>Romanian electoral reform: bitter fruit?

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Alan Renwick posts the following explanation of the new Romanian electoral system as a ‘seed’ (comment) on the Fruits and Votes electoral systems blog, which has picked up the story. There is some very interesting clarification of the seat allocation mechanism for the PR stage:

“The new Romanian electoral system really lives up to the old cliché, ‘a complex form of PR’. Here is an attempt to make sense of it, for which Marina Popescu takes primary credit.
In autumn 2007, following years of popular pressure fomented by an NGO and the press for improving accountability and strengthening the linkages between citizens and elected representatives via the shift to a ‘uninominal’ (i.e., single-member-district) electoral system, the Romanian government proposed a mixed-member system. This would have been similar to the one used for the Italian Senate from 1993 to 2005, but would have ensured proportionality by having a variable number of at least 50 per cent of seats reserved for compensation, rather than just 25% as in Italy.
This bill passed through parliament, but the President did not sign it. Instead, he called a consultative referendum, which unexpectedly proposed introducing a French-style two-round majoritarian system. Following a campaign appealing to concerns with improving accountability and aversion to party lists, 83.4 per cent of the voters supported the initiative but the turnout (at 26.5 per cent) fell short of the 50 per cent quorum required. The President then appealed to the Constitutional Court, which annulled the government’s electoral reform legislation arguing that the anticipated use of a national list amounted to an indirect election and was thus anti-constitutional.
The current electoral system was adopted in February-March 2008 by parliament and is based on SMDs [Single Member Districts] only in the limited sense that the pre-1993 Italian Senate was. All 42 counties of Romania are divided into single-member districts and each citizen has a single vote to be cast for a candidate. Candidates win the seat automatically if they obtained over 50 per cent of the constituency vote. Nevertheless, the overall composition of parliament will be proportional: the two-tier seat allocation method used in the old closed-list system is retained, using the Hare quota at the county level, and then d’Hondt for nationally cumulated votes and seats remaining after the county-level allocation, with a five percent legal threshold applied throughout. Parliament can vary in size to guarantee each party the number of seats due to it proportionally. But parties may end up with more seats than that if they win enough seats with an absolute majority.
Now here’s the really complicated bit. Besides the SMD outright winners, a party’s seats are allocated to candidates in decreasing order of the ratio between the absolute number of votes they received and the quota in the county where they ran. However, the seat allocation mechanism assures that every SMD is assigned a representative who actually ran for election in that district, and this goal is consistently prioritized over rewarding the highest vote getters. How will all of that work in practice? We don’t have to wait too long to find out: elections are due by the end of November.
Seed planted by Alan Renwick — 16 April 2008 @
01:16
What I’m still left wondering about is a) whether – perhaps that should be, how in a Romanian context – SMD boundaries will be gerrymanded to maximise certain parties’ chances of winning seats straight off (thus presumably reducing those to be distributed by PR, although there seems to be some confusion of this – Alan Renwick’s explanation above clearly assumes this will not happen, but as other Fruits and Votes posters note, there is a constitutional stipulation abut population per depputy and not doing so would result in some SMDs having 2 representatives ; and b) whether the new system will create incentives for local notables to deploy heavy duty patronage and rule-bending.

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