Party-List Voting in Iraq—and Washington?

Americans may not be familiar with party list or even proportional representation, but they're paying for it in Iraq to the tune of $12 billion a month.

March 19 is the five-year anniversary of the Iraq occupation. There have been shifting reasons why the United States invaded. However, the rhetoric of exporting freedom and democracy has been constant. It's being reported that Americans are supporting the occupation at the cost of $12 billion a month. While the war is a drain on financial resources, one thing we didn't ship over was our electoral system itself. Instead of single-member district plurality elections, Iraq uses a proportional voting system for its national legislature. The Iraqis are using the closed party-list version of proportional representation (PR). With this system, political parties publish a list of candidates up to the number of seats that need to be filled. For example, in a 10-seat district, up to 10 candidates will stand. Voters look at the list to see who's who. If they like the candidates or the policy proposals, they vote for that party on the ballot. In a 10-seat district, the quota or threshold to get elected is 10 percent. Ten percent will get a party one seat. Thirty-five percent will merit three and maybe four seats with the largest remainder method of allocation. If three seats are won, the top three names on the list go to the legislature. I can see why PR is attractive to U.S. administrators in Iraq. It rewards participation. Parties will work and turn out voters to get as many names as they can on their list elected. Large turnouts mean successful elections: a valid benchmark of progress in a country where there's more bad news than good. With PR, most voters and the parties they choose are winners. With all of the divisions in Iraq, it's best to not exclude people from the government. Unlike winner-take-all plurality elections, PR provides majority rule while directly giving the minority seats A PR voting method is not to be confused with a parliamentary form of government. For example, the U.K Parliament uses the same single-member district plurality election system we do. Mention a PR system for Washington state and many will mistakenly think you're proposing a parliamentary system. They'll mention fractious governments or disproportionate minority influence in coalition arrangements. While these are issues with PR, the Washington version of a party-list system could negate these concerns with a higher quota or threshold to get elected. It's been said that Washington voters like to "pick the person and not the party." Open party list could speak to this sensibility. With open list, instead of choosing the party, voters pick their favorite candidate from the party list. If a party gets 30 percent of the vote, the top three vote getters from the list are elected. PR is legal and has been in use for public elections in the United States for many decades. Instead of party list, we've used the single transferable vote (ranked choice) version of PR. Considering the growing acceptance of ranked choice around the nation (65 percent of Santa Fe voters approved it for city elections last week), it's unlikely the legally untested party list will gain any traction soon. Americans may not be familiar with party list or even proportional representation, but they're paying for it in Iraq to the tune of $12 billion a month.

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