A Basic Guide to Spain’s Voting System

Eduardo Dolón, Leader of the Partido Popular in Torrevieja

Proportional representation or Alternative Voting systems have been points of contention during the last few weeks in the UK. The British electorate overwhelmingly turned down the idea and not surprisingly because of the PR method chosen, what with picking candidates, putting them in order of choice and transferring votes to other candidates or possibly parties, was a little confusing, even for the vote counters in Northern Ireland! Although Northern Ireland have had PR for years, this year the number of recounts was higher than ever while the parties that did best, spent much of their electoral campaign teaching their flock all about vote management, which is not really in the spirit of the idea, but it works against the possibility of parties you would never vote for, having an opportunity of election!

Thankfully in Spain it’s all very different and very easy; once you know how! Each party produces a list, equivalent to the number of seats available on the council, plus a few spares. You don’t vote for individuals, you vote for the party. In the case of Torrevieja, there are 27 seats in council and 14 of these are needed to form a majority municipal government. It’s simplicity itself. Go to the Polling Station, pick up the piece of paper with the party you wish to vote for, put this paper inside an envelope, show the polling officer your ID and drop the envelope into a transparent box. Done and dusted. No need to write anything, put names to faces, just remember which party you are voting for, or the candidate for mayor, and that’s that! For those sorting out the ballots cast, they just place the cast votes into corresponding boxes for each party, count them all up, give the chief polling officer their totals, he adds everything up and generally before midnight, the new major will be elected.

In Spain they use the d’Hondt method, a mathematic formula that works upon the principal of a highest averages method for allocating seats in party-list proportional representation. The method is named after Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hondt. For very small parties, who just want to make a point and show their faces, they must receive at least 5% of the total votes, in order to be included in the next stage of council seat allocation, otherwise, all their votes are set aside and not counted.

For those who are still following along, this is how it works. The total votes cast for each party in the electoral district is divided, first by 1, then by 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, right up to the total number of seats to be allocated for the district/constituency. If the district contains 8 seats, the highest 8 numbers are chosen from all the numbers resulting from the divisions. The parties under which each of these 8 highest numbers was produced, gets the seat. Clear as mud! It’s quite simple when you see the numbers broken down on a piece of paper but not so easy to explain otherwise, which is why we have supplied a chart. In the case of Torrevieja, which has 27 seats available seats, if there are for example 27,000 votes cast, the last seat would go to party that has at least 1,000 votes, if that makes sense!

In reality, there would not be eight seats, or any even number of seats available but always an odd number, so that a winner could be chosen and the seats won could not be tied! In the example, Party A receive a total of 100,000 votes. For this they receive one seat. The 100,000 is then divided by two so they have 50,000 votes to capture seat number two. The 100,000 is then divided by three, giving them a total of 33,333 to gain seat number four. The same process happens for each and every party until, in the case of Torrevieja, a total of 27 seats have been allocated.

In the case of Torrevieja, it’s estimated at around 28,000 people will vote in May 2011 of which about 10% are International residents. The basic maths would say that each seat is worth about 1,2000 votes however, when it gets down to the last few positions, it can be as low as ten votes to gain a valuable seat in government, which is why your vote does count. My thanks to Pedro Valero (who is not standing again this year but will continue studying for his Doctorate in Politics over the next four years) and Wikipedia for the brief explanation.

© Keith Nicol 2011
Email Keith Nicol for further information.