How important is a candidate’s position on an electoral list?

With the election campaign in full swing is a lot of talk in the media about electoral lists. Like other countries with a system of proportional  representation Belgian MPs are elected from electoral lists. The maximum number of effective candidates on an electoral list is equal to the number of MPs that are elected in a given constituency. For example for the federal elections in Brussels this is 15. 

In addition to the effective candidates, an electoral list also contains a list of substitute candidates. These candidates take the place of an effective candidate that has been elected if he/she dies, resigns or becomes a minister/secretary of state.

The first candidate on a party list takes the lion’s share of the so-called “list votes”, votes given to the list of a given party as a whole rather than to a particular individual candidate. The list votes are attributed to individual candidates in descending order according to how many votes they require in order to get elected.

For example if the first candidate on a list got 1,000 preference votes, but needed 1,500 votes to get elected, the remaining 500 votes would be taken from the pool of list votes. This process continues until either all the list votes have been added to candidate’s preference vote tally or the number of candidates elected has been exceeded. For example if only two candidates are elected on a particular list, only the first and second candidates on that list will benefit from list votes being added to their personal vote tally.      

Last but by no means least

Despite those higher up the list generally standing a better chance of getting elected, the position of last candidate on an electoral list also offers opportunities for those seeking elected office.

The fact that like the first place on the list, the last place offers visibility.  Most voters look at the first and last positions on a list when trying to find a politician whose name they might recognise.  Consequently the final candidate on a list is often an established name that attracts a large number of preference votes. In many cases this is enough to see him/her elected off their own bat and without having benefited from a share of the list votes.