties. I have a suspicion that the reason Kao Chih-peng wants open list is that the DPP has had such a hard time figuring out a fair way to rank the lists. Open list would sidestep this problem by delegating it to the electorate. I say, if a party can’t figure out how to make a decision on a relatively simple matter such as constructing a party list, it might not be qualified to tackle more complex tasks, such as governing the country.

There are a few downsides to open list. As you might expect given its similarity to SNTV, most of these complaints are familiar to us in Taiwan. The most common complaint is that open list encourages localism, particularism, pork-barrel politics, and money politics. This is almost certainly correct. In general, the more party-centric a system is, the cheaper elections will be. If campaigns are primarily done by national figures on a party vs party basis (such as in closed list or a presidential election), they can use the ample national media coverage to communicate party positions to the electorate. This takes advantage of economies of scale. Individual candidates in a candidate-centered system (such as open list) have to target smaller groups of voters with some appeal that differentiates them from all the other candidates in their party. Local construction, vote buying, and one or two extreme positions are great ways to set yourself apart from all the other wonderful candidates on your party’s list. In particular, we should probably see a lot more wasteful development projects with open list. Pork is great for the constituency that gets it, but everyone else hates it. If you are only appealing to a small part of the country, pork is wonderful. If you are talking to the entire country, pork may alienate more voters than it attracts.

The other major downside is that open list can create factionalism. In SNTV, one of the primary roles of factions is to secure nominations for faction members. In open list, nominations are not as scarce. Since every vote counts toward the party total, parties have a strong incentive to nominate as many candidates as are legally permitted. So nominations are only a minor source of factionalism. The major impetus comes from the way that open list rewards superstars. A superstar who vacuums up large numbers of votes in an SNTV election hurts her party by causing fellow party members to lose. In open list, those votes are pooled and help the other party members to win, so the other party members appreciate the superstar and want to run in the same district with her. If the superstar clashes with the party chair or other party leaders, she can count on support from other legislators in her district. They certainly don’t want her to leave the party and run on a different list. If a party has several of these superstars, it might be difficult to hold the party together.

Let me reiterate: I think Taiwanese parties need a bit more fragmentation. Taiwan does not have many access points for dissatisfied people to press their claims. Taiwan is not a federal system, and local governments do not have lawmaking authority. Taiwan does not have an upper house. The judicial system is not really a co-equal branch of government, to say nothing of the useless Control Yuan. The unicameral legislature has no formal procedures requiring a supermajority, and the current electoral system can lead to a lopsided majority of seats with only a plurality of votes. In sum, a unified party with a plurality – not even a majority – of votes at election time has unchecked power for four years. This can lead governing parties to ignore changes in public opinion and press ahead with unpopular policies, which in turn can lead to systemic instability. I think the system would be healthier and more stable if it were a bit harder for a party to maintain unity in the face of low public popularity. The fragmentation argument is actually one of the primary attractions of open list to me, though I think most people might disagree with me.

With all these attractive features, it might surprise you that I don’t think Kao Chih-peng’s proposal is wise. His proposal is simple, only changing one thing about the current system. Changing from closed list to open list might work, but you’d have to tweak a couple other things as well.

From a practical standpoint, voting would be a nightmare. In 2012, eleven parties presented party lists for the 34 list seats. Since every party has a strong incentive to nominate a full list, that would be 385 options for each voter. How large would the ballot paper have to be? In Brazil, each candidate gets a four digit code that the voter writes down. In another country in Latin America (Colombia?), they did away with the enormous ballot paper and simply put a huge poster with all the candidates and their codes in each voting booth. However, in Taiwan there is a long tradition of only allowing voters to stamp something. Maybe you could use electronic voting and sort them by party, but can you imagine Grandma with Alzheimer’s trying to scroll through all those options trying to find that one that she can barely remember to begin with?

More importantly, 34 seats is a large district. With electoral systems, larger districts exaggerate the effects. Thus, you would get an extremely proportional result. Instead of mild incentives toward pork barrel politics and factionalism, you would get very strong incentives. Worst, I fear extremists and corrupt politicians rather than mainstream politicians would be the biggest winners.

Remember those superstars? In larger districts, they will get enormous numbers of votes. Mainstream voters will gravitate toward these better known people, perhaps even hoping to send a message that they support mainstream values. These superstars will win the top seats on the party list. However, if they soak up all the mainstream votes, the lower ranked and relatively anonymous winners can win seats by relying on much narrower constituencies. They might depend on a particular locality, they might buy votes, or they might mobilize a small segment of extremist voters by taking a particularly extreme position.

To give an extreme example, in the 2010 election for the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, Rio de Janeiro elected 46 seats. The Party of the Republic (PR) got 1,202,364 votes, which entitled it to 7 seats. The first winner was Anthony Matheus de Oliveira, who won 694,862, or over half the total votes cast for the PR in Rio. I think it is fair to say he represents the mainstream of that party. The sixth and seventh seats were won by Liliam sa de Paula and Paulo Feijo Torres, who won a mere 29,248 and 22,619 respectively. I don’t have any idea who voted for them, but they clearly represent a much narrower slice of voters than Matheus. Given the conventional stories about Brazilian politics, it is quite possible that they got most of their votes from a specific town or special interest.

What would happen in Taiwan? The KMT had enough votes to elect 16 people in 2012. It’s pretty easy to imagine that famous people, such as Speaker Wang and Deputy Speaker Hung would have gotten sizeable chunks of votes. However, it is also easy to imagine the 15th and 16th winners securing their victories with far narrower support bases.

I think that if Taiwan were to adopt open list voting for the party list tier, it would be wise to divide Taiwan smaller districts. For example, you might do use north, central, and south districts, each electing 10-15 people. This would greatly reduce the size of the ballot paper. More importantly, it would reduce the gap between the first and last winners on each party list and force contenders to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters. The downside is that smaller parties would be disadvantaged by the higher effective threshold. Rather than needing to get 5% to cross the legal threshold, a party might need 9% to win one seat in a 10 seat district. However, a further tweak borrowed from Germany could remedy this problem. In Germany, seats are determined by the national party votes. These seats are then assigned to each state, where winners are determined by the ranks on those state lists.

I don’t think Taiwan will end up with an open list system. I think we will move toward the obvious changes that are already on the table and cause the minimum amount of disruption. I think we eventually will get a German-style MMP system. To increase the number of seats, the easiest fix is simply to maintain the current 73 districts and 6 aboriginal seats and increase the number of list seats to 79. They’ll make a big deal of minor changes (lowering the threshold to 3%) or almost irrelevant changes (lowering the voting age to 18). More critical parts of the system, such as whether dual candidacies are allowed will be ignored or dealt with as an afterthought. I’m not aware of any MMP systems in which candidates are not allowed to register in both tiers, but Taiwan might become the first. This reform would improve on the awful current system in a number of ways, but it wouldn’t do anything about the concentration of power. In fact, that system would make party leaders even more powerful than they are now. I’d rather have some version of open list, but I suppose it isn’t my choice.

negative voting

March 5, 2015

Last week, a group of prominent figures, including Shih Ming-teh 施明德, Sean Chen 陳沖, and Su Chi 蘇起, proposed that Taiwan should employ a new electoral system, which they called “negative voting.” As I understand the proposal, this is intended for single seat elections. Each voter would still cast one vote. Currently, the vote must be a positive one, so that each vote increases the candidate’s total by one. Under this proposal, the voter would have the option to either cast a positive or a negative vote. A positive vote would increase a candidate’s total by one, while each negative vote would decrease the candidate’s total by one.

If I understand correctly, some variant of this system is sometimes used in elections for board of directors of corporations. I do not know of any sort of negative voting used in elections for public offices. (The closest thing I know of is Approval Voting, a system invented and promoted by a couple of professors at New York University. In Approval Voting, the voter can vote for as many candidates as he or she approves of. If you vote for all but one, that is mathematically equivalent to a negative vote for that candidate. However, since a voter can cast different numbers of votes, approval voting differs from the proposed negative voting in important ways. I don’t think Approval Voting has been adopted for any elections to public offices.)

Let’s look at how this system might affect who wins or loses. If there are two candidates, negative voting really doesn’t make any difference. If you prefer A to B, you either vote positively for A or negatively for B. This system is designed to affect races with at least three candidates, so let’s delve into that. Assume there are three candidates. A is a leftist, B is a centrist, and C is a rightist. If the polls say that A, B, and C have 40, 30, and 30% support respectively, we can normally expect A to win. A’s supporters are happy with this and will go ahead and cast positive votes for A. B’s supporters know that B is losing, but they don’t have a clear second favorite candidate. Some of them prefer A to C, and some prefer C to A. They could hedge their bets and vote negatively against their least favorite candidate. Mathematically, this would be equivalent to voting for both B and their second favorite candidate. C’s supporters have a much easier choice. They all prefer B to A, so they can simply vote against A. If all of B and C’s supporters vote negatively, we thus get A: -5%, B: 0%, C: -15%. So B wins with zero votes?? Hmm. I wonder if the proponents of negative voting considered what would happen if the “winner” got zero or even negative votes. That seems like an outcome the PRC would love to see! (Note: B also wins A:10, B: 30, C: 0 if A’s and B’s supporters cast positive votes and only C’s supporters cast negative votes.)

Vote totals aside, the important point is that the new system changes the outcome. Instead of the leftist (who led in first preferences), the moderate is now the winner. Some people see this as a desirable outcome. In technical jargon, B is the Condorcet winner. That is, B wins the head to head matchups against all the other candidates. (In a one on one matchup, B beats A, 60-40, and B beats C, 70-30.) Negative voting empowers moderates! Hooray!

Not so fast, but hold that thought while we first explore a different idea.

Negative voting will be most useful to factionalized parties who cannot agree on a single candidate. Image that party A has a majority in society (A: 55; B: 45), but it has two big factions that will not yield to each other. Eventually both candidates, A1 and A2, both decide to run. Assume that the first preferences now break down as follows: A1: 30, A2: 25; B: 45. In a plurality race, B is going to coast to an easy victory. However, if 80% of party A’s voters vote negatively, they can avoid losing to B, even though they were unable to resolve their intra-party squabble. The result would be A1: 6, A2: 5, B: 1.

I think this is the real purpose of the proposal. People inside the KMT fear that the Wang and Ma factions are terribly split, and they will not be able to cooperate (perhaps even if Chu runs). Or perhaps Ma simply wants to run his own candidate. Negative voting avoids the problem of resolving intra-party tensions by simply allowing KMT sympathizers to vote against the DPP. Of course, this assumes that the KMT is still the dominant party. I understand that many people within the KMT believe that the voters will come back to them when real power (ie: national power) is at stake, though I suspect they are fooling themselves. I think their fundamental problem is that Tsai Ing-wen might have over 50% of the votes, not that the pro-Ma and anti-Ma factions can’t cooperate. At any rate, I think there is tremendous value in forcing a party that wants to hold governing power to first be able to resolve basic internal conflicts. If a severely factionalized party wins power, will it be able to effectively govern?

Let’s go back to that idea about negative voting encouraging moderates. Imagine a two candidate race, with A narrowly leading B by 52-48. What could B do to change the outcome? What if an extremist candidate BB on B’s side of the spectrum jumped in? In a normal plurality race, this couldn’t help B at all, since any votes BB won would almost certainly be taken from B. However, with negative voting, it might be different. Imagine BB is a terrible person, spewing all sorts of offensive and inflammatory rhetoric. BB would be all over the news, and voters would be outraged. In fact, some might come to the conclusion that it is important to resoundingly reject BB’s horrible ideas. However, those negative votes against BB would probably come predominantly from A’s side of the spectrum, since BB’s ideas would naturally be extremely offensive to them and only moderately offensive to voters on B’s side of the spectrum. If BB won positive support from 1% (originally B voters), while 7% of A voters and 1% of B voters decided to make a statement by voting against BB, the result would now be A: 45, B: 46, BB: -7%. BB would in fact be resoundingly rejected. However, this would also throw the election to B.

I think most of us can agree that democracy is not well-served when vile extremists can affect the outcome of a race by hurting the chances of the mainstream candidate on the other side of the spectrum. This is why positive voting, in which voters have to support something, is the norm. With positive voting, candidates are not rewarded for being offensive. With negative voting, the more offensive a candidate is and the more voters that are shocked into rejecting him or her, the more power and influence that candidate has.

To put it bluntly, this proposal for negative voting is a terrible idea.

A short comment on the idea that negative voting would save money: Candidates/parties currently get NT30 for each vote, so negative voting would supposedly reduce the public subsidy.

I’m starting to believe that the surest sign that some proposed electoral reform is a bad idea is that its proponents stress how much public money it will save. It seems almost like they are trying to distract us from their weak arguments about why it will produce better politics with shiny, shiny money!

There is a good reason for the public to subsidize parties. We have a general interest in parties that have the capacity to do things like formulate policy platforms. Bureaucracy and think tanks cost money. Back in the mid-1990s, when Shih Ming-teh was DPP party chair, the DPP could barely afford to pay rent. His predecessor Huang Hsin-chieh 黃信介 routinely wrote a personal check to cover the DPP’s monthly operating costs. That party struggled to avoid bankruptcy; it certainly did not have the capacity to do long term planning or prepare a broad set of policy proposals that it might pursue if it were to become the governing party. Shih seems currently to be arguing that the public subsidy is a waste. I disagree. I don’t want to return to the days in which there was only one party with the capacity to govern.

Combine or separate?

February 12, 2015

The Central Election Commission is set to decide later today whether the 2016 legislative and presidential elections will be held separately or simultaneously. As everyone no doubt remembers, the 2008 elections were held separately and the 2012 elections were combined. I hope they are held separately, though I don’t think the political effects will be that large. Some of the most common arguments are as follows:

  • Combining the elections will save money and reduce social disharmony.

Uggh. I hate this stupid argument. Elections aren’t that expensive to stage. If you need to save money, don’t hold a stupid university games or give sweetheart BOT contracts to conglomerates. For heaven’s sake, don’t skimp on democracy. If the better option is to separate the two elections, then spend a (very) little money and do it right. As for the social disharmony, we live in a pluralist society. Not everyone thinks the same way. There is nothing wrong with this. Harmony, which is usually imposed by social elites, is much more sinister than an open airing of disagreements in the context of an election. Let’s move on to sensible considerations.

  • The legislative election has to be held by mid-January, but the presidential inauguration isn’t until May 20.

To me, this is the most important argument. Since President Ma has already served two terms, there will be a new president in 2016. Four months between the election and the inauguration is a long, long time. Some might argue that President Ma is already a lame duck, and power is already gravitating to the likely presidential contenders. This is true, but until the election there will be some degree of uncertainty about who the next president will be. Once the result is known, all uncertainty is removed. Further, the time between the election and the inauguration is typically taken up with determining the composition of the new government. Elites have a strong incentive to ignore the current officeholders in order to angle for a new position or to curry favor with those who have already been designated. In short, we would face a four month power vacuum. This could easily be shortened to two months by separating the two elections.

If the elections were separated, the legislative election might be moved to its traditional spot on the calendar. Prior to 2008, legislative elections were held in late November or early December. I think this was done in order to avoid the late December holidays and the early January student exams. I never really cared for such an early election because it meant that the old legislature usually reconvened for a lame-duck session in January to pass lots of politically sensitive legislation – ie: stuff that voters didn’t want. Regardless, the point is that separating the elections would allow the legislative election to be held at the optimal time, whatever that might be. (I’m not sure this is possible in 2016 since the Central Election Commission has a number of procedural deadlines, but it could be a possibility in the future.)

  • If combined, the legislative election will be dominated by the presidential election. This has several variants:
  1. Media will focus entirely on the presidential contest.
  2. Turnout for the legislative election will be ~80% instead of ~60%.
  3. Small parties without a presidential candidate will be ignored.
  4. The party list vote will merely be a copy of the presidential vote.
  5. Voters will be more likely to decide their district legislative votes based on the presidential races rather than on the individual legislative candidates.

(6a) The KMT will do better in the legislative election if it is not combined.

(6b) The DPP will do better in the legislative election if it is not combined.

These arguments are all basically correct. The presidential vote will dominate the legislative vote. However, it will do that whether or not the elections are combined, so the effects will be limited. In 2012, the presidential race completely dominated the legislative election. Almost all the media focus was on the presidential election. For example, there were new polls nearly every day on the presidential race, but there were almost no polls on individual legislative district races. The TSU, New Party, Green Party, and the litany of hopeless parties were almost entirely ignored unless they were able to convince one of the two main presidential candidates to go on stage with them. Likewise, the PFP was also mostly ignored even though it had a presidential candidate. The legislative votes also turned out to be very close to the presidential votes if one looks at the blue/green divide. However, a significant number of voters opted for one of the smaller parties on the party list ballot. Indeed, the TSU probably benefitted, since it never came anywhere close to 9% in the polls.

In 2008, when the two elections were held separately, there was more media focus on the legislative elections. For example, there were some polls on the individual races. Turnout was under 60%. This is important, as it is generally desirable to have as many people vote as possible. For many people, especially those who don’t live near their voting location, going to the polls twice in a short time is a sizeable burden. Nonetheless, the political effects were muted. The media, the two big parties, and the voters all treated the legislative elections as preliminaries to the main event. With just two months between the two elections, the presidential campaign was already in full swing. For many people, the legislative elections were merely the first opportunity to express their presidential preferences. In 2008, there were slightly larger deviances between presidential and legislative vote totals than in 2012, but not by that much. Further, the long-term trend has been toward stronger partisan voting, so the decline from 2008 to 2012 might not even be due to the different electoral calendar.

As for 6A and 6B, most people seem to think that separate elections would be better for the KMT. The logic is that the KMT is unpopular now, and by separating the elections the KMT could allow its incumbents to rely on their individual local popularity. That might be reasonable. However, I’m not sure what effect the lower turnout would have. In 2008, the different turnouts didn’t seem to matter, implying that the two sides failed to mobilize roughly the same number of supporters in the legislative elections. After the 2014 elections, in which there are some indications that the green side was better at mobilization, I’m not sure the KMT should want to compete in another mobilization contest so soon. In a presidential election, given the intensity of the media coverage and the total attention paid by society, just about all of the electorate living in Taiwan will turn out. (To put it another way, the overwhelming majority of the 20% that does not vote live outside Taiwan.) In a legislative election, not everyone in Taiwan will turn out to vote simply because legislators don’t seem as important as the president. You have a much harder task in mobilizing your supporters, and I think this might be harder for a demoralized KMT voting base than for a relatively energized DPP. Maybe not, but my second point is that it isn’t necessarily obvious which major party would benefit from separating the two elections. (My first point is that the legislative election will be dominated by the presidential election no matter when it is held, so whichever party benefits won’t benefit very much.)

If it were up to me, I’d separate the two elections in order to shrink the period between the presidential election and inauguration. If they combine the elections “in order to save money,” I’ll puke in my mouth just a bit. Either way, don’t get too excited about which party is getting the advantage, because any advantage will likely be very, very small.

How MMP could crash

December 18, 2014

Ideas are flying left and right for changing the constitutional system. I’ll get to them at some point, but right now those proposals are so vague that I can’t analyze them. Instead, let’s look at a much more mature proposal, the one to change the electoral system to a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.

First, let’s review some vocabulary. A mixed member system combines two types of electoral formulae. In one tier, voters can vote for individual candidates. This is called the “nominal tier,” since you usually vote for a particular name. In most mixed systems, the nominal tier employs single seat districts. In the other tier, voters select a party, and parties designate individuals to sit in any seat that the party wins. This tier almost always uses some sort of party list, so it is called the “list tier.”

There are two major types of mixed member systems. In Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) systems (in Chinese often labeled 兩票並立制) the tiers are unlinked, so what happens in one has no effect on how the seats are handed out in the other. Taiwan, Japan, and Korea all have MMM systems. To illustrate, imagine a country with 200 total seats, half in each tier. There are four parties who win 40%, 30%, 20%, and 10% of the votes respectively.

A B C D
District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (A) 76 22 2 0
List votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
List seats (B) 40 30 20 10
Total seats (A+B) 116 52 22 10
Seat share 58% 26% 11% 5%

Since Party A is the most popular party, let’s imagine that it will win most (76) of the district seats, Party B will win most of the rest (22), and Party C will win the remaining two seats. In the list tier, the seats are distributed to each party proportionally according to the list vote. The overall seat distribution is simply the sum of the two tiers. In this example, Party A wins a clear majority of the overall seats even though it won far less than 50% of the votes. This is what we call a manufactured majority, and it is quite possible in MMM systems. (The KMT holds a manufactured majority right now; it did not get 50% of the votes in either tier in 2012.) This is why the system is labeled with the third M, “majoritarian.”

The other flavor of mixed member systems is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP; in Chinese usually called 兩票聯立制). In MMP, the two tiers are linked. The list tier vote is much more important than the nominal tier vote, as the party vote determines the overall seat share. Using the same example from above, the seats are distributed as follows:

A B C D
List votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
Total seats (A) 80 60 40 20
District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 76 22 2 0
List seats (A-B) 4 38 38 20
Seat share 40% 30% 20% 10%

Start by looking at the party list votes. Since Party A got 40% of the list tier votes, it will get 40% of the total seats, or 80 total seats. In the nominal tier, Party A has won 76 seats, so in order to get to a total of 80, it needs an additional 4 seats. Note that Party A gets the most party list votes, but it actually gets the fewest party list seats. Under the MMP logic, winning more districts doesn’t help a party win more total seats, it only changes which people get to sit in those seats. If Party A had won a 77th seat by beating one of the Party C district winners, it would have only won three list seats. Party C would have then gotten a 39th list seat. Either way, Party A gets 40% of the total seats and Party C gets 20%.

So the biggest difference between MMM (Taiwan’s current system) and MMP (which Tsai Ing-wen is promoting) is that MMM has majoritarian tendencies because the tiers are independent while MMP is proportional because the tiers are linked.

There are lots of arguments to be made for why MMP is better. My personal opinion is that just about anything other than a straight American-style single seat plurality system would be better than Taiwan’s current MMM system. However, I’m not going to go into these arguments right now. What I want to look at now are the arguments for why MMP won’t work. The concern is not that MMP will produce bad politics, but rather that, if we are not careful, MMP could simply self-destruct. Most of these concerns center around “overhang seats.”

Go back to the previous example. What if, instead of winning 76 district seats, Party A had won 82? Its 40% list share vote only entitles it to 80 seats, so perhaps it should get -2 list seats! What the Germans and most other countries using MMP do is to create overhang seats.

A B C D Total
List votes 40% 30% 20% 10% 100%
Total earned seats (A) 80 60 40 20 200
District votes 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 82 16 2 0 100
List seats (A-B) 0 44 38 20 102
Total seats 82 60 40 20 202
Seat share 40.6% 29.7% 19.8% 9.9%

Party A is allowed to keep all 82 of its district seats, and it does not get any list seats. Party B is supposed to get 60 total seats, so it gets an additional 44 list seats. Likewise, Party C gets 38 list seats, and Party D gets 20 list seats. You will notice that this makes 102 list seats. The total chamber is thus enlarged. Instead of 200 members, there are now 202 members. Because of the overhang seats, Party A has a slightly larger seat share than vote share, while the other three parties are slightly underrepresented.

This may not seem so serious, but Germans think it is. In Germany, overhang seats have caused the parliament to expand by as many as 29 seats or about 5% of the total chamber (if my memory is correct). In Taiwan, we are used to the idea that a party’s seat share and vote share might be a little off, but Germans take the principle of proportionality much more seriously. In fact, the German constitutional court has ruled the current system is unconstitutional since it can produce such disproportional outcomes, and it has demanded that the overhang system be revamped. They haven’t finalized how they will reform the system, but one possibility is to expand the seats going to the other parties as well. In the above example, Party B might also get two more seats, and Parties C and D might each get one more seat. Thus, instead of having 202 seats, the two overhang seats might require a chamber with 206 total seats. With a lot of overhang seats, the chamber size might spiral out of control.

If this were the main problem, I wouldn’t be too worried. Taiwan has historically been willing to put up with modest amounts of disproportionality. Moreover, the modest disproportionality from a few overhang seats would be less than the average disproportionality incurred under either the current MMM system or the former SNTV system. Moreover, as long as the list tier is expanded from the current 30% of all seats to closer to 50% of all seats, we shouldn’t expect to see too many overhangs. The main reason Germany has overhang seats is that they have party lists in each state rather than one national list. If Taiwan had one list for Taipei City, the KMT might easily sweep all the district seats with less than 50% of the party vote (especially with revitalized PFP and New Parties), thus creating the potential for overhang seats. However, with a national list, the KMT’s overrepresentation in the north is balanced out by their underrepresentation in the south, so overhang seats are unlikely. (The 2008 sweep would have been just shy of requiring overhang seats.)

However, what if the KMT or DPP cynically set out to create overhang seats? Could they crash the system? Let’s go back to the first MMP example, where Party A won 76 district seats and only 4 list seats. What if Party A decided that 4 list seats wasn’t enough for their 40% list votes? What they could do is to form a fake party called Party A*. All of the district candidates would run under the Party A* label, and all of the list candidates would run under the Party A label. Now let’s look at the table:

A A* B C D Total
List votes 40% 0% 30% 20% 10%
Total earned seats (A) 80 0 60 40 20 200
District votes 0% 40% 30% 20% 10%
District seats (B) 0 76 22 2 0 100
List seats (A-B) 80 0 38 38 20 176
Total Seats 80 76 60 40 20 276
Seat share 29.0% 27.5% 21.7% 14.5% 7.2% 276

Since Parties A and A* are legally unrelated, Party A gets a full 80 list seats to reflect its 40% party list vote share, while Party A* gets to keep all of its 76 district seats as overhang seats. Of course, they are actually the same party, and instead of 40% of the total seats, they have managed to win 56.6% of the total seats. Well now, that’s quite a difference.

Of course, if Party A did this, Party B would respond with a fake Party B* and so on. The logical result is that the MMP system of 100 nominal tier and 100 list tier seats would be transformed into a de facto MMM system with 100 nominal tier and 200 list tier seats. If we change the constitution to replace MMM with MMP, we probably don’t want to end up back with MMM. Moreover, it would be dishonest MMM, all the parties would snipe at each other for refusing to honor the rules of the game, the general public would think even less of politicians’ sense of fair play, and satisfaction with the way democracy works would probably sink even lower.

Would the parties really do this? In Italy, they actually have. About a decade ago, both of the major alliances came up with fake party lists precisely to avoid having success in the nominal tier count against the list tier. Not coincidentally, Italy recently discarded its mixed member system altogether. Germans have also recently become aware of what they call “negative voting,” though they haven’t yet been cynical enough to present fake party lists. (Insert your own joke about rule abiding German culture and corrupt Italian cultures here.) I have a hard time believing that the largest party in Taiwan would see an opportunity to turn a mere plurality in the legislature into a majority and wouldn’t seize it. If Taiwan does opt for a MMP system, there needs to be some way to prevent the fake list problem. I’m not quite sure how to do this without causing all sorts of other problems.

This brings us to the second serious problem. If you do find some way to ensure that all of a party’s candidates actually use the party’s label, what do you do about independents? Consider Yen Ching-piao 顏清標. Because of Yen’s background with organized crime, he and the KMT have decided that it is better for him not to officially join the party. In the past two elections, the KMT simply didn’t nominate a candidate in his district, and Yen won as an independent. He isn’t the only one. Both the KMT and DPP have found it useful at various times to defer to independents. However, these arrangements essentially take us back to the previous problem. Any seat won by an independent will, by definition, result in overhang seats. As such, if you allow independents, the KMT and DPP have an incentive to encourage their members to run as independents (or at least not to force allies to join their party). One solution is to not allow independent candidates. In Bolivia, all candidates must represent a party, and every party must nominate a candidate for every office. I don’t think this is a plausible arrangement for Taiwan. There is a very strong tradition of independents going back to the authoritarian era. Many people consider the option to quit their party and take their candidacy directly to the people to be a basic democratic right. Again, I’m not quite sure how to square this circle.

MMP could work in Taiwan, but the details matter. If reformers ignore potential abuses, they might be burying a time bomb right in the heart of the democratic system. I’m actually starting to think that these problems are sufficiently serious that we should consider a different electoral system, such as the old SNTV system or some version of Open List PR.