In This Review

Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America
Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America
By Cynthia McClintock
Oxford University Press, 2018, 334 pp

The durability of democracies can depend on the electoral rules they adopt. In this richly documented study, McClintock finds that democracies where presidential candidates need only a plurality of the vote to triumph are in serious danger of losing their popular legitimacy and eventually falling victim to tyranny. In support of her thesis, she highlights the democratic breakdowns of Nicaragua and Venezuela, both of which allow plurality winners. Aware of the risks, 75 percent of Latin American countries have adopted second-round runoffs between the top two contenders. Runoff systems are more likely to sustain popular support, McClintock finds, and also create more opportunities for third parties, thus injecting new blood into the political arena and avoiding the danger of spoilers. Turning to the United States, whose electoral rules she calls “anachronistic, sclerotic relics,” McClintock urges Americans to stop revering their constitution as a “quasi-biblical revelation” and learn from innovative Latin American democratic engineering.