Sunshine or shield? Secret voting procedures and legislative accountability

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2014
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How does the use of a secret vote affect the likelihood that legislators will punish their peers? Two contending arguments exist in the literature: some argue that secret voting may be prejudicial, while others argue that it may help accountability. We address this controversy by analyzing the case of the Brazilian Congress, which uses a sequential combination of open and secret voting procedures. We begin with a statistical analysis of the Congress that establishes some key parameters of variance. The results of this exercise are then used to populate an agent-based model of the Congress, which is used to simulate a variety of potential behaviors under diverse conditions. Agent-based modeling enables us to extend the discussion beyond the small-n of cases available in the real world, demonstrating that slight changes in parameters can lead to very large changes in the overall effect of voting procedure. Modeling voting behaviors under different conditions, we conclude that both arguments about secret voting may hold true, and that the effects of the type of vote - open or secret - will be contingent on factors such as the power of the accused politician, the composition of the voting body, and the publicity given to the accusations.


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