Since 2015, we have been working on different aspects of electoral reforms. The first implementation of the Mixed Member Proportional System in Sri Lanka’s local government elections on 10th February 2018 was a research to policy achievement for us, though of course we did not get everything we wanted. And the work is not over as I say in an op-ed that will hopefully be published tomorrow:
The government, the Elections Commission and citizens must treat this election as a trial run of MMP. The actual operation of MMP in Sri Lankan conditions must be analyzed and the required changes incorporated in the procedures for the Provincial and National elections that have to be held soon.
One obvious change that the Elections Commission must implement is in the manner of reporting results. Because FTTP wins do not represent the actual distribution of seats, care should be exercised in reporting FTTP winners. Ideally the first result that should be reported is the percentage of votes won by each party. The FTTP winners should only be announced subsequently. Claims of wins or sweeps based on FTTP alone are highly misleading. Those who come second or even third in FTTP contests are likely to end up as full voting members of the municipality or pradeshiya sabha.
The work on building trust-enhancing mechanisms for electoral demarcations has been an important component (not applied in the case of local government elections). On the 13th of February, Team Leader Sujata Gamage will be sharing her research with colleagues at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University. What will be discussed is partially explained below:
Electoral boundary determinations massively influence outcomes in electoral systems with first-past-the-post method of elections or variations thereof. In the US, where the incumbent lawmakers are the boundary authorities or redistricting authorities in a majority of States, gerrymandering to stack certain electorates with voters favorable to one party, or to ‘crack’ an unfavorable voter base across several electorates are some of the tactics used by the incumbents. Several State legislatures have been successfully challenged in recent time in the Courts in regard to the constitutionality of their electoral maps. The state of New Jersey has adopted politically representative commissions to counter gerrymandering by the incumbent. In UK, India and other countries in the Commonwealth, independent commissions are the norm.
ArcGIS technology for creating and using maps for demarcation and algorithms to test the efficiency and equitableness of maps so created are readily available . However there is not much evidence of boundary authorities using technology to increase transparency and efficiency of the processes. If any, there are concerns that technology has made gerrymandering easier.
The purpose of our research is to see whether the open access to demarcation tools to any stakeholder, big or small, will create an environment of trust in the demarcation process. We also wanted to test the utility of such a tool for the applicability of the “I-cut-you-freeze” method, which can bring two stakeholders with opposite views to a consensus. In this method, in a state or province with 20 electoral districts, say, Party A would be asked to present a map of its choice to Party B, say, inviting them to freeze one of A’s selections and redistrict the other 19. Then Party A would get a chance to freeze a second district and redistrict the remaining 18. According to the paper, after 19 rounds, it is theoretically possible to obtain a demarcation which is satisfactory to both Parties. An open demarcation tool accessible to both is essential to test the theory.