Israel & Ukraine: "It's the Election System, Stupid"

Released April 7, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Much of the punditry surrounding recent elections in Ukraine and Israel has been grounded in poor understanding of how their election systems work, according to new reports released by FairVote’s Voting and Democracy Research Center.

The reports show how the election methods used in each country had as much impact on the results as the popularity of the parties and candidates. These reports provide straightforward explanations of the voting systems Ukraine and Israel use. They also analyze the election results through a comparative lens, examining electoral systems’ profound effects on how votes translate into representation. As a result, observers of global politics can better gauge the political sentiment in these hotbeds of geopolitical movement.

ISRAEL  - A new centrist party created by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is working to form a coalition government. As is frequently the case in both Israel and Italy, the new governing coalition will include a number of small parties. These coalition governments are often unstable, and many critics blame this instability on proportional voting.

This critique is misleading. Most democracies around the world use variations on these proportional systems to elect stable governments. Other factors unique to Israel create incentives for the proliferation of small, single-issue parties that can prevent the formation of more consolidated governing majorities.

UKRAINE  - Where proportional voting usually means a party’s percentage of seats in parliament will mirror its percentage of the national vote, the contrary was true in Ukraine.  For the first time in its history, Ukraine used a fully proportional election system, electing 450 seats from national party lists at a 3% threshold.  In the past, 225 seats were elected in single-member plurality districts.

The result of this election was actually more unrepresentative than past elections under theoretically less representative systems, given that Ukraine’s system failed to accommodate regional parties or independent candidates.  Regional candidates formerly won district seats, but under the fully national list system, they could not muster the votes to reach 3%.  Ukraine could benefit from a system of multi-member districts like the one Illinois used to elect its legislature between 1870 and 1980.

Voting and Democracy Center Research Center Fellow, Ryan Griffin, said, “The Israeli and Ukrainian elections results prove that a country’s choice of electoral system can have serious geopolitical consequences.”

Read the reports online at

Our analysis of the April 9th Italian elections are forthcoming on the same page.