Appalled by the high corruption rate in his home country, Czech mathematician Karel Janeček made it his mission to overhaul the Czech election system. The aim of his movement Democracy 2.1 (D21) is simple: “Bringing more quality people into politics, more people who want to serve the citizens.” While the fight against corruption has been the initial starting point of the movement, Democracy 2.1 is now cooperating with different kinds of organizations on the municipal level, with parties and companies to promote their idea of a fairer election system.
This week, in between travels to the U.S. and other European capitals, Karel Janeček and his colleagues Dominik Jandl and Tomáš Rákos spent two days in Brussels to find new partners and enter into a dialouge with representatives from European institutions, parties and NGOs. At a working breakfast organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, they presented their election system and discussed its potentials and challenges in other European countries. For the three young men, the strongest point of their system is the multiple-vote-component. “Everybody has four votes,” Janeček explained, but it is not possible to accumulate all four votes on one candidate. Instead, one candidate can only get one vote per ballot paper. “To ensure maximum freedom you can cast any number of votes from one up to four, thus voting for one up to four candidates,” the founder of the Democracy 2.1 movement said.
The optional feature of one or two minus votes, which could be introduced in addition to the four positive votes, was discussed controversially at Thursday’s breakfast. One participant voiced his concern that under this feature negative campaigning would be flourishing. The three D21 members explained that the minus vote might not be universally applicable and that it was mainly intended for the Czech Republic in order to “clean the system” off corrupt politicians.
Another discussion evolved around the third component of the D21 system. In accordance with the Democracy 2.1 model, every election district would send two representatives to the federal parliament. Every party would nominate two candidates per election district and voters would no longer vote for a closed party list. By voting for specific candidates, they would influence which persons would eventually be in power and candidates with a reputation for corruption would have it more difficult to win a seat. Parties would, thus, no longer be given a “blank check,” Janeček explained, and bad candidates would not automatically receive a seat in parliament simply due to a high ranking on the party list.
This majority voting component was heavily discussed by the experts present. Furthermore, participants from Portugal and France voiced their discomfort with such a restricted choice of candidates, saying they preferred wider party lists to grant more choice to the voters. Moreover, they wondered how the system would affect the populist parties in their countries. As a reply, Rákos pointed to the results of two field tests conducted in the Czech Republic, which showed that extremist parties would lose considerably in the multiple-vote-model, while smaller parties with more consensual values could increase their share.
In fact, the Czech Communist party, which gained 15 percent of the votes in the real elections, would have received only 9 percent of the votes in the D21 model without the optional minus votes. Vice versa, a smaller party with a more consensual agenda did not make it into parliament in reality while with the four-vote-system the party would have crossed the current five percent threshold. For Janeček this proves that citizens, if given the option, take into account a wider array of questions and preferences when voicing their opinion through the multiple-vote system. The new system would, thus, lead to a more refined representation of citizens’ preferences.
When asked about people’s general reaction to D21, the team could draw on very positive experiences. The first most important result of the two field tests confirmed that voters easily put up with the system – “they just got it,” said Tomáš Rákos. Even more so, he explained that this new kind of voting had an inherent “gaming aspect,” making it more attractive to get up and cast one’s ballot, leading to higher voter participation and more satisfaction with the election outcome.