Can independents run in open-list PR?

Short answer: it depends entirely on rules about ballot access.

Here is what I said when the question first came up two years ago:

Does this system exclude independents?

Not necessarily. Independents might run as individuals and win seats in their own right. They’d just need to clear the bar for a seat under proportional representation (roughly the number of votes cast divided by the number of seats in the district). Or they might form a joint “independent” list, which my colleague Mike Latner has seen under STV in Australia.

And the following should not be read to mean that one must be on a list to run. Again, this depends entirely on ballot access.

Who makes the lists? Rules vary. Party leaders might draw them up in a “smoke-filled room.” Local party committees might send delegates to a nominating convention. Multiple parties might negotiate a “joint” list. A single party might even field multiple lists. The point is that these lists exist in advance of a general election.

Magnus Jonsson also provides this resource, which has discussions of independents in Australia and Belgium.

Los Angeles, 1913: STV or OLPR?

How we understand Los Angeles matters. I claimed in a recent piece that the 1913 defeat of open-list PR there was a critical juncture for American PR advocacy. (I recently learned of a similar event in Western Europe, with the opposite effect. More on that another time.) Recently, there appeared two articles saying that the referendum was on STV. So, which was it?

Here is how Sitton (1995, p. 355) describes the measure, emphasis mine:

“Written by George Dunlop, the proposal was a modification of the Hare system. Political groups could submit petitions containing at least 500 signatures requesting that their group name and candidates for city council be printed on the primary ballot. Voters would indicate their party preference on the ballot and then cast votes for individuals in the order of the voter’s choice, regardless of the party those candidates represented. (A Republican could vote for five Republicans and four candidates from other parties if desired.) An ‘independent’ column would be provided for those candidates and voters who did not belong to the major parties. The city clerk would then count the total votes and divide by the number of available council seats to arrive at the quota needed for nomination. For each full quota polled by a group, its top two vote getters were nominated for the general election. Fractional units would be divided proportionately among the parties. In the general election the process was to be repeated, except that only one candidate was elected per quota. Thus, if the GGO received a total vote equal to three quotas (one-third of the total vote for nine council seats), the top three GGO candidates would be elected.”

I would like to share my interpretation of this passage. Here are some thoughts on what I’ve boldfaced and why.

1. “Modification of the Hare system” — Hare system is an old term for STV. How is it being modified?

2. “Group name and candidates… printed on the primary ballot” — This suggests the presence of party labels on the ballot, grouping of candidates by party, and some level of control of candidates’ use of those labels.

3. “Voters would indicate their party preference” — This is where the key modification of STV begins. Votes for parties are going to play a role in seat allocation.

4. “For each full quota polled by a group” — Seats are being allocated to parties as parties. Or, in the first round, positions on the general-election ballot are being allocated to parties as such.

In sum, note what is happening in both rounds. Voters cast party votes. Party votes then determine quotas. Quotas then determine what happens to a party in that round. In the primary, for each quota, the party sends two candidates to the general election. Then, in the general election, the party gets one seat per quota. Seats not yet allocated are dealt with via largest remainder.

The only role played by rankings here is to set the order of the party list. That sounds like an open-list system to me, even if an uncommon variant. See this essay on open lists from Alan Wall and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) for more information. I also recommend the analyses of open lists (and other list systems embedding candidate choice) in Votes from Seats (2017).

Our contribution to the APSA/Protect Democracy report on parties

Matthew Shugart has a summary of our contribution, which asks how proportional representation might be made to work for U.S. national elections. Michael Latner is the other co-author. It was an honor to contribute to the essay and to the larger collection, which is excellent.

Our piece also tries to take representation seriously. Those thoughts relate to our ongoing project on U.S. descriptive representation in comparative perspective.