Design a bad voting system

Hullo, academicians and intellectissimas of IMHO. I am currently trying to write a political thriller that is set in a fictional country.

Since this is a political thriller, I’m trying to choose (or invent) for this country a particularly bad voting system. In particular, it should be one that allows one party (with about 40% of the vote, particularly strong in rural areas) to completely dominate a proportional representation-style national assembly without actually breaking any of its own rules, or throwing out anyone’s votes, and without doing anything outright ridiculous like 10:1 malapportionment.

What sort of voting system would guarantee a victory for the people who set it up without requiring them to break it?

The old Cold War Communist system was pretty good. Essentially, having control of the system, they controlled who appeared on the ballot.

Your fictional country might simply be highly corrupt, and the counting of the ballots might be under control of a politically-beholden elections commission.

Your country might have highly Gerrymandered districts, so that “favored” regions get one representative per 10,000 votes, but “neglected” regions only get one representative per 40,000 votes.

Voting registration might be limited, so that, in favored regions, one person in 12 is registered to vote, but in neglected regions, only one person in 18 is registered.

The voting process itself might be complicated, or deceptive. There might be a requirement, which not everyone knows: you have to mark “Option C” in a menu of options for your vote to count; anyone who fails in this, or chooses any other option, is only casting an “advisory vote.” Insiders know to choose “Option C” but most of the rest of the voters don’t.

Voting might be so complex, it takes 90 minutes to do. Poor people would be less likely to devote the time, while the upper classes have nothing better to do with their time. Also, less educated people would be more likely to mess it up and invalidate their ballot.

Voting might take place at the workplace, not at home. This would concentrate votes according to working class.

The government might sponsor lots of political advertisements, thus swaying the electorate by a propaganda barrage. The loyal opposition, denied government funding, can’t spend as much and falls behind.

There might be a poll tax. Poorer voters would be less likely to want to spend the money. And there might be fewer polling stations (thus long waiting lines) in neglected districts.

First Estate involvement: the church might favor one candidate over another, and preach sermons which persuade people how to vote. (Similar to advertising.)

A “Senate.” The country might be divided into districts of unequal population, but each district elects a fixed number of representatives. Thus, small districts are better represented, per capita, than are large districts. (Wyoming and California each get two Senators.)

Preferential Balloting: in an “instant run-off” process, everyone would vote for the slate of candidates in preferential order. I like A as my #1 choice, D is my #2, E is my #3, B is my #4, and C is my #5. Whoever gets the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and his ballots are reassigned on the basis of his followers’ second choices. This continues through subsequent rounds of eliminations until someone gets over 50% of the vote. The problem is that this system is highly subject to manipulation, and suffers from “dependence on irrelevant alternatives.”

(Even though candidate X cannot win, as he has far too few first-choice supporters, if he is in the race, candidate Y wins, but if he is not in the race, candidate Z wins.)

Somewhat related to that, the John Anderson/Ross Perot/Ralph Nader problem. A candidate splits a party or coalition. If that can be arranged as a conspiracy, it can prevent a majority from being represented.

Enough to give a small-d democrat nightmares.

Simple: public voting. No secret ballots. Then have the newly elected officials not take office for a few months. The ‘dead ducks’ can cause a lot of harm during the interim.

Unions have been doing it for years. It helps keep the voters in line knowing what the consequences will be if they vote against those now in power.

Pretty simple- imagine the U.S. Congress with no House, just a Senate.

Every district gets the same representation, no matter how small the population. If all the rich/powerful folks live in just a few districts, they can dominate the voting.

Anakin: “We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem. Agree what’s in the best interests of all the people, and do it.”
Padme: “That’s exactly what they do, the trouble is that people don’t always agree.”
Anakin: “Then they should be made to.”
Padme: “By whom? Who’s going to make them?”
Anakin: “I don’t know. Someone.”
Padme: “You?”
Anakin: “Of course not me!”
Padme: “Then someone…?”
Anakin: “Someone wise.”
Padme: “That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me.”
Anakin: “Well… if it works…”

Sigh how many times do we need to go through this?

If we didn’t have the Senate, there wouldn’t be a Unitied States of America. When the smaller states (Rohode Island, Deleware…) asked the question, “Why should we join? The larger states are going to completely swamp us out!” The Senate was the answer they came up with to ensure that no state becomes completely irrelevant.

ETA: Sorry, I didn’t notice that you specified only a Senate, with no House. Big difference. :o

As for the OP, a public voting system (yes, like some unions use) is pretty much custom-designed to make sure that only a total fool would dare vote against the people in power.

Whoops! I meant “lame ducks”.

A few more suggestions, some from history:

  • Only the land owners get to vote.

  • Only men get to vote.

  • The ballot must be marked with an X that does not touch the sides of the circle.

  • Butterfly ballots.

  • In a multilingual country, force the entire electoral process, including advertising and debates, to take place in one language.

  • Make the urban polling stations understaffed or difficult to reach.

  • Manipulate the electoral census instead of the election itself.

I don’t know how common this is in other countries, but here employers are required to allow employees a certain number of consecutive hours off on election day so they can get to their polling station. I guess it would be possible to remove this requirement and manipulate voting hours and business hours so that people in rural areas will vote more easily than urban folks.

Do it in the style of the Roman Republic –

Assess the net worth of every voter and use that to split them into groups of unequal number.

So, first group is the 1,000 richest voters. Second group is the next 5,000 richest. All the way down to the last group, which might contain say 30,000,000 people of minimal means.

Then each group casts a single vote that reflects what a simple majority in that group favors. Whoever or whatever gets the majority of group votes win.

Bonus: Have the group votes publicly declared, starting with the richest group, before the next group votes. Stop the election when a majority has been reached – then the lowest groups will never get to vote in all but the closest of contests.

For your setting, you could make the wealth assessed according to land owned, then city dwellers would always be poorer than rural people.

The OP sounds like something similar to the system set up in The Hunger Games. I don’t remember the details, but IIRC, it was essentially a dictatorship. I want to say that each district sort of got to pretend like they got some representation with the Capital but really didn’t, in the end what the Capital said was what happened. The most they could hope for was to be left alone, which, given how spread apart they were, happened quite a bit.

You might want to read the first book in that series and see if you can get some ideas from that.

That’s how the communist countries did it – with a slight twist. Secret ballots were not prohibited, and there were even voting booths. But you were not required to go into the booth.

So the loyal party members would show up first, take the ballot, and loudly say, “I don’t need to go into that booth. I’m voting for the party choice all the way!” and mark it for everyone to see.

The next voter was not going to go into the booth.

Vote by selecting brightly colored cards for the candidate in question and having to walk through a crowded area to put your “vote card” in the ballot box. No measures are taken to prevent the harrassment of voters with “unpopular” colored cards.

The color coding to avoid obvious errors in marking the ballot or “misreading” by counters.

In years past, this was the preferred voting method in company towns.

does the fictional country have more than one religion?If so, hold fair and free elections, but only put ballot boxes in State sanctioned churches.

Make it absurdly easy to get on the ballot. If you’re in charge, you have one candidate. Make sure all opposition parties have at least a dozen candidates.

If you want the rural vote to count for more, have an even distribution of polling stations, like one every ten square miles. Only allow voting to go on for a few hours, preferably during rush hour.

Hell, we don’t have to even make anything up; the OP describes Canada.

The system as it exists hands a virtually guaranteed majority government to a party that can pull 40% of the vote. You can pull off a majority government even just making it to the high 30s, if things break your way.

As it happens, the various parties have managed to maneuver themselves into being that party so no ONE party has been able to keep up the dodge for long, but it would hardly be much of a stretch to imagine a country where one party’s support is sufficiently entrenched to guarantee endless power with 40% support.

Worked great for the Romans in the Century Assembly. Then, add two more features that the Romans had: Set it opp so that the upper-class districts vote first, and then call a halt to the voting as soon as a majority is reached. Before long, the plebs won’t even bother showing up to vote.

(In fairness to the Roman Republic, it also had other assemblies which were arguably less shitty.)

I think you could really make a similar idea work in the proposed setting. Have a minimum qualification to vote based on real property. But don’t use the value of the land, use the actual area of the land.

You can add in requirements like ‘the land must be in your district to count’ or ‘must live on the land at least 250 days a year’ to avoid urbanites buying cheap rural land to vote in the city.

Westminster parliamentary systems tend to work this way. Due to first past the post voting in multiparty environments you typically have a party with a sub-majority popular vote result winning a majority of the seats in the legislature.

Canadian General Elections
2011 - PCs win 166 of 308 seats with 39.6% of the vote
2008 - PCs win 143 of 308 seats with 37.8% of the vote (minority gov.)

British General Elections
2010 - Tories win 307 of 650 seats with 36% of the vote (minority)
2005 - Labour wins 355 of 646 seats with 35% of the vote
2001 - Labour wins 413 seats with 40.7% of the vote

Alberta Canada tends to see single parties continually win, until they don’t at which point they die out and the new winner begins a dynasty like existence.

“Mary and Joseph” voting system.

You can only vote in the district you were born in. Most people in rural districts live where they were born, but city folk tend to be recent arrivals, assuming it’s a third world country.