Venezuela's Quirky Election: The Lists

Newbies to Venezuelan politics may not know that the voting system for Venezuela’s National Assembly (our local parliament) is mixed. What this means is that some deputies are...

Newbies to Venezuelan politics may not know that the voting system for Venezuela’s National Assembly (our local parliament) is mixed. What this means is that some deputies are selected by direct, winner-take-all vote, and some are selected by a “list” vote.

The list vote is distributed according to the states, and allocated to political parties according to how they do in the state at large.

Most states get to elect 2 deputies, while the most populous ones (Carabobo, Miranda, Zulia, and Distrito Capital) get 3. A state like Amazonas, with 142,000 inhabitants, selects the same number of “list” deputies as Lara, which has 1.7 million. There are 52 list seats available, out of a total of 165.

The blocks that get awarded the deputies in each state are determined by something called the D’Hondt Method, named after XIXth Century Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hondt. Without delving too much into details, what this means is that for the winning party to get both list deputies, it must double the number of votes the second-largest party gets. This protects the largest minority in each state.

Suppose, for example, that the national popular vote is split 50-50 between chavismo and the opposition. According to our Swing-o-meter, the likely effect of this is that the opposition wins the number of list deputies, 28-24.

How is this possible? Simple. With a 50-50 split, it is very unlikely (based on historical projections) that the winning coalition would double the second-largest one in any state. Assuming a negligible role for the PPT, a 50-50 split means the government wins in most states (since opposition votes tend to be concentrated in a few, urban states), but its advantage is not large enough to more than double the opposition vote.

Let’s break it down some more. Again, based on historical projections, the 50-50 scenario translates into a government win in Amazonas, 65-34. A landslide, but not big enough to give the government the 2 Amazonas list deputies. One of the list deputies would go to the opposition, and one for the government. The government would need to more than double the votes of the second largest block in order to get the two list deputies, and in a 50-50 scenario, that would be extremely unlikely.

It’s the same story in other chavista strongholds. Apure would vote 60-40 for the government. The consequence? One list vote for the government, one for the opposition. Barinas, Chávez’s home state, would vote 61-39 for the government under the 50-50 scenario, but the list deputies would be split evenly between the two blocks.

But what about the opposition states? The interesting thing is that they would break two-to-one in terms of deputies for the opposition.

Take Miranda, for example. A 50-50 scenario would suggest a 55-45 win for the opposition in that state. But because Miranda elects three list deputies, the D’Hondt Method means the opposition gets two and the government gets one. The same is true in Carabobo, Zulia, and the Distrito Capital, where the opposition share of the vote has been slightly larger than its historical trend.

Keep that in mind when you start hearing results tonight. Even if the opposition is unable to beat Chávez nationally, it’s still assured a non-negligible number of “list” deputies.