GAME RULES FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS: WHAT DO THEY WANT TO CHANGE IN LAW | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»


Despite the fact that there is already less than a year before the constitutional date of local elections, the issue of the electoral system by which Ukrainians will elect their representatives to local governments remains open. In mid-September, Vladimir Zelenskiy took advantage of the presidential veto over the Electoral Code adopted by parliament, and in October, the Concept of amendments to local elections legislation was made publicly available.

The working group under the Ministry of Development of Communities and Territories has prepared the basis for a future law on local elections, which should be adopted after amendments to the Constitution regarding the administrative and territorial structure. According to the authors of the Concept, this should be expected no earlier than February 2020. In the previous article, we analyzed the specifics of the current electoral system and simulated its possible effects using Kharkiv as an example. A similar observation of the electoral models proposed in the Ministerial Concept is in the new material of the Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”.

System Amendments: What the Concept Proposes

The authors of the Concept consider the main problem of the current electoral system that it does not guarantee the representation of all constituencies in the councils (this thesis is valid for the regional, city and district levels: wherever a proportional representation personified system was used in 2015). Also, in addition to this unevenness of representation, the Concept notes an excessive “partization” of local self-government bodies (probably, it is a question of the impossibility of self-nominating candidates for elections to regional, city and district councils).

How is it proposed to solve these problems, and won’t new ones be created in the process of such a “solution”? For each level of elections, the Concept provides two alternative systems “for the possible search for a political compromise”, but the Ministry of Regional Development clearly expresses its own position – “the majoritarian system is optimal for the election of deputies to councils of all levels”.

Earlier, the same thesis about the majority system was voiced by the head of the campaign headquarters of “Sluga Narodu” Oleksander Kornienko, so the possibility of such a scenario with all its possible consequences is quite high (how strange it may look against the background of May statements of Vladimir Zelenskiy regarding the “corruption of majoritarian system”).

Regional and district (county[1]) councils.

Proposal 1.1: plurality system with 1-5 mandates.

Each community (united territorial community (UTC), if the elections will be preceded after the administrative completion of the process of the unitedness of communities) receives its “quota” of mandates to the corresponding council. Further, the community is divided (if necessary) into multi-member districts (up to 5 mandates in one district), while the algorithm for this division is not specified. If the “quota” of the community is less than one (it may possible for a small UTC in the elections to the regional council), then such communities are combined in one district. Candidates in districts may run for self-nomination, as well as be nominated by the relevant local party organizations (district or regional), and from one party there can be as many candidates as there are mandates distributed in the district. Voters vote for one candidate (the authors provide the possibility, but do not recommend the several votes are given to voters that there is the traditional for a multi-member majoritarian system), and those M candidates who won the most votes are considered elected from this district (where M = the number of constituency mandates).

Proposal 1.2: modification of the current proportional representation personified system.

Based on the current system, the authors propose to increase the number of mandates distributed in each district, at least twice. In multi-member districts (2-3 mandates in each), parties nominate their candidates (2-3, respectively, per district, maximum), and (innovation) self-nomination is allowed. Voters receive one ballot in which they vote for one candidate (a vote is simultaneously regarded as a vote for the respective party-subject of nomination). At the first stage of the distribution of mandates, they are awarded to candidates who have won first places in each constituency – thus, each constituency will be guaranteed to be represented by at least one deputy. At the second stage (similar to the current system), all votes scored by each party are counted (party votes = sum of votes cast for all their candidates in all constituencies). Proportional to these amounts, the remaining mandates are distributed between parties (there is no formal threshold), the personal composition of deputies is determined by intra-party ratings (as now, although another way to create internal ratings is alternatively proposed – by the “percentage contribution” to the total amount of the party’s votes).

City councils and UTC councils

Proposal 2.1: plurality system in multi-member districts.

Similarly to “Proposal 1.1.”, a plurality system is introduced in elections to city councils and UTCs. The territory of the community is divided into constituencies, in each of which from 2 to 5 mandates are distributed (that is, unlike the district and regional councils, single-mandate districts are excluded). Parties are nominated in the constituencies by parties (moreover, there may be several party candidates in the constituency – no more than the number of mandates distributed in the constituency), and self-nomination is also allowed. The voter has one vote, which he casts for one candidate. The winners are several (by the number of district mandates) candidates with more votes than the others.

Proposal 2.2: modification of the current proportional representation personified system.

This model is also similar to the system described in “Proposal 1.2.” with the specification that it is optimal to form three-mandate constituencies. In each such constituency, parties nominate from 1 to 3 candidates, self-nomination is allowed, and the voter has one vote, which is cast for one candidate. In each district, the candidate with the relative majority of votes becomes the winner. The remaining two-thirds of the mandates in the UTC / city are distributed according to a proportional representation personified system without a formal threshold.

Number of councils

Proposal 3.1.

The concept proposes tentative standards for the ratio of the number of voters and the number of deputies in the community council, which suggests a significant reduction, primarily for large settlements.

The number of voters in the community Formula for calculating the number of deputies
up to 1 000 100 voters per 1 mandate (but not less than 5)
1 001 – 5 000 1000 voters per 1 mandate + 10 mandates
5001 – 15000 5000 voters per 1 mandate + 15 mandates
15 001 – 30 000 15 000 voters for 1 mandate + 18 mandates
30 001 – 120 000 30 000 voters for 1 mandate + 20 mandates
more than 120 000 120,000 voters per 1 mandate + 24 mandates

For regional and district (county) councils, the calculation formula is not tied to the number of voters directly in the region/district, but the number and size of the communities in the specified territory.

The number of voters in the community Mandates to the district council Mandates to the regional council
up to 1 000 1 1
1 000 – 3 000 2 1
3 000 – 6 000 3 1
6 000 – 10 000 4 1
10 000 – 30 000 5 1
30 000 – 50 000 6 2
50 000 – 100 000 6 3
100 000 – 200 000 6 4
200 000 – 400 000 6 5
400 000 – 600 000 6 6
600 000 – 800 000 6 7
800 000 – 1 000 000 6 8
more than 1 000 000 6 9

Thus, the size of each district (county) and regional councils is calculated as the sum of the mandates, based on each community included in it.

Proposal 3.2.

An alternative proposal for community councils (including city councils) is minimum covered and is tied to the number of functions (powers) assigned to the council. Further, the authors succinctly indicate that it may be “approximately 45 mandates”, and this number is the norm for all community councils, regardless of the number of voters.

For district (county) and regional councils, the authors propose a simple formula – the size of the council is equal to the number of communities in the corresponding territory multiplied by two, and the quota of each community = 1 + (the number of voters in this community divided by all voters of the region multiplied by the number of communities). For example, for Kharkiv = 1 + (1 093 435/2 109 118 * 59) = 32 seats with a council size of 59 * 2 = 118 seats.

The election of the heads of settlements of any level

Proposal 4.1.: two-round majoritarian system with some modification

The winner is the candidate who in the first round fulfilled one of two conditions:

(a) gaining more than 50% of the vote;

(b) gaining less than 50%, but with a margin from a second place – more than 10-20% (the authors propose to clarify the specific size of this difference additionally).

The appearance of this second condition, as conceived by the authors, will reduce the need for a second round and thereby save budget funds, as well as “will contribute to the consolidation of the community”.

Assessment of possible negative effects: 10 comments on the Concept

Majoritarian Proposals 1.1. and 2.1.

  1. Majoritarian systems set a much higher real threshold, “conserving” councils. If we take the recommended division into three-member districts as a basis, then the candidate needs to get more than 25% of the votes for the assured gaining a seat in the council, (calculation by the formula: N = 100% / M + 1, where N is the required percentage of assured gaining a seat, and M is the number mandates distributed in the county). The fewer mandates in the district, the higher the real threshold and the “more closed” council. Based on the relevant sociological surveys in the Kharkiv region, candidates are just from the three parties “in the game”, as well as self-nominated candidates in some cases.
  1. Especially outside the regional centers, the main beneficiaries of such a system and relatively autonomous from the party-electoral distribution will be the local landowners (and the option of self-nomination will allow them not to build any party-ideological platform at all). The effects of “controlled voting”, which traditionally only occur in the special contingencies in the national elections, can be a widespread trend in rural areas under a majoritarian system in the local elections.
  1. The main drawback of majoritarian systems – not so much the notorious “grids” (system of buying votes), “buckwheat” and “benches” (under the proportional representation models the “technologies” of direct and indirect bribery, party headquarters can also use the administrative resources), but the increase in disproportionality, that is the rise in the percentage of votes that cannot be converted into mandates. If in a proportional representation system such are only votes cast for parties that have not overcome the threshold (21.7% in the last elections to the Verkhovna Rada), then in the majoritarian models there are much more “lost” and “excessive” votes. For example, in a three-member constituency, all votes cast for candidates other than the first three will be “lost”, “unnecessary” – each vote over 25%, gained by any candidate from the first three.
  1. It is not clear from the text of the Concept whether the constituencies for the district and regional councils are formed really in proportion to the number of voters or according to the algorithms described in the standards of proposals 3.1. and 3.2. (this proportion is violated in favor of small communities and with discrimination of voters of large settlements there). Most likely, broad formulations of “approximate proportionality” are needed in fundamental clarifications. In general, the Concept leaves the broadest field for strategic manipulations with the formation of districts – majoritarian systems are much more vulnerable to such manipulations with determining the number of mandates in districts, the boundaries of districts (“gerrymandering”) and the unequal “weight” of votes in different districts (“malapportionment”).

Two-round majoritarian system (4.1.) with some modifications for the election of local heads

  1. The appearance of a loophole (10% break away from the second place) for the election of a head without a second round, firstly, reduces the electoral legitimacy of the winner (after all, 50 +% is more convincing than the conditional 30%), and secondly, it strengthens the role of the technical candidates. If, in the current model, clone namesakes or technical candidates brought into the opponent’s electoral field cannot directly influence the results of the second round (their most important task is to correct the results of the first round and not allow the second opponent to enter), then in the system proposed by the authors the influence of such technologies on the outcome is significant increases. In general, the cancellation of the second round is more likely to benefit the current mayors and will allow candidates whose anti-rating exceeds the level of support to be elected (provided that the opposition candidates are fragmented, which mayors traditionally artificially stimulate).

Alternative proposals 1.2. and 2.2.: modifications to the current system

  1. Proposals for modifying the current system really look more acceptable than the introduction of the ubiquitous majoritarian system. In fact, this is the format of a mixed electoral model, in which half of the mandates are distributed among the winners in the constituencies, and the second half is proportionally distributed between the parties. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the introduction of a majoritarian component in the distribution of mandates will lead to a significant increase in disproportionality compared to the current system. Moreover, we are talking about a plurality system with the possibility of nominating several (according to the number of mandates in the district) candidates from each party – which means that we can assume that the winners in the districts will win with very little percentages.
  1. The possibility of nominating more than one candidate from a party absolutely breaks the idea of ​​an internal party rating, according to which the second part of the mandates is distributed (in descending order of the percentages earned by candidates from one party). If in 2015 this rating was often held hostage by electoral geography — candidates assigned to districts where the party has traditionally had stronger support to get seats – now it will be even easier for parties to “program” the sequence, leaving the necessary candidates as the only representatives of the party in district and allowing them to accumulate the entire party electorate.
  1. The first thing that the authors propose in these modifications (1.2. and 2.2.) is to increase the number of mandates distributed in the districts by at least two times (to make it possible to guarantee the representation of each district by providing the mandate of the first-past-the-post candidate). This means that even if the number of deputies in the councils is still unchanged, the districts need to be doubled (and taking into account proposals 3.1. and 3.2. on reducing the number of deputies in some councils, part of the districts will be enlarged even more). As a result, such an enlargement will lead to a common situation when some communities will not have their representatives in the regional councils, and the authors consider these as the main drawback of the current model, because of which it needs to be modified.

Proposals for algorithms for calculating the number of councils 3.1. and 3.2.

  1. When it comes to the formation of such local government bodies as regional or district councils, a debatable question of priority immediately arises – it is more important to ensure the constitutional principle of the equal vote of Ukrainian citizens or the representation of all communities (similar to the upper houses of parliaments), introducing a “positive discrimination” for small settlements? The authors of the Concept choose the second approach, which is clearly seen in both proposals. And, for example, from the point of view of a resident of the community of the city of Kharkiv, all the proposed algorithms are absurdly discriminatory. So, according to proposal 3.1., the size of the Kharkiv Regional Council should be 126 deputies, of which 9 deputies (7%) will represent the community of the city of Kharkiv (52% of the region’s voters). According to proposal 3.2. – 52% of the region’s voters will be represented by 32 deputies out of 118 (27%). The apogee of leveling the principle of equality of votes is proposal 3.2. concerning the size of the councils of the UTC (and city councils), absolutely all councils should be made identical by 45 deputies. By the way, according to proposal 3.1. the Kharkiv city council should become even smaller – 32 deputies (the maximum stipulated size for the community council, although settlements with the number of voters tens or even hundreds of times smaller will have approximately the same number in the range of 18-25 mandates).
  1. And if this trend of the reduction is universal and more or less proportional, we could agree with it, however, both calculation algorithms 3.1. and 3.2. (especially the first) just inflate the 2nd level of local government – the district councils. For example, the Kharkiv District Council, in which there really are a lot of communities, as in any district surrounding the regional center, according to the calculation of quotas from algorithm 3.1. should increase almost four times – from the current 42 to 152 mandates. It seems the fact that this is more than in the regional council does not confuse the authors (proposal 3.2. is moderate in this respect).


  1. The presented Concept of improving the legislation on local elections looks extremely eclectic and contains two alternative ways of changing the electoral system. The first and priority, according to the authors, is the introduction at all levels of a pure majoritarian system with multi-member districts; the second (compromise) is the introduction of the majoritarian principle of the distribution of part of the mandates in the current model. Both of these approaches strongly contrast with the more recent (before the parliamentary elections) statements of the Ze-team itself regarding the corruption essence of the majoritarian system, and, obviously, entail all the shortcomings of the majoritarian system.
  1. For the axiom, the authors accept the need for the representation of all the united communities in the regional councils, although with the announced three-level system of administrative and territorial structure (community – district – region) this does not look so categorically (it is enough to represent all the communities at the level of the district council). But even if you adhere to this axiom and put the representation of communities above the principle of equality of votes, inconsistencies with the proposed algorithms for calculating the number of seats for councils of different levels are immediately evident – the number of deputies of city councils is most likely to be reduced, and at other levels it is possible (in some cases is absurd) to increase. The current calculation formula, tied to the number of voters in the corresponding territory, looks simpler, fairer, and even with the “political will” to reduce the number of deputies in local councils – it’s more logical, starting from this formula, simply proportionally reduce the number of mandates.
  1. At the same time, individual proposals from the Concept (which are not directly related to the electoral system and therefore were not analyzed in detail in the article) seem quite appropriate: for example, limiting the disproportionate implementation of election campaigning, ensuring the relevance and local orientation of election programs, and the exclusion of an imperative mandate. Some points seem strategically correct, but their implementation one year (or six months) before the election will create uncompetitive conditions and really “closed” local councils – in particular, it is about strengthening the requirements for local party organizations, which are the subjects of the nomination of candidates for councils of the relevant level. The Concept proposes that the subjects of the nomination of candidates for village and town councils should be not district, but the corresponding village and town party organizations, and the local organization should have at least 5 members. Such a strict requirement could be the right incentive for the development of party structures on the ground, but given the timelines, it’s just a “cleanup technology” that will leave a minimum number of parties with such an extensive structure in the game (and, of course, with the administrative resource, such a structure can be made as soon as possible, therefore the party in power will be in non-competitive conditions here).
  1. The President’s Office will likely approach the issue of choosing an electoral system not only from the standpoint of its advantages and disadvantages but also potential benefits for the ruling party. In this sense, the proposed turn in the direction of the majoritarian system is designed to repeat the July parliamentary campaign, where candidates from “Sluga Narodu” triumphed on identification with the party brand. Such a calculation does not take into account either the specifics of much more personality-oriented local elections, nor the positions of local leaders strengthened as a result of the decentralization (who, together with their teams, “survived” more than one presidential regime), nor the electoral dynamics. Given that the main asset of “Sluga Narodu” is a popular party brand identified with the president, it would be more logical to choose a more “party-oriented” electoral system. But the majoritarian system (along with the cancellation of the second round of head’s elections with a 10% gap between the two leaders) at the moment looks like the best option for the current heads and their deputy teams – so with such innovations in the law on local elections “Sluga Narodu” really runs the risk of replaying themselves. 

[1] The text of the Concept refers to “district councils” everywhere, but probably, given the recently presented three-level model of the administrative and territorial structure of “community – district – region”, “district” should be understood as “county” councils, which are de facto enlarged district.

Anton Avksentiev, Ph.D. in Political Science,

Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”.

The paper was prepared under the project «Promoting Democratic Elections in Eastern Ukraine», with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the NED and is the sole responsibility of the Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”.