Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Varying the Un-Variable: Social Structure, Electoral Formulae, and Election Quality

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Varying the Un-Variable: Social Structure, Electoral Formulae, and Election Quality

Article excerpt


What impact do electoral laws have on ballot rigging? Theoretically, where the stakes of losing elections are higher, politicians will manufacture votes or accuse their rivals of fabricating them. In this paper, we analyze the effects of electoral formulae-the mathematical conversion of votes into seats-on the illicit behavior of political parties. We contribute to research on electoral integrity, a research agenda that explores how the panoply of institutions and laws leads to biased, potentially fraudulent elections (Norris, Frank, and Martínez i Coma 2013).

Electoral formula, the key mechanism for translating votes into legislative seats, first gained prominence with Maurice Duverger's work. Duverger famously argues that single-member plurality districts (SMPDs) tend to lead to two-party systems whereas multimember proportional representation (PR) systems are associated with a higher number of parties (Duverger 1964). Fabrice Lehoucq (2003) hypothesizes that plurality election laws should lead to more ballot rigging because the zero-sum nature of plurality elections increases incentives to fabricate votes or to impugn an opponent's arsenal of votes. Although fraud can shape legislative outcomes in PR systems, its denunciation is much less likely to deprive opposition parties of parliamentary representation. Even if allegations of fraud lead a party to lose a seat in a close election, it is likely to have already won some seats in multimember districts.

This paper extends this work by rigorously examining whether SMPDs or first-past-the-post (FPTP) systems lead to more accusations of electoral fraud and more election-related problems. Our paper exploits two different, but complementary, data sets to disentangle the effects of electoral laws from those of social heterogeneity, which is an alternative predictor of ballot rigging. We assume that societies with more inequality or cleavages will encourage powerful groups to subvert the will of the electorate. Our paper, though, is less concerned with arbitrating between these accounts than in isolating the impact of electoral formulae on electoral misconduct. Our main objective is to deploy two databases-one subnational, the other cross-national-to subject what we may call the "electoral formulae" hypothesis to a number of exacting tests.

On one hand, we analyze a unique database of accusations of electoral fraud of subnational elections from Costa Rica. Between 1901 and 1948, electoral laws called for the use of either PR or plurality formulae to allocate legislative seats in biennial elections (in all) districts between 1901 and 1948. That formulae and social structure vary across space and time in an otherwise homogeneous environment minimizes problems of endogeneity that bedevils research in comparative politics. On the other hand, we embed this analysis in a cross-national research design by using the Quality of Elections Database (QED), which contains information about 170 countries between 1975 and 2004, to analyze the impact of electoral formulae on the quality of elections in a cross-national context (Kelley 2012). We therefore emulate a research design championed by Eric Chang and Miriam Golden (2007), one that combines a crossnational data set of perceptions of corruption and a national-level data set of estimates of the magnitude of corruption in Italy. Although our variables are different, we also harness cross-national data (or most different system approach) and subnational data (or a most similar system design) to assess the impact of electoral laws on political behavior.

Both sets of models rely upon reports of electoral fraud, which we define as efforts to manipulate electoral results that violate the law and produce an inaccurate tally of the vote (Lehoucq 2003). Both, in other words, use the denunciation of fraud as a measure of ballot rigging. The subnational data incorporate accusations of electoral misconduct from legal petitions parties assembled and filed with legislative authorities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.