1/12/2024 - Politics and Society

From plurinominal to uninominal, what does it mean?

By valentin olavarria

From plurinominal to uninominal, what does it mean?

Written by Julián Mendivil and Valentim OlavarríaThe structural reforms that the bus bill represents not only contain an economic but also political view of the Argentine situation. One of the cases is the implementation of uninominal circumscriptions for elections to national deputies.

What are uninominal circumscriptions?

A circumscription is a division of a territory for electoral purposes, i.e. a delimited territory where representatives will be chosen. By ende, a uninominal circumscription is a territorial division where one single representative is chosen. The number of circumscriptions is usually associated with the amount of population, where it is soughtto what more or less, all circumscriptions have a similar number of voters inside.Now, the formula to choose this single representative is multiple, but we focus on what we find in the new Omnibus Law, the formula called “first-past-the-post” or simple majority, where the most voted candidate gets the bankroll.Its counterpart is the plurinominal circumscription, where in this division two or more representatives will be elected; it is the current system governing in Argentina, where the territory is divided into 24 circumscriptions that are the provinces and C.A.B.A., and each chooses a certain number of deputies, especially depending on the size of their population.

The history of system in the country

As Cervantes said, the story is “emula of time, deposit of actions, witness of the past, example and warning of the present, warning of coming”. So, before we get into the possible advantages and disadvantages or what the reform has to be asked: has this ever happened in our country?The answer is that yes, elections to national deputies by the uninominal system were developed in three circumstances: 1904, 1951 and 1954. In all cases, these changes were approved and repealed after a few years. To explain each one, we use the publications of today's national Mrs Sabrina Ajmechet and Professor Luciano de Privitellio.The first case, referred to the 1904 elections, was during the government of Julio Argentino Roca (1898-1904).The electoral law of that election, Law No. 4121, was passed on 29 December 1902. The reform, as it appears to be with the Ómnibus bill, was part of a set of projects such as the Labor Code and the Obligatory Military Service. However, the proposal did not reach its approval. The Labour Code was not discussed, the Military Service was supported for almost 100 years and the electoral service lasted for a few years.The electoral reform had an important step by the Congress of the Nation, with discussions in favor and against.The argument in favour of its creation was based on the crisis of political representativeness of that time as well as the bottle neck of the political system. The Argentine society of the early 20th century was very different from that of decades ago. At that time, the nation was much more modern, and the most heterogeneous and progressive citizenship (in turn, the product of immigrant currents). Consequently, one of the first aspirations of the law was to rejoin politics and society, turning a system more according to the changes of the time.One of the most powerful voices in favor was that of Joaquín V. González, who observed this problem and tried to deepen his argument. He detailed that the uninominal circumscription developed a more transparent system of legitimization, where the representatives were known directly by the people as the result of social dynamics. In turn, he focused on circumscription, presenting it as an existing and living community, which he chose his deputies.According to González, this socio-territorial group should reproduce the same economic activity and, consequently, the plurality of the Lower House would take place according to the economic plurality of the country. However, one must note a phrase by Juan Bautista Alberdi (his text “Bases”) about this, which contradicts the interests of this community: “The Chamber of Deputies represents the Nation in the world (...) Each Member represents the Nation, not the people who choose it”.Despite their incessant search and approval, the consequences of choice under this system were not ideal. By reducing the scale of representation (from provinces to circumscriptions), control over voting by client practices was extremely simple.And as everything comes to an end, the uninominal circumscriptions of Roca had a sad outcome. In 1905, during the government of Manuel Quintana, and based on the election by this circumscription regime, Congress decided its revocation and the return to the complete list system.

The 1950 case

The electoral reform of 1950 had an extremely divergent presentation and basis at the beginning of the century. The president at that time was João Domingo Perón, who a year earlier had driven a constitutional reform (the 1949 Constitution).The initiative was presented on 5 July sorpressively and dealt with on tables to be approved on 6 July. One of the few criticisms in the Congress was that of the national deputy Illia: “we now have knowledge of this project, but also do not know the deputies of the majority, except some” (situation perhaps similar to the current one, when the president of the block of deputies of Advanced Freedom, Oscar Zago, stated that he had not finished reading the law O bus).The government's arguments in favor of uninominal circumscriptions had, in a latent manner, strong party interests. Although there are obviously comments such as those of Joaquín V. González, about the proximity elector-candidate, other intentions can be observed. The Sáenz Peña Law system guaranteed the opposition an important percentage of seats. To incorporate the uninominal system, a party (in this case, peronism) could achieve almost unanimity in the Lower House.This was complemented by the view of the peronism of this time, in which the representation of the people was associated with the figure of President Perón and that, with this law, a Congress could be built according to this political perspective.One of the visible consequences of approval was the results of the elections (1951 and 1954). There, because of situations that we will explain later, the Executive Branch diagrammed the circumscriptions creating the “gerrymandering” effect, adjusting the districts so that a party (the peronist) gets almost all the bankruptcy of deputies.The end of the 1950 reform had similar consequences to Romanesque. Five years later it was completely revoked by the so-called Liberator Revolution.

Reforms Proposals in the Omnibus Law Project

The President of the Nation, Javier Milei, sent in the bill Ómnibus or in the so-called "Project of Bases Law and Departure Points for the Freedom of the Argentines" a specific chapter (number one) that aims to modify the Argentine electoral system. Of all this, in section one, with articles from 443 to 449, is the one referred to the uninominal circumscriptions.Then some specifications of the above in the previous sections.On the one hand, each district (provinces and C.A.B.A.) must be divided into a “number of circumscriptions equal to the number of deputies chosen”. In other words, for example, if the C.A.B.A. chooses 25 Members, it will have to secrete its territory 25 times.In addition, citizenship will only choose a list integrated by a “holder candidate and a alternate”, which must comply with the gender requirement (one must be male and other female). In addition, “the election will be held the simple plurality of suffrages”. That is, the candidate who votes most (whether having an advantage of a vote or more) will be elected national deputy. In other countries, this method is called “first past the post”.Lastly and not least, the drawing of the circumscriptions. This is a crucial issue because one of the possible disadvantages of the uninominal system alludes to the handling of the districts by the president.In the bill, the proposal is that the National Executive Branch publishes 360 calendar days before the election the form of circumscriptions. After that, it must be communicated to the National Electoral Chamber (CNE) and other political parties, which may raise objections. The design cannot be modified, but even after a national census (i.e. every 10 years).About the next election (in 2025), the project is compulsory two subjects. The use of the national census of 2022 as the basis and also the need for each circumscription does not present 3% differences in the number of inhabitants. The circumstances to be chosen this year will be drawn beforehand by the Chamber of Deputies of the Nation, following the partial renewal of Congress.To finish the point, it is important to mention some comments in its statement. According to the Executive Branch, the current electoral reform is based on that “The well-understood representation is the foundational stone of Liberal Democracy and for this it is essential that the interests of representatives and represented are aligned. The system of uninominal circumscriptions aims to resolve this dissociation between the interest of the politician and the interest of the citizen”. Thus, it seems to be glimpsed of an argument like that of Joaquín V. González of 1905 regarding the proximity of the electorate-representative.

Uninominal circumscriptions in other countries and their disadvantages

Countries that currently use this system called first-past-the-post, in English or mostly uninominal scrutiny, in Spanish; they are countries with a British colonial past (anglosajones), because it is the system (todavia) used in the UK. Some countries within the Commonwealth such as Australia or New Zealand have abandoned it and modified it to hold it more representative. There are 48 countries that choose their legislature through the uninominal system, but in this article we focus only on three: the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.Currently, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom is represented by five political parties, in addition to the figure of the independents, which represent no party.The 650 members of the House are elected through 650 constituencies through the first-past-the-post system, where the most voted stands with the bank in representation of the entire district; furthermore, there is the figure of the “by-elections”, specific elections outside the term of the general elections, where a district that was without a representative for resignation, death, or because of any, can vote for its successor.In the past elections of 2019, the Conservative Party managed to reach the majority and was with 365 MPs with 43.6% of the votes; if we would apply a proportional distribution, such as the one used in Argentina, the tories would have stayed in 283 MPs, i.e. that here we see that under this system the winner achieves a victory with overrepresented, e.g. the Liberal Democrats, who with about 11% of the votes to exist at national level, only became MPs. This benefits the two major parties, because if the third parties or other minority parties were more bankrupt in their favor, they would make them key actors in the formation of the government or in the creation of legislative majoritys, such as the one that needed David Cameron in 2010, derived from the alliance of the tories with the LibDems.In the American case, the situation is much simpler: in the United States there is a very strong and rooted bipartisanism, where any other party outside the dichotomy Democrats-Republicans has no or scarce representation at both local, state and, above all, federal.Representatives of the U.S. Congress are elected by uninominal districts that respect the borders of states, that is, that a state is divided into a certain amount of districts, according to the population they count on, and there can be no district that is part of two or more states. It would be the closest example of the Argentine reality, except for the system of parties. However, the great difference with the national case and with the previous British case is that the House of Representatives renews in its entirety every two years, that is, the representative must renew his position every two years. This encourages the representative in functions not to “sleeve”, because we could say that he lives in constant electoral climate (permanent campaign), with the mind placed in fulfilling his electorate to be re-elected.The great problem faced by the United States under this system is longevity in the position of some representatives, for example, 37 representatives were elected (and continue in their bank) during the 20th century, highlights the case of Hal Rogers, a representative of 86 years, who was first elected in 1981, 42 years ago.Finally, the most controversial case: Canada. The Canadian House of Commons comprises 338 seats, and as a federal country, follows the same logic as the United States regarding the design that must have the districts, the provinces are subdivided depending on the amount of population they have.And, specifically, the last results with which we count, which are the elections of 2021, the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau was once again a winner, but only in seats, since, as for popular vote, it was below the Conservative Party which collaborated 33.7% compared with 32.6% of liberals.However, the conservatives were much lower in the amount of seats on those of Trudeau, although they were winners: 119 MPs against the 160 liberals. A huge distortion, which not only benefited the Liberal Party, but, for example, the Bloc Quebecois, which following the same logic as the SNP in Scotland, because it is very strong in a single region have over-representation; or that of the Green Party, which despite having lower percentage of votes than the conservative PPC, managed two banks, while the PPC, with almost 5% of votes, ran out of representation.

System advantages

So far we have analyzed the major problems present in this system: distorted representation, arising from the overrerepresentation or underrepresentation of different political parties; longevity of some parliamentarians; but we could mention other major problems such as the arbitrary design of the districts, which depending on how the territory is divided, can benefit one or another; among others.However, this system has two major points in favour: the connection with local representation and its consequent accountability: the representative who campaigns and is elected by the district, will be more connected to his district, because he should only take care of his representatives and not of a whole province as is the current case, besides that with the elimination of the so-called sheet list, the elector knows first-hand those who are the candidates in his district, and these must be informed and able to connect with their potential voters. Your presence or not in the chamber may depend on few votes of difference.On the other hand, accountability says that by getting this local connection with voters, they know who your direct representative is in the House of Representatives, being able to remove it in the next elections or increase petitions directly to your office, as it happens in the United States, among other things; the place of the deputy will not depend on the party boss who gives you a place on the list, but yes, directly from his voters.Alternatives to the system proposed by the officialism:
  • The so-called mixed proportional representation system, used in Germany or Bolivia, where a part of the House is elected by uninominal districts and another part is elected by votes to lists, which are proportionally distributed. This system guarantees the local representation of uninominality, but guarantees representation to those who do not earn enough bankrolls, but rather a considerable percentage of popular vote.
  • Another alternative would be the one used in Ireland, with the single transferable voting system. Under this system, the elector positions the candidates from the preferred to the least preferred. If the candidate I want not to get to the win, it could help to win my second preferred option.

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valentin olavarria

valentin olavarria

Hi, I'm Valentín Olavarría. I have a degree in Political Science (UCA). Founder of the blog La Argentina Joven. va.olavarria@gmail.com


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