How people elect parliaments
Elections in the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco last week have resulted in one of the most bizarre of election results, with the leading party winning 21 out of 24 seats.
Monaco’s registered voting population is only around 7,000 out of around 38,000 residents, of whom only about 5,000 turn out to vote.
The political culture of the low-tax micro-nation – just 2 square kilometers in size – is geared around running the wealthy resort city and maintaining the revenue from its Monte Carlo casino. It is estimated that 30% of the adult population are millionaires.
The voting electorate is socially and politically conservative, with electoral contests really between right-wing conservatives and centre-right ‘moderates’; there is no real social democrat or left-wing presence in the elections.
The legislative National Council has 24 seats. Voters get to choose to support up to 16 individual candidates, or else delegate their 16 ‘votes’ to one party’s whole list. The 16 individual candidates with the highest vote tallies then get the first 16 seats.
The remaining 8 seats are allocated proportionally among the party lists in accordance to the aggregate votes which all of their candidates have won.
Under this block voting system, a significantly leading party will essentially sweep all of the first 16 seats, and half of the remaining proportional seats as well.
That’s exactly what happened in the 2013 elections. The leading socially and economically conservative group Horizon Monaco won 50% of the vote, the centre-right Union Monégasque won 37%, and the Renaissance ticket (representing employees of the main casino!) won 11%.
The proportional seats were allocated 4:3:1, while Horizon candidates won all the 16 individual seats. So 50% of the votes yielded Horizon 20 or 24 seats.
In the five years since 2013, the Horizon group has split. A new ticket called Primo! Priorité Monaco, formed for last week’s elections, has attracted broad support.
Last week the Primo! Priorité list won 58% of the vote, with the rump Horizon list winning 26% and the Union Monégasque just 16%.
In response, Primo has won all 16 individual seats, just as Horizon did in 2013. The proportional seats were shared 5:2:1, leaving Primo! with 21 of 24 seats.
Monaco is really a small and very wealthy political community. The nation’s political culture is not typical of larger nations, states or even cities.
But the system they use to elect their legislature provides a clear demonstration of just how unrepresentative the results of multi-member plurality block voting can be.
Block voting, or ‘at-large’ voting, is still in use in many American municipalities, and prior to the 1960s it was also used in many US state legislative and congressional elections.