The elections this Sunday in Andalusia are part of a usual dispute framework: all against the president of the Board and PP candidate for re-election, Juan Manuel Moreno. But they also represent a change in the electoral paradigm: it is the ideological vote, which has traditionally worked as a hammer to mobilize the left, against the useful, more ideological vote. The latter is disputed by Moreno and his main rival, the socialist Juan Espadas, representatives of the worn-out bipartisanship. It is the key dispute, because whoever wins that battle will have the Andalusian electoral system in their favor, which benefits the most voted force.
The last debate reveals an ultimatum from Vox to Moreno to enter his Government before a third of undecided Andalusians
Andalusia has eight provinces and this Sunday eight regional elections are held, one for each constituency. The d’Hondt law, the proportional calculation system used in the Spanish electoral system, establishes a minimum of 3% of the votes cast to obtain parliamentary representation in each province. It does not matter the number and percentage of votes that a party obtains throughout the Andalusian territory, what counts is to exceed that 3% in Seville, in Malaga, in Cádiz, in Granada, in Córdoba, in Almería, in Huelva and in Jaén .
The constituency is what transforms votes into seats. But that 3% is not the same in all provinces, it depends on the population and participation. Where there are more Andalusians registered (Seville and Malaga, 18 and 17 deputies at stake respectively), a seat costs fewer votes; and where there is less population (Jaén and Huelva 11 seats each) obtaining representation is more controversial.
In theory, 3% is a low bar -in the general elections it is 5%-, but in practice the threshold is determined by the electoral barrier, that is, the percentage of votes obtained by the party with the most votes in each province. The stronger the former, the more votes the latter will need to enter Parliament. In 2018, the last seat in the province of Huelva went to Vox: it cost 17,573 votes, 8.33% of the total. Vox obtained the same representation as Adelante Andalucía, which also won a seat, only that the left-wing coalition had obtained twice as many ballots (30,187). A little more difference in votes is what cost the PP its third seat, which prevented Adelante from achieving the second.
This same situation explains why the blank ballot always benefits the group with the most votes: for example, let us imagine that in Jaén a total of 1,000 votes are registered for the different parties, another 200 blank and 50 invalid. If only the votes for the candidates -1,000- were counted, 30 votes (3%) would be enough for a party to win seats. But when blank votes are also counted, the total is 1,200 valid votes, and 3% would amount to 36 ballots. It’s just a simplification. The reality of Jaén, in fact, will be much more complex in these elections. It has 11 deputies at stake for eight formations with possibilities: the six main ones, in addition to Jaén Merece Más -the brand of the Emptied Spain- and Andaluces Levantaos.
There is a general consensus about the d’Hondt law and how it favors the big parties and the concentration of the vote. But in Andalusia it is not the main reason that punishes minority forces.
In Andalusia there are 8.5 million people and this Sunday 6.6 million voters are summoned to the polls. The political parties compete for the distribution of the 109 seats in the regional Parliament and the absolute majority is in 55 seats. The 109 seats are distributed unevenly among the eight provinces, depending on the population: Seville, with more inhabitants than the rest, has 18 seats, Malaga 17, Cádiz 15, Granada 13, Almería and Córdoba have 12 each and Huelva and Jaén 11 respectively. This is not the case in all communities, for example, Euskadi allocates the same seats to each province -25- regardless of its population (Vizcaya has three times as many inhabitants as Álava).
The PSOE-PP bipartisanship crisis began in 2008 and has worsened over the years, to the point of leaving the parliaments highly fragmented, with the emergence of new powerful political formations, and without a clear majority. This scenario has multiplied the importance of the concentration of the vote, which is why we have seen Juan Manuel Moreno, the PP candidate, call for a useful vote from the right regarding his formation, and Juan Espadas, the PSOE candidate, appeal in the same meaning within the space of the left.
A priori, neither of these two major parties runs the risk of being left without parliamentary representation, but both compete to be the most voted force. The most voted force, not only in Andalusia, but in each of the eight provinces. Obtaining the first position at a comfortable distance from the second is decisive to absorb all the votes rejected from the minority candidacies that fail to exceed the legal threshold to obtain representation in each province. It’s what the experts call the remains or discarded votes: hundreds and thousands of ballots for a party that do not bring any seats, because they are a few votes short of that famous 3%.
In Seville, the last of the 18 seats at stake in 2018 was disputed by Adelante Andalucía and Ciudadanos and the remainder went to the fourth deputy of the coalition by 9,878 votes, becoming the second force, behind the PSOE. It is in this province where the left-wing coalition won the most seats with 18.88% support.
In Malaga, the remains went to the fourth Citizens deputy, who snatched it from the PSOE by 3,438 votes; in Cádiz, where Teresa Rodríguez’s personal brand was stronger [Adelante obtuvo su mejor nota provincial: 19,19%], the remains went to the second Vox deputy by 8,288 votes, above Ciudadanos; In Granada, the oranges also kept the remains and added their third seat by 3,681 votes over Vox.
In Córdoba, the remains went to the PSOE by 16,274 votes, followed by Ciudadanos; in Almería, it was the PP who kept the remains and added a fourth seat by 3,417 ballots; in Jaén, the popular also snatched the remains from the PSOE and won their third seat by 10,215 votes; and in Huelva the remains were left to the PP by a difference of 1,698 votes over Adelante Andalucía, thus obtaining its third deputy.
Electoral reforms without a future
Izquierda Unida has always been the main victim of the Andalusian electoral system and also the one that has brought an electoral reform proposal to Parliament the most times. Citizens also did it two legislatures ago, which came to agree on it in the investiture agreement of Susana Díaz, signed together with the PSOE. The underlying idea was the same: to improve representativeness in the smaller constituencies (mainly Jaén and Huelva: they have 22 seats, four fewer than Seville), where it costs minority groups twice as many votes as it does for large groups to obtain a seat.
A working group emerged from that discussion with the participation of 70 experts, sociologists, political scientists, heads of demographic agencies… One of the proposals considered, among many, was to increase the number of deputies in the Andalusian Parliament, one of the Chambers regional legislatures with greater disproportion with respect to the population it represents (109 deputies for 8.5 million inhabitants). For that, a bag of remains had to be created, redrawing the electoral map so that Andalusia is a single constituency, instead of eight (and therefore there is not a number of seats distributed by each province, as now).
Some proposed removing seats from the smaller provinces and taking them to larger ones, where not so many votes are needed to obtain a deputy, but the PSOE replied, with a certain irony, that “the ideologue of this proposal should go in person to explain it to the from Jaén and from Huelva”. In any case, any of these formulas would require the modification of the Statute of Autonomy which, having the status of Organic Law, must be ratified first by the majority of the Andalusian Parliament, and then by the Congress of Deputies.
For 14 years no one has managed to reach that figure, which allows them to govern alone without the confluence of other rival formations. The last absolute majority was the last government of Manuel Chaves, in the Andalusian elections of 2008, in which the PSOE won 56 deputies with 2.1 million votes.
The Andalusian electoral system has benefited bipartisanship for 40 years. However, in Andalusia there have been governments with an absolute majority, governments with a parliamentary minority, coalition governments of the PSOE and the Andalusian Party, coalition governments of the PSOE with the IU and coalition governments of the PP-Citizens, supported from outside by Vox. This parliamentary diversity has been the strongest argument for postponing the debate on electoral reform. Not even the orange formation has promoted this law while in government, although it was precisely they who opened the debate in the last legislature. With the change of government, the perspective and priority of things also changed.