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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Voter discrimination in Polish parliamentary elections

Pink buttons by kup,kup from flickr (CC-NC-SA)

Poland has a reputation of a stable democratic country, and indeed - pretty much everybody can vote or candidate, and there have never been any vote counting problems. However, there's a massive discrimination of some classes of voters going on, one that the mainstream media never talk about. Your vote will count for less if you:

  • vote in a district with a high turnout
  • vote in a district which arbitrarily got fewer mandates per person
  • you were arbitrarily excluded from district's population count
All three unfortunately apply to voters living in London.

To cut the story short, here's a table of voting power depending on district. Elections to both houses have slightly different number of districts (40 vs 41) so I'll show them separately.

Upper house (Senat)
DistrictMandatesEligible votersActual votersVote weight (theoretical)Vote weight (actual)
Warszawa I4156703811443186340
Warszawa II27566284606346550
Poznań26819534442437252
Szczecin28375804408975852
Łódź26937794224937154
Bydgoszcz28068334214426155
Kraków414315488297676855
Wrocław39715975574297662
Bielsko-Biała25987613465448266
Gdynia39066885065228168
Lublin39645535013987669
Krosno26976323314017070
Gliwice26594063306607470
Rzeszów39567304931607770
Sosnowiec26001553265368271
Kielce310435784842407071
Gdańsk38237424734078973
Katowice38262924686928974
Białystok39512364644327774
Płock26684053078107375
Rybnik25833503036888476
Olsztyn26282343010487877
Piła25962373005118277
Nowy Sącz25841262994538477
Konin26044272994328177
Piotrków Trybunalski25901932927578379
Radom25758122855268581
Tarnów25529422834248981
Wałbrzych25676922725508685
Legnica38061744052989185
Zielona Góra38014903963899287
Toruń38344303938788888
Kalisz37825963885669489
Częstochowa249364425638210090
Sieradz37921123832399390
Koszalin25166552489129593
Opole38309033709968993
Siedlce37468423682699994
Chełm37786413523659598
Elbląg250483723209697100


Lower house (Sejm)
DistrictMandatesEligible votersActual votersVote weight (theoretical)Vote weight (actual)
Warszawa I19156703811459837447
Poznań106819534476169063
Kraków139298265614048565
Łódź106937794227548867
Warszawa II117566284605828967
Wrocław149715975561338871
Gdańsk128237424725048971
Katowice128262924654828973
Bielsko-Biała95987613447639274
Częstochowa74936442557288777
Sosnowiec96001553257379278
Gdynia149066885036369478
Bydgoszcz128068334189029181
Wałbrzych85676922712788683
Szczecin138375804388299583
Legnica128061744045599184
Rybnik95833503029149484
Chrzanów85017222676769784
Lublin159645535017049584
Piła95962372985699285
Nowy Sącz95841262979029485
Konin96044272976459185
Gliwice106594063293509386
Zielona Góra128014903942159186
Rzeszów159567304913639686
Piotrków Trybunalski95901932919829387
Kalisz127825963862359488
Sieradz127921123823879388
Radom95758122848399689
Tarnów955294228132310090
Koszalin85166552465149592
Białystok159512364611809692
Płock106684053069819192
Siedlce127468423681429892
Toruń138344303927299593
Kielce1610435784825719493
Krosno116976323302289694
Olsztyn106282342992319794
Chełm127786413515009496
Elbląg85048372305929798
Opole1383090336854096100


So if you live in Warsaw or London, your vote only counts as 40% to 47% of someone living in Elbląg or Opole. How it happened again ?
  • Allocation of mandates per district was distriminatory in the first place - even dividing mandates per eligible voters a citizen in some districts (like Warsaw) are worth only 63%/74% of a citizen in other district
  • Counts of eligible voters exclude people living abroad. Even worse - for purposes of mandate assignment they are falsely counted as still living at their last address in Poland. So if a few thousand people moved from Legnica district to London (and are now voting in Warsaw I district), a mandate for them is not reassigned from Legnica to London. So people who stayed in Legnica get to vote for them, while people living in Warsaw or London get their votes diluted !
  • Mandates are allocated based on number of theoretical eligible voters, not number of people who actually voted. Just because you live in the same district as someone who didn't bother to vote doesn't give you any right of voting for that person! Only actual voters should be counted.
These three effects discriminated against voters in the past, but it only became a major issue in the last elections, with unprecedented number of people living abroad voting. Apparently they and people living in Warsaw are not worth less than half a citizen. The next parliamentary elections are only due in 2011, so there's plenty of time to fix the problem. People living abroad should either get their own district, or number of mandates for Warszawa I should be increased to take them into account. Or the best thing - allocate the mandates only after the voting, strictly proportionally to the number of valid votes.

5 comments:

Astronauta said...

"Or the best thing - allocate the mandates only after the voting, strictly proportionally to the number of valid votes."

That's definitely not the best solution. Optimally we'd like to have each region of comparable size have equal representation in parliament. In your solution if only 30% of people vote in Opole and 70% of people in Elblag, Elblag will get more mandates, even though both cities are practically the same size.

The question whether regions with smaller percentage of voters should be discriminated (or even punished) is an interesting one -- with no clear answer, though.

Marcin Brodziak said...

And this blog also teaches me that you should be careful when experimenting with 'smart' software or you'll be nicknamed astronauta or some other random word.

taw said...

People keep treating national parliaments as if they were meant for resolving conflicts between regions, but vast majority of what parliament are doing affects the whole nation, or perhaps specific social groups (like people of certain income, age, or profession), even in case of somewhat regional urban-vs-rural issues districts aren't really helpful because there's districting is performed based on town location, not town size.

So in my solution if 30% of people vote in Opole, these 30% of people who live in Opole and voted would get the same number of mandates as 70% of people in Elbląg who bothered to vote. Why should people in Opole be able to vote not only for themselves but also for others who simply happen to live in the same city ? People from Opole who didn't vote have as much chance of agreeing with voters from Opole as with voters from Elbląg, or they might disagree with all of them (or they might have voted in London, what counted for half a vote because those who stayed in Opole got to vote twice).

The only solution is big districts (what Poland actually does), and fair treatment of all of them (what Poland more or less used to do before so many people moved abroad). It's only going to get much worse if USA-style plurality voting ever gets implemented in Poland. Putting relatively unimportant district interest in front of everything else would bring us all the bad things associated with American politics like redistricting problems, pork barrel spending, and would mean the end of democracy in Poland.

Marcin Brodziak said...

I think I'd be ok with your approach, provided that the list of candidates is also global (and global only).

Otherwise we end up in paranoia -- I can vote only for local representatives, but I have no guarantee that they will be chosen, even if they get 100% of votes from people who actually could vote for them. Due to my neighbors I had no chances whatsoever to vote on someone who will end up in parliament.

And if we have country-wide list of candidates, the problem disappears. I can vote for anyone I feel should be in parliament, regardless of their hometown. That would also eliminate problems of people voting from outside the country. What do you think?

taw said...

Did you know that a system of dynamic vote mandate allocation is already used in Polish elections, namely in elections to European Parliament (see chapter 15, in particular article 129) ?

In national parliamentary elections such a system would mean you cannot be sure if your district gets let's say 8 or 9 representatives, because number of voter could reasonably be somewhat higher or somewhat lower than expected. But it'd be impossible to get 0 mandates allocated to a district, unless the districts were really tiny (a bad idea), or virtually every person in one district boycotted the elections, while other district voted just fine. So I don't think that would be much of a problem.