Poland’s voters head to the polls on 26 May in the elections for the European Parliament, with 51 seats at stake. Although the campaign is in full swing, an understanding of the rules for determining the winners is lacking. Whereas the rules in a simple “first past the post” election are quite easy to explain (and they provide a clear overview of the outcomes with regard to the elected candidates because the candidate in each district with the greatest number of votes wins), elections to the European Parliament are based on proportional voting mechanisms. Poland’s system is very complex. Two complex methods, called the D’Hondt method and the Hare–Niemeyer method, are applied in the second stage of tabulating votes. Unfortunately it is difficult to find any straightforward guide to the main principles. For instance, the State Election Commission provides all the data relevant to the election, but no helpful summaries of the election principles.In an effort to reduce this “democratic deficit”, we provide a summary below:
- Poland is to elect 51 members of the European Parliament. Poland has 13 constituencies, which have their seats in Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz, Olsztyn, Warszawa (city), Warszawa (suburbs), Łódź, Poznań, Lublin, Rzeszów, Kraków, Katowice, Wrocław and Gorzów Wielkopolski. Each constituency is divided into many polling districts, numbering from 719 to as many as 2,757 per constituency.
- 10 electoral committees are on the ballot, but not all committees have candidates in every constituency. A committee may register up to 10 candidates in each constituency. The committees rank their candidates, assigning them spots on the ballot that can run from 1 to 10, with those candidates at the top having a greater chance of receiving more votes.
- In this election, a voter may select only a single candidate, from up to 80 candidates who will appear on the ballot in a constituency. This leads to the obvious question — what effect does a single vote have when there are so many candidates to choose from?
- To answer this question, it is necessary to review the Election Code as to how the results are determined. As a first step in the process, the State Election Commission totals all the votes from the entire country, dividing the votes by electoral committees, based on the electoral committee to which a candidate belongs (art. 354 of the Election Code).
- The State Election Commission then determines which electoral committees have received the minimum amount of votes required to obtain at least one mandate. This minimum is 5% of the total votes nationally. Votes for election commissions receiving less than 5% are not included in the division of mandates (arts. 335 and 354 of the Election Code).
- Next, the State Election Commission divides all the mandates among the electoral committees based upon the number of votes cast for a given committee, determines the number of mandates allocated to each committee, and finally determines which candidates of which committee have obtained mandates (art. 354).
- More specifically, in order to determine the mandates on a national basis, the number of valid votes cast for the lists of candidates for each electoral committee is divided successively by the numbers one, two, three, four and so on, until from the results of these divisions it is possible to rank the consecutive largest numbers against the number of members of the European Parliament to be elected. Each electoral committee is allocated the number of mandates that equal the consecutive highest numbers that fall to it from this sequence (art. 356).
- Next, in order to determine the mandates in each constituency, the number of valid votes cast for a list put forward by a particular electoral committee in that constituency is multiplied by the number of mandates granted nationally to that electoral committee. The resulting product is then divided by the number of valid votes cast in all constituencies for the candidate lists of this electoral committee. The whole number, rounded down, resulting from this division operation denotes the number of mandates allocated to a given candidate list in that constituency (art. 358).
- Finally, the candidates of each electoral committee are ranked by the actual number of votes said candidate received, not on the candidate’s place on the ballot (art. 233). Thus, a candidate with a lower place on the ballot can obtain a mandate if she or he receives more votes than a candidate with a higher ballot place, and if the candidate’s electoral committee has been allocated a sufficient number of mandates in that constituency.
In conclusion, if a voter votes for candidate number 10 of an electoral committee, such candidate may not obtain a mandate, but each vote will count in totaling the votes received by such electoral committee and therefore in potentially electing other candidates from that committee’s list.
Because every vote counts, we encourage all eligible voters to exercise their democratic privileges.