The Political Atlas (7/9) Republican Spectrum

[The cover image of every post in this series is an apolitical mock flag design of my own creation.The flower overlapping the star is a pansy, which represents Free Thought. I will eventually discuss political symbolism in Part 9.]

Last time, we laid out all the different ways a State may be organized in its constitution, particularly the geographical administration as well as secular and theological structures of power. However, if a country happens to be a Republic, its administrative components may be further categorized according to a final set of three parameters. In this essay, I will describe them.

Electoral Axis

Plurality voting is an electoral system in which each voter is allowed to vote for only one candidate, and the candidate who polls the most among their counterparts (achieving a plurality) is elected. In a system based on single-member districts, it may be called first-past-the-post, single-choice voting, simple plurality or relative/simple majority. In a system based on multi-member districts, it may be referred to as winner-takes-all or bloc voting. The system is often used to elect members of a legislative assembly or executive officers. Plurality voting is distinguished from a majoritarian electoral system, in which, to win, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of votes, i.e., more votes than all other candidates combined.

Exhaustive ballot is a voting system used to elect a single winner. Under the exhaustive ballot the elector simply casts a single vote for his or her favorite candidate. However, if no candidate is supported by an overall majority of votes then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and a further round of voting occurs. This process is repeated for as many rounds as necessary until one candidate has a majority. The exhaustive ballot is similar to the two-round system but with key differences. Under the two round system if no candidate wins a majority on the first round, only the top two recipients of votes advance to the second (and final) round of voting, and a majority winner is determined in the second round. By contrast, on the exhaustive ballot only one candidate is eliminated per round; thus, several rounds of voting may be required until a candidate reaches a majority.

Ranked voting describes certain voting systems in which voters rank outcomes in a hierarchy on the ordinal scale (ordinal voting systems). In some areas ranked-choice voting is called preferential voting, but in other places this term has various other meanings. When choosing between more than two options, preferential ballots collect more information from voters than first-past-the-post voting (also called plurality voting).

  • Single Transferable Vote is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat organizations or constituencies (voting districts). Under STV, an elector (voter) has a single vote that is initially allocated to their most preferred candidate. Votes are totalled and a quota (the number of votes required to win a seat) derived. If their candidate achieves quota, he/she is elected and in some STV systems any surplus vote is transferred to other candidates in proportion to the voters’ stated preferences. If more candidates than seats remain, the bottom candidate is eliminated with his/her votes being transferred to other candidates as determined by the voters’ stated preferences. These elections and eliminations, and vote transfers if applicable, continue until there are only as many candidates as there are unfilled seats. The specific method of transferring votes varies in different systems.

  • Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a voting method used in single-seat elections with more than two candidates. Instead of voting only for a single candidate, voters in IRV elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each elector’s top choice, losing candidates are eliminated, and ballots for losing candidates are redistributed until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of the voters. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an “instant runoff” that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. IRV has the effect of avoiding split votes when multiple candidates earn support from like-minded voters.

  • Condorcet method is an election method that elects the candidate that would win a majority of the vote in all of the head-to-head elections against each of the other candidates, whenever there is such a candidate. A candidate with this property is called the Condorcet winner. A Condorcet winner does not always exist in every election because the preference of a group of voters selecting from more than two options can be cyclic — that is, it might happen that each candidate might have an opponent who would win a majority of the votes in a two-candidate contest. (This is similar to the game rock–paper–scissors, where each hand shape wins against only one opponent and loses to another). The possibility of such cyclic preferences in a group of voters is known as the Condorcet paradox. Also, the Condorcet winner is not necessarily the utilitarian winner (the one which maximizes social welfare). Most Condorcet methods have a single round of voting, in which each voter ranks the candidates from most popular (number 1) to least popular (a higher number). A voter’s ranking is often called their order of preference, although it may not match their sincere order of preference since voters are free to rank in any order they choose and may have strategic reasons to misrepresent preferences. The votes can be tallied in many ways to find a winner. Some – the Condorcet methods – will elect the Condorcet winner if there is one. They can also elect a winner when there is no Condorcet winner. But some arrive at different winners than others – Condorcet methods differ on which other criteria they satisfy.

Cardinal voting refers to any electoral system which allows the voter to give each candidate an independent rating or grade. These are also referred to as “rated”, “evaluative”, “graded”, or “absolute” voting systems. Cardinal methods and ordinal methods (also called ranked voting) are two main categories of modern voting systems, along with plurality voting.

  • Approval voting is a single-winner electoral system where each voter may select (“approve”) any number of candidates. The winner is the most-approved candidate

  • Range voting or score voting is an electoral system for single-seat elections, in which voters give each candidate a score, the scores are added (or, equivalently, averaged), and the candidate with the highest total is elected.

Proportional representation characterizes electoral systems by which divisions into an electorate are reflected proportionately into the elected body. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result: not just a plurality, or a bare majority, of them. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts (also called super-districts), as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, the implementations of PR that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats.

A mixed electoral system is an electoral system that combines a plurality/majoritarian voting system with an element of proportional representation (PR). The plurality/majoritarian component is usually first-past-the-post voting (FPTP), whereas the proportional component is most often based on party list PR. A distinguishing characteristic of mixed systems is the fact that every voter can influence both the plurality/majoritarian and PR aspects of an election. In a hybrid system, by contrast, different electoral formulas are used in different regions of a country. The most prominent mixed electoral systems include mixed member proportional (MMP) and parallel voting, that latter of which is also known as mixed member majoritarian (MMM). MMP generally produces proportional election outcomes, meaning that a political party which wins n% of the vote will receive roughy n% of the seats. Parallel voting tends to produce semi-proportional outcomes.

Legislative-Executive Structure

Republic (Latin: res publica) is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter”, not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are not inherited. It is a form of government under which the head of state is not a monarch. In American English, the definition of a republic refers specifically to a form of government in which elected individuals represent the citizen body and exercise power according to the rule of law under a constitution, including separation of powers with an elected head of state, referred to as a constitutional republic.

Presidential Republic is a democratic and republican system of government where a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This head of government is in most cases also the head of state, which is called president. In presidential countries, the executive is elected and is not responsible to the legislature, which cannot in normal circumstances dismiss it. Such dismissal is possible, however, in uncommon cases, often through impeachment.

Parliamentary Republic is a republic that operates under a parliamentary system of government where the executive branch (the government) derives its legitimacy from and is accountable to the legislature (the parliament). There are a number of variations of parliamentary republics. Most have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state, with the head of government holding real power, much like constitutional monarchies. Some have combined the roles of head of state and head of government, much like presidential systems, but with a dependency upon parliamentary power.

Semi-Presidential Republic or dual executive system is a system of government in which a president exists alongside a prime minister and a cabinet, with the latter two being responsible to the legislature of a state. It differs from a parliamentary republic in that it has a popularly elected head of state, who is more than a purely ceremonial figurehead, and from the presidential system in that the cabinet, although named by the president, is responsible to the legislature, which may force the cabinet to resign through a motion of no confidence.

Directorial Republic is a country ruled by a college of several people who jointly exercise the powers of a head of state or a head of government. The sole country now using this form of government is Switzerland (and to a lesser extent, San Marino), where directories rule all levels of administration, federal, cantonal and municipal. The Swiss Federal Council is elected by the Parliament for four years (its members cannot be dismissed), and is composed of seven members, among whom one is President and one is Vice-President, although these are completely symbolic. There is no relationship of confidence between Parliament and the Federal Council. It is a shared system of government that reflects and represents the heterogeneity and multi-ethnicity of the Swiss people. Direct popular elections are used at the local level.

Judicial Structure

Civil law, or civilian law, is a legal system originating in Europe, intellectualized within the framework of Roman law, the main feature of which is that its core principles are codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. Historically, a civil law is the group of legal ideas and systems ultimately derived from the Corpus Juris Civilis, but heavily overlaid by Napoleonic, Germanic, canonical, feudal, and local practices, as well as doctrinal strains such as natural law, codification, and legal positivism. Conceptually, civil law proceeds from abstractions, formulates general principles, and distinguishes substantive rules from procedural rules. It holds case law secondary and subordinate to statutory law. Civil law is often paired with the inquisitorial system, but the terms are not synonymous.

  • Inquisitorial system is a legal system in which the court, or a part of the court, is actively involved in investigating the facts of the case. Inquisitorial systems are used primarily in countries with civil legal systems, such as France and Italy, as opposed to common law systems. Countries using common law, including the United States, may use a.n inquisitorial system for summary hearings in the case of misdemeanors, such as minor traffic violations. The distinction between an adversarial and inquisitorial system is theoretically unrelated to the distinction between a civil legal and common-law system.

Common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law) is the body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of “common law” is that it arises as precedent. In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks at past precedential decisions of relevant courts, and synthesizes the principles of those past cases as applicable to the current facts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision (a principle known as stare decisis). If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases (called a “matter of first impression”), and legislative statutes are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue (one party or the other has to win, and on disagreements of law, judges make that decision). The court states an opinion that gives reasons for the decision, and those reasons agglomerate with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants. Common law, as the body of law made by judges, stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statutes which are adopted through the legislative process, and regulations which are promulgated by the executive branch (the interactions among these different sources of law are explained later in this article). 

  • Adversarial system or adversary system is a legal system used in the common law countries where two advocates represent their parties’ case or position before an impartial person or group of people, usually a jury or judge, who attempt to determine the truth and pass judgment accordingly. It is in contrast to the inquisitorial system used in some civil law systems (i.e. those deriving from Roman law or the Napoleonic code) where a judge investigates the case. The adversarial system is the two-sided structure under which criminal trial courts operate, putting the prosecution against the defense.

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