Comparative Politics

How electoral designers fail: The contextual straightjackets of reform

Kenneth Bunker Observatorio Político Electoral
When electoral designers conduct reform, they work within given frameworks to meet certain objectives. One of the most common goals is to produce a system which outputs results in favor of the commissioners. While designers are normally able to a generate system-level impacts, they sometimes fail to secure electoral spoils for their parties. How does this happen? This article proposes the cube root law and the seat product model to identify designers’ underlying objectives and explore the contexts under which they fail to meet them. It uses data from eight legislative elections in Chile (1989-2017) to show how two different designers impacted patterns of representation and proportionality. It finds that while they both were successful in achieving system-level shifts in their desired directions, only one of them was able to benefit their commissioner. It suggests that designer that failed to produce spoils for his party was constrained by contextual straitjackets.