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Major media fails to get the facts on Iraqi elections

by Rob Richie // Published February 6, 2009
I subscribe to the Washington Post and New York Times and it's always a pleasure to grab my morning cup of coffee and catch up on the news. As an American taxpayer and as a voting system junkie, I've been particularly interested in learning about the criticially important Iraqi provincial elections.

As mentioned in my short blog last weekend, however, it's been hard to get the most elementary information about the rules of these elections. It turns out that they're conducted by an open party list form of proportional representation, but you'd never know it from reading the Post or the Times. Yet it's critically important for understanding the outcome of these elections, ones where more than 14,000 candidates sought 440 seats.

Today, a long Post news story has a mystifying assessment that prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's party won "an outright plurality" in some key areas like Baghdad.  Come again? If that plurality of the vote was a majority of the vote, that would be one thing, but it turns out his party won less than 40% in those areas. Does that means al-Maliki's party will win an "outright majority" in those areas with more than 60% of people voting against it? That might happen if a lot of votes went to parties that didn't end up winning seats, but would seem to be a problem worth underscoring. An even longer New York Times article also fails to provide basic information about how votes are translating into seats and power.

Indeed, Iraq is in a tenuous situation where "winner-take-all" results would be potentially disastrous. That makes clear understanding of the results all the more important. But the Post or Times are failing to provide that understanding.