Ley de Lemas

Ley de Lemas is the Spanish name of the double simultaneous voting (DSV) system which is, or has been, used in elections in Argentina, Uruguay, and Honduras. It employs an unusual open party-list proportional representation method, and works as follows:

History and use

The Lemas system was designed in 1870 by the Belgian professor Charles Borelli.


Lemas were introduced in Uruguay in the early 20th century when the "Lema law" introduced double simultaneous voting.[1] It allowed for the election of the President, Chamber of Deputies and Senate by casting a single vote. Parties acted as lemas, while party factions formed sublemas.[2] Voters would vote for a sublema of a party, with the totals of sublemas totalled to establish the winning party.

During periods in which a presidential system was enacted (as opposed to the collegiado system that operated between 1918 and 1933 and 1951 and 1966), the presidential candidate of the sublema in the winning party with the most votes would become President.[2]

This system was abolished for presidential elections after constitutional reforms were passed in a 1996 referendum, restricting each party to a single presidential candidate.[3] Department elections still use the old system.

The parliamentary and department elections still use double simultaneous voting.


Honduras applied the Ley de Lemas in the 1985 presidential election, when, due to factionalism within the two dominant parties, both were unable to elect a single presidential candidate.


In Argentina, a number of provinces employ or have employed a version of this electoral system: Chubut, Formosa, Jujuy, La Rioja, Misiones, Río Negro, Salta, San Luis, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, and Tucumán. Provinces have complete freedom to elect local and national representatives using the method of their choice; the system propagates down to the municipal level (except in the hypothetical case of autonomous cities).

The lemas system has never been used in Argentina for a presidential election, though the idea was circulated before the 2003 election.


The Ley de Lemas presents itself as a solution to the problem of fiat selection of candidates performed behind closed doors by party factions. By allowing many candidates to run within the same party and leaving the decision to the citizenry, the system is supposed to end the practice of dark intra-party alliances and add transparency to the conflicts between internal factions. This helps the participation of independent candidates without support from powerful party figures. It also avoids primary elections (which, in the case of Argentina, have never been practiced widely and typically enjoy very low voter turnout).


The party-list proportional representation system works under the assumption that the citizens vote primarily for parties. However, citizens often place emphasis on individual candidates rather than the parties' perceived ideological platforms. (This is especially true of Argentina.) The diversity of views allowed within a single party means that voters may end up indirectly giving their vote to a candidate that the voters do not really support. A party that decides to present multiple candidates, either with similar or opposing ideologies, may win even if the elected candidate had few votes compared with all the other candidates.

Also, proportional representation system are intended for multiple winners  for example, candidates to fill a legislative chamber  but the Ley de Lemas has been used to elect single winners (presidents, governors and mayors).

Problems with the system in Argentina

In Santa Fe

In the province of Santa Fe, where the Ley de Lemas was in force since 1991, it produced three instances of governor elections lost by candidates who had obtained considerably more votes than their immediate rival.

In the 2003 elections, the Socialist candidate Hermes Binner (former mayor of Rosario) received 600,249 votes, while the Justicialist Party (Peronist) candidate Jorge Obeid, the former governor and mayor of Santa Fe City, received 345,744 votes. Obeid, however, won the election thanks to the cumulative votes of the other Justicialist sublemas, including the one led by former Socialist Héctor Cavallero.[4]

It also happened in 1991, when Reutemann won the elections with 488.105 votes and 46.8% of votes for Justicialist Party's 17 sublemas, and Horacio Usandizaga received 601.304 votes, but only 40.5% for Unión Cívica Radical's (UCR) 3 sublemas.

In 1995, Usandizaga received 464,270 votes, but the outcome favored Jorge Obeid with 327,706 votes due to the 294,497 votes for Héctor Cavallero's sublema.[5]

The proliferation of (mostly opportunistic) sub-lists for legislative posts reached outlandish levels, to the point that 1 voter in 51 was a candidate to some post in some sublemas (about 40,000 candidates total).

The law was repealed on 30 November 2004, and replaced by compulsory primary elections followed by a closed-list main election, with proportional representation for legislative elections and first-past-the-post for the executive charges.

In Tucumán

The Ley de Lemas makes it easy to postulate a myriad of candidates, even if they have little representativity, and in fact encourages political parties to do so. In the province of Tucumán, the 2003 election saw a total of 1,800 sublemas (for provincial and municipal executive and legislative posts). More than 50,000 citizens were candidates (1 in 23 eligible voters). As in Santa Fe, this confused the voters and diluted the legitimacy of the candidates, as well as making the vote count an extremely complicated process.


  1. Nohlen, D (2005) Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume II, p488 ISBN 978-0-19-928358-3
  2. 1 2 Nohlen, p491
  3. Nohlen, p490
  4. http://www.towsa.com/andy/totalpais/santafe/2003g.html
  5. http://www.lacapital.com.ar/2005/09/18/politica/noticia_230731.shtml

See also

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