In This Article Electoral Reform in Latin America

  • Introduction

Political Science Electoral Reform in Latin America
by
Santiago Alles
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0287

Introduction

Electoral rules have been considerably more fluid in developing than in consolidated democracies. Latin American democracies have experimented with a wide array of electoral rules to elect presidents and legislators. Moreover, reforms have not been limited to the national level. Politicians in second-level units such as states or provinces, when not constrained by the national constitution, often played the same game. In all these cases, since institutions have partisan consequences, the chance of a reform creates incentives for strategic manipulation. A growing body of literature, heavily influenced by distributive models used to examine reforms in consolidated democracies, has provided a better understanding of how politicians in Latin America craft the rules of the electoral game. Three main areas have attracted most of the research attention. First, research on presidential elections has examined the adoption of more permissive electoral formulas and the reform of reelection rules over recent decades. Second, literature on legislative elections has devoted considerable attention to the rules shaping the proportionality of the seat allocation, as well as to the adoption of affirmative mechanisms such as quotas and reserved seats. Third, research has analyzed changes in who is allowed to vote, i.e., the extension of voting rights; and in how voters cast their votes, i.e., the adoption of new voting procedures. Though this review will be specially focused on the adoption of new rules, it will also include research showing the consequences of those reforms.

General Overviews

Presidential government is the dominant institutional design in Latin America. Jones 2018 offers an overview of the electoral rules in presidential democracies and of their political consequences for party competition and governance. Colomer 2004 brings a detailed summary of the evolution of electoral rules throughout the region since the 19th century: both presidential and legislative elections have moved over time toward less restrictive rules. Research on the adoption of electoral reforms has emerged in the 1990s as a considerably dynamic subfield, and since then, this body of literature has grown in complexity and sophistication. Benoit 2007 and Rahat 2011 bring comprehensive reviews of the debate on the choice of electoral rules. Colomer 2018 brings an updated review of the field mostly focused on the influence of parties on the adoption of new electoral rules. Differently, Renwick 2018 pays special attention to the role played by actors other than parties, while also highlighting motivations of reformers other than distributive considerations. Rahat and Hazan 2011 focuses on the barriers to the adoption of reforms. Shugart and Reeves, in a separate Oxford Bibliographies article (Electoral System Reform in Advanced Democracies), additionally provide a review of the electoral reform literature in consolidated democracies, mostly focused on the adoption of mixed-member designs.

  • Benoit, Kenneth. “Electoral Laws as Political Consequences: Explaining the Origins and Change of Electoral Institutions.” Annual Review of Political Science 10 (2007): 363–390.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.072805.101608E-mail Citation »

    A review article that identifies the key questions in the study of election rules as a byproduct of party competition. It contests the notion that except for exceptional founding episodes of institutional choice, electoral systems eventually stabilize as equilibrium institutions.

  • Colomer, Josep M. “The Americas: General Overview.” In Handbook of Electoral System Choice. Edited by Josep M. Colomer, 81–109. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Summarizes the evolution of electoral rules used to elect presidents and assemblies throughout Latin American countries since the 19th century.

  • Colomer, Josep M. “Party System Effects on Electoral Systems.” In The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems. Edited by Erik S. Herron, Robert J. Pekkanen, and Matthew S. Shugart, 69–84. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190258658.013.16E-mail Citation »

    A general overview on the literature on electoral reform mostly focused on the influence of parties on the adoption of new rules.

  • Jones, Mark P. “Presidential and Legislative Elections.” In The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems. Edited by Erik S. Herron, Robert J. Pekkanen, and Matthew S. Shugart, 283–301. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190258658.013.23E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the literature on electoral rules in presidential democracies—presidential elections, legislative elections, and the contagion between these two arenas—and of the political consequences of such rules for party competition and governance.

  • Rahat, Gideon. “The Politics of Electoral Reform: The State of Research.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 21.4 (2011): 523–543.

    DOI: 10.1080/17457289.2011.609618E-mail Citation »

    A review article that examines three approaches (rational choice, historical-comparative, and institutional) used to study the politics of electoral reform. It argues that reforms are better explained by a combination of approaches than by sticking to a single one.

  • Rahat, Gideon, and Reuven Y. Hazan. “The Barriers to Electoral System Reform: A Synthesis of Alternative Approaches.” West European Politics 34.3 (2011): 478–494.

    DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2011.555976E-mail Citation »

    A review of the literature focused on the barriers that stop reforms, instead of on the factors associated with the adoption. It enumerates seven barriers that reformers must overcome when trying to promote electoral reform, and it assesses their relative strength.

  • Renwick, Alan. “Electoral System Change.” In The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems. Edited by Erik S. Herron, Robert J. Pekkanen, and Matthew S. Shugart, 113–132. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190258658.013.5E-mail Citation »

    A general overview of the literature on electoral reform. It pays special attention to the role played by actors other than parties and highlights that the motivations of reformers often go beyond distributive considerations.

  • Shugart, Matthew, and Justin Reeves. Electoral System Reform in Advanced Democracies. In Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756223-0020E-mail Citation »

    Reviews electoral reform literature in consolidated democracies. It puts special focus on the adoption of mixed-member designs, and it looks into the reform effects not only on inter-party competition but also on the intra-party dimension.

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