OSCE Upbeat on American Election

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which looks into these sorts of things from Vancouver to Vladivostok, gave a generally positive assessment of the elections held in the United States on Tuesday, November 7.

“The overall election administration, including the processing of voters on election day, seemed professional and efficiently organized in most polling stations we visited,” said Giovanni Kessler, who headed the mission.

“However, the swift introduction of Direct Recording Equipment (DREs), at times without a voter verifiable audit paper trail, appeared to negatively impact on voter confidence. This remains a challenge for the future.”

Commenting on the campaign, Kessler raised his concern that a large number of political advertisements consisted of personalized attacks on opponents.

From the full initial report, an issue important to me:

No provisions have, however, been made to address the long-standing issue of representation of those residents of Washington DC who are not elegible to vote in another State.

Lack of representation is a constitutional quirk, but the fact remains that half a million Americans (more than the population of the state of Wyoming, for example) have no real representation in either the House or the Senate.

The mission consisted of 18 international election analysts from 15 OSCE participating States who were deployed to 14 [US] States to assess the electoral environment and procedures, meet representatives of State and local election administration, political parties and candidates, and civil society.

A limited number of polling stations in California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia and Washington were visited by OSCE/ODIHR, but no systematic observation of polling and counting procedures was conducted.

You may have heard about the results. Good news, I think.

Catastrophic success?

In one of his many excellent pieces in the run-up to the German election, Alex mentioned the phenomenon of ‘overhang mandates’. These are extra parliamentary seats that a party gains by winning more seats via one of German’s two electoral methods than by the other. This might seem odd enough. What’s even odder is that a party could lose a seat if too many people vote for it.

German electoral law is complex. In a comment to one of Tobias’s posts, Florian recommended the wahlrecht.de website as a good primer on how it works. He also mentioned examples of some of the electoral weirdnesses explained by wahlrecht.de. For example, did you know (asks Florian) that, under certain circumstances, a vote can have ‘negative weight’ — can reduce the parliamentary representation of the party for which it is cast?

Well, it can. And this conundrum is worth looking at closely, because right now it is more than a mere electoral curiosity. There is one electoral district in Germany, Dresden I, that has not yet voted. (Those who’ve been paying a perhaps unhealthy level of attention to the German elections will know that the death of a neonazi candidate has forced the delay of the election.) And in Dresden I, there is a very real chance that a local triumph of the CDU could cause the party to lose a seat in the national parliament. The reason? It’s those overhang mandates that Alex kept mentioning.

Excellent as wahlrecht.de is, it’s in German. Below the fold, then, is a summary explanation of how the CDU could lose a seat by gaining votes. For those who read German and are interested in that sort of thing, there are links to the relevant passages of the BWahlG (German Federal Electoral Act).

In the mean time, we should note that the possible ‘negative weight’ of CDU votes in Dresden I, though perverse and undemocratic, would not affect the overall results in Germany. Even if the CDU are ‘catastrophically successful’ in Dresden I, the Union will still have more seats than the SPD, albeit with a lead of only 2 rather than 3 MPs. The really perverse thing that could come out of the Dresden special election is this: CDU and SPD wind up with an equal number of seats. As the Spiegel explains, however, this is mathematically a possibility, but in real-world terms exceedingly unlikely. To achieve this result, the SPD would need to poll 91% of voters in the district, and every single eligible voter would have to vote.

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