The Violent Road to Proportional Representation: Evidence from Late-Nineteenth Century Buenos Aires (1854-1873)

Sebastian Cortesi, Johns Hopkins University

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, several Latin American countries adopted variants of proportional representation for their national and subnational legislatures. Focusing on the pioneering experience of Buenos Aires, this study claims that institutional changes during this period were driven by a desire to put a check on electoral violence, and the insurrectionary prospects it entailed. In other words, competition under multi-membered districts, plurality rule, and malfeasance practices that involved the politization of local and national state coercive resources made elections self-eroding. To show that electoral reforms were preceded by increases in electoral violence, this study leverages original data obtained from Buenos Aires’ Police Department. Additional primary source analysis reveals that pacifying elections was the primary goal of legislators. Immediately after the first outburst of electoral violence, reformers reduced the electoral threshold by dividing larger districts and enacting harsh sanctions. However, such reform failed as electoral violence promptly resumed levels similar to the pre-reform period. Consequently, the contending forces bargained a fusion slate for a constitutional convention that would adopt statewide proportional representation. These findings shed light on the early origins of electoral systems in Latin America.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 168. State Power and State Development: Bureaucracy and Political Violence