A voting system is a method by which voters choose between several alternatives and their opinions are aggregated, ultimately choosing a winner. Democratic countries, in principle, aim to have a representative outcome, to make sure the decision-making is roughly representative of the public’s beliefs. However, most of these democracies use a district based voting system, i.e., voters are divided into geographically based districts. Each district elects a fixed or variable number of representatives who then take part in the decision-making on the behalf of their constituents. While on a practical level this has made democracy achievable on a large scale, this also tends to favor large political parties. Indeed, unless a smaller party convinces all its voters to move to the same constituency, it will be barred from taking part in the public debate. Worse, district voting allows for gerrymandering, the process by which large parties can secure easy victories but redrawing the borders of constituencies in order to favor their own candidates.
In this article we aim to study the political geography of Switzerland through the election results of 2015. Specifically, we would like to know if the current voting districts are representative of the public’s opinion and if the current partition can be improved.
A political portrait of Switzerland
In Switzerland, the political districts are known as Cantons. During a federal election, the voters of each Canton elect their representatives proportionally based on the number of seats attributed to each Canton. The parliament is constituted by two councils, the National Council and the Council of States. In the National Council, 200 seats are proportionally split between cantons based on their populations (one seat is however granted for small cantons), while each canton has 2 seats on the Council of States regardless of their population. Seats on the National Council are attributed according to the Hagenbach-Bischoff system while cantons are free to choose the electoral system by which their counsellors of States are elected.
The cantonal borders in Switzerland have mostly stayed fixed since the 19th century, and in some cases, even the Middle-Ages, before Switzerland became a democracy. Therefore, these borders sometimes do not take into account the changes in Swiss society that occurred in the last 150 years. Furthermore, since the number of seats in the parliament is limited, some parties will never get enough votes to be represented, and therefore part of the Swiss population is de facto excluded from parliamentary debates.