Iraqi provincial elections showcase how the U.S. supports proportional representation...

by Rob Richie // Published February 1, 2009
... or rather, how the United States supports proportional representation voting methods in other nations, particularly those that it has invaded. After critically important elections with forms of proportional representation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new provincial elections in Iraq on January 31st are using the open list form of proportional representation -- one where candidates all themselves with others by party and parties win seats in proportion to their strength in the electorate, but voters can support individual candidates.

Some of the news coverage of these elections make it implicitly clear how important proportional representation is to the success of the elections -- with some quotes only possible with a system where most voters will elect a candidates of their choice, not just those part of a local majority. For example:

* Page 1 coverage in Washington Post February 1 -- "American officials have insisted the vote Saturday must prove credible -- that is, relatively free of fraud, with its results acceptable to most of its participants -- if electiosn are to begin taking roots as a mechanism to transfer power"

* Page 14 coverage in Washington Post, February 1 --"Millions of Iraqis voted peacefully Saturday in elections widely seen as a key test of Iraq's stability.... The elections, the country's first in four years, were remarkable for the absence of serious attacks"........,'The hegemony of the big political blocs will not be like they were after the last elections,' said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator......  'I came to vote because I want to see women representing women of Fallujah and Anbar and to provide, through my participation, that women are here and will plan an important role,' said Iman Karkas, a college professor in the cithy of Fallujah and a women's right activist."

Unfortunately,  the major media doesn't seem to realize that it might be important to inform readers that the elections use proportional representation rather than winner-take-all. For instance, in all the Washington Post's coverage (including dozens of the wire stories it posts on its site without running in its print edition), "proportionanl representation" only appears once, in an important on-line piece by Greg Burno with the Council on Foreign Relations that makes it clear like-minded voters making up just over 2% of the vote can earn a seat. Far more typical is this incomplete Associated Press story with "facts about the election" that neglects to mention how seats are won and lost.