A short guide to the Hungarian election system
This short guide is a neutral description of the Hungarian election system and, specifically, how votes are converted into mandates. The educational video below (in Hungarian) aims to facilitate your understanding of the system.
How many votes do voters cast in the general elections?
Those with a registered Hungarian address can cast two votes: one on any of the national party lists and another on their preferred candidate in the single-member constituency their address belongs to.
Those without a registered Hungarian address can vote for the national party lists only.
Who can vote in person and by mail?
Those with a registered Hungarian address can only vote in person (at a polling place in Hungary or, if they are abroad, at one of Hungary’s official representations).
Those without a registered Hungarian address can vote by mail.
Whose names may appear on the ballot?
An individual becomes an official candidate in a single-member constituency if they gather 500 valid recommendation signatures. A citizen can recommend multiple candidates, but only within their own single-member constituency.
A political party can field a national party list if they field a candidate in 71 out of the 106 single-member constituencies, with at least one candidate in Budapest and candidates in at least 14 counties.
How are votes turned into mandates?
106 MPs gain a seat in the National Assembly from single-member constituencies. 93 MPs get their mandates from national party lists.
Mandates from single-member constituencies
Since there is only one round in the election, the candidate with the relative majority of votes wins the mandate in each of the 106 single-member districts. Thus, they need not obtain at least 50% of the vote.
Mandates from national party lists
Parties and party alliances can gain seats from their national lists if they obtain a certain percentage of the ballots cast. For individual parties, the threshold is 5%, for two parties competing jointly it is 10%, and in the case of three or more parties, the parliamentary threshold is 15%. The votes cast on lists that fail to reach the threshold are not utilized further in the mandate calculation process.
As the graph below shows, votes that are turned into mandates come from three sources (the thickness of the arrows indicates the number of votes in the given category compared to the others):
- Votes cast for party lists by those with a registered Hungarian address;
- Votes cast for party lists by those without a registered Hungarian address (mail-in votes of out-of-country Hungarians);
- Fragment votes, which are generated from votes cast on single-member candidates
The process of converting votes into mandates
Some of the votes cast on candidates in single-member constituencies are added to votes cast on national party lists in the form of fragment votes. The example below (entirely made-up) helps understand the process:
- 1st place candidate: 20,000 votes
- 2nd place candidate: 15,000 votes
- 3rd place candidate: 10,000 votes
- 4th place candidate: 5,000 votes
The candidate getting 20,000 votes gains the mandate in the district. Since the votes on the losing candidates were not utilized, the candidates are compensated by having these votes added to the national party list vote pool. Thus, the party of the 2nd place candidate gets 15,000 fragment votes, that of the 3rd gains 10,000 and the party of the 4th place candidate earns 5,000 votes (but only if the party passes the parliamentary threshold; otherwise, these votes are not utilized).
The party of the candidate winning the particular constituency can also gain fragment votes, which is why the difference between the 1st and 2nd place candidates in single-member constituencies matters. In our example, 15,001 votes would have been enough for the victory in this constituency. Since the 1st place candidate got 20,000 votes, the party of the winning candidate receives the 4,999 votes that were not needed for the victory.
Distributing votes on national party lists
In general, around 4.5 million national party list votes are utilized depending on the turnout rate and the proportion of lost (unutilized) votes. Since fragment votes are generated in all 106 single-member constituencies (after each winning and losing candidate), millions of fragment votes are also collected. The number of votes cast by out-of-country Hungarians is in the hundreds of thousands. In the 2018 general election, the final tally included about 5.1 million votes cast in Hungary and 223,000 votes cast by out-of-country Hungarians, as well as around 3.5 million fragment votes, as shown below:
Votes converted to party list mandates in the 2018 general election:
Since only a maximum of 93 party list mandates can be distributed, the votes gathered by party lists are by default divided into 93 parts in a (mostly) proportional manner. (In 2018, only 92 mandates were handed out; see the explanation under Preferential mandates from ethnic lists.)
Party list mandates are distributing based on the d’Hondt-matrix method in the following manner. We enter the name of political parties which passed the parliamentary threshold in the header of a chart. On the vertical axis, we list natural numbers starting with ‘1’. In the first row of the table, we indicate the number of votes collected by national party lists based on the above-mentioned method (party list votes from within and outside of the borders + fragment votes), then half of this number in the next row, a third of them in the third row etc. The first party list mandate is given to the party with the highest number in the chart. We select this number and then go to the largest of the remaining numbers, and the party that achieved this number receives the second mandate. We continue doing this until all party list mandates are distributed.
Party mandate distribution based on D'Hondt-matrix (based on the 2018 general election results)
Party list mandate distribution after the 2018 general election
Preferential mandates from ethnic lists
Hungarian citizens belonging to any of the 13 registered ethnicities in Hungary can decide to vote for a nationality list instead of the national party lists. They still have two votes, just like any other Hungarian citizen (one for their single-member constituency candidate and one for the nationality list).
The nationality lists are compiled by ethnic self-governments in Hungary; so, a voter choosing to vote as a nationality receives a ballot with only a single list on it.
Theoretically, all nationalities may receive a preferential mandate, but only the Roma and the German nationalities stand a real chance due to their numbers. The mandate is preferential because they are required to gather substantially fewer votes for a parliamentary mandate than national parties (a quarter of the latter). They are calculated in the following manner:
We add up the number of votes cast on national parties that passed the parliamentary threshold and the ballots cast on nationality lists (including fragment votes). The sum is then divided by the number of maximum possible mandates earned from national party lists (93), which as a result gives us the average number of votes required for a party mandate. This value is then divided by four, which shows us how many votes are required for a preferential mandate (this is the preferential quota). The nationality list that obtained at least this many votes gets a preferential mandate. The number of mandates distributed from national party lists is reduced by the number of ethnic lists that obtained a preferential mandate (to ensure that the National Assembly has 199 MPs). The leaders of the lists that gathered fewer votes than the preferential quota get a seat in the Assembly as “nationality spokespersons”, meaning that they do not receive a full mandate, and they do not count as MPs.
Calculating the preferential quota in the 2018 general election
In 2018, the German nationality list obtained 26,477 votes, so it reached the 23,831 vote number required for a preferential mandate. The other 12 nationality lists failed to do so. Therefore, the German nationality list was the only one that received a full parliamentary mandate. Thus, only 92 seats were distributed based on votes cast on national party lists.
This short guide is a neutral description of the Hungarian electoral system, and specifically on how votes are converted into mandates.
Our most recent analysis on the anomalies of the electoral system and potential abuses of it can be found here (in Hungarian). Our election-related texts can be found here (ENG, HUN). Our election-related initiatives are described here (ENG, HUN).