Political reform, term limits, ticket splitting

I decided to start a new thread on this topic since the Electoral College thread was too crowded with tangents (mostly my fault).


Well, I think you have made a great point. I agree with you to a large degree, and I think your “parliamentary systems” theory and my “strong parties” theory are interconnected.

If I had my druthers, I would eliminate partisan primaries, shorten the election season, allow multiple parties to compete on a level playing field with proportional representation from medium-sized 10- to 20- member constituencies, institute nomination by petition only, provide campaign funding, and get rid of all the term limits.

By the way, I don’t think “first-past-the-post” has anything to do with it. Doesn’t “first-past-the-post” just mean a simple plurality system, which both the USA and Canada use? Your comments would apply equally to a parliamentary system with proportional representation, e.g. Austria, Scandinavia, the Low Countries.

It’s the presidential vs. parliamentary dichotomy we’re dealing with, not the single-member district vs. multi-member district dichotomy.


it would vary depending on the type of proportional representation system you use.

Israel has the purest proportional representation system: 100 seats in the Knesset (I think that’s the number), and no constituencies or individual candidates. The basic electoral unit is the party. A registered party submits a list of 100 names. If it gets 20% of the popular vote, the first 20 candidates on its list are elected. If it gets 30%, the first 30.

Naturally, since the order on the list is determined by the party, the most senior people get the top spots on the list. This strongly favours the incumbents/party seniority.

In a “first past the post” system, the basic electoral unit is the individual candidate, within the constituency. The candidate with the most votes in that constituency wins, even if it’s much less than 50% of votes cast. In this system, party seniority and incumency are not much of a guarantee. In every election in Canada, both federal and provincial, there are sure to be Cabinet members who lose their seats. Long-standing members can get knocked off. In some rare cases, we’ve even had the Prime Minister lose his own seat. (What then happens is that some party war-horse resigns his seat for the greater good of the party (and future considerations), and the Prime Minister runs in that by-election.)

So, I would say that “first past the post” is an essential part of my argument.

One other point about “first past the post” compared to proportional representation in a parliamentary system: it has been argued that a proportional representation system contibutes to weak government and even corruption.

The Italian example is often used. Until constitutional reforms in the late 80’s, the average length of an Italian ministry was less than one year. No party ever had a majority, so there was constant brokering and deal-making. As well, one party, the Christian Democrats, was in the Cabinet in almost every goverment from WWII onwards. As a result, it got very comfortable in government, and corruption ensued. No matter how much the people may have wanted them out, the Christian Democrats stayed in government.

By contrast, the virtue of the “first past the post” system is that it allows the current government to be completely kicked out of office, and entirely new, fresh people to come in. It has a purifying effect both on policies and corruption. You have entirely new ideas brought in, and the risk of corruption reduced, since corruption tends to develop over time. (I’ve seen it referred to in Britain as “removal van democracy,” referring to the fact that the defeated Prime Minister is expected to be out of 10 Downing Street within 24 to 36 hours.)

Now, there are a variety of proportional representation systms, such as the “mixed” system used in Germany (some candidates elected directly, some from a list), which may produce different effects. But, I think the electoral system has to be considered in a discussion of term limits.

A little correction about the Israeli parliamentary system:

The Knesset (the Hebrew word for parliament, literally meaning “gathering”) has 120 members.

The purely-party system was true until 1996. Beginning in 1996, the Israelies decided that the Prime Minister should be elected by direct popular vote (although the other parliamentary seats remain a purely-party thing).

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

You’ve raised some good points.

To clarify: the system I advocate would use open lists. Each voter would pick a single candidate; the votes would be totalled for each list to arrive at the number of mandates the the party had won. Then candidates off the list would be seated in descending order of the number of votes they had won as individuals.

Italy is the classic bludgeon with which people in Westminster-style systems attack proportional representation (and with which people in presidential systems attack parliamentary systems). Many countries use systems like Italy’s, and few of them are as corrupt as Italy. If people want to avoid the perpetual crisis of a hung parliament and a coalition cabinet, the most direct solution is obviously to heavily modify the possibility of a vote of no confidence. This has been done in France with reasonable results.

Another possibility, the one I favor, would be replacing the vote of no confidence with the power of “auto-dissolution” - if the parliament wants to fire the executive, that’s fine, but they have to fire themselves first. The new parliament can then elect a new executive. Otherwize, they just have to get along.

A simpler solution, which I could also abide, would be just to stick to a presidential executive.

First-past-the-post is a very indirect and unreliable solution - creating artificial majorities in a legislature in order to bolster an untenured executive. Everything seems fine and dandy - if you’re a supporter of a large party - until there is a hung parliament. India is hardly a model of stability and responsible party government.