Universal, Unequal Suffrage: Authoritarian Vote-Seat Malapportionment in the 1907 Austrian Electoral Reform
Wakounig, M. and Beham, P. "Transgressing Boundaries: Humanities in Flux." (Vienna: LIT Verlag, 2013)
29 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2013 Last revised: 21 Apr 2015
Date Written: February 19, 2013
Leaders of undemocratic regimes allow elections in order to co-opt powerful groups in society and secure their own grip on power. However, they do not allow fair elections. They manipulate the electoral system in order to over-represent the geographic areas, and the groups within them, to whom they wish to allocate political power. This is done via the mechanism of malapportionment, by which electoral districts in the privileged areas are assigned a greater share of legislative seats than their share of the population. Analyzing the introduction of universal male suffrage in Austria in 1907, I show that this reform did not lead to universal, equal suffrage and that malapportionment under authoritarian regimes does not run exclusively along an urban-rural cleavage. Instead, reform resulted in an electoral system which perpetuated the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the lower house of the Reichsrat and the over-representation of the rural German-speaking population and urban Polish elites. This solved the regime’s problem of controlling urban unrest by satisfying demands for electoral reform, while at the same time maintaining the predominant political position of German and Polish groups in Cislethania via more subtle manipulation of the electoral system.
Keywords: malapportionment, Austria, electoral systems
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