2. Hong Kong
When China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, its agreement with Britain stipulated that the "special administrative province" would continue governing itself for a period of at least 50 years. And while it was always clear that balancing provincial democracy with Beijing overlordship would be tricky, few could have foreseen the veritable perfect storm of systemic flaws that recently lead the Economist to describe Hong Kong's election process as "the worst system, including all the others."
Try to stay with us: Hong Kong's Legislative Council is evenly divided between "geographic constituencies" (whose parliamentarians are designated by political parties through a not-atypical list system, which accords seats based on support received during a general election) and so-called "functional constituencies" (trade and professional syndicates deeply tied to Beijing, whose members will likewise get to vote again as individuals in their respective geographic regions for the lists).
When choosing Hong Kong's chief executive, things get even shadier. The elections are irregularly spaced, varying in frequency from every two years to every five. Of Hong Kong's 7 million-plus population, only around 1,200 individuals are able to vote as members of the electoral college, most of whom are drawn from the Beijing-friendly functional constituencies.
And yet, somehow, the saving grace usually found in centralized authoritarian transitions (the lack of costly, rancorous, and divisive elections) is stubbornly absent under Hong Kong's system. In the past, a Beijing-backed candidate had often run unopposed, but the 2012 election saw multiple contenders. Of the three candidates, the democrat never gained traction and the two Beijing-backed contenders tore each other to shreds in a campaign marked by sex and financial scandals and incompetence.
While Germany may seem a surprising choice for the No. 1 spot, it resides there under the logic that the only thing worse than a ridiculous and complex electoral system would be ... having no functioning electoral system at all.
The Basic Law of Germany -- which has functioned as a constitution in West Germany since 1949 and over unified Germany since 1990 -- establishes a voting system where each voter casts two ballots, one of which is candidate-specific and the other which goes to a party, allowing the latter to assign seats in parliament (the Bundestag) based on its level of relative support. The Bundestag's members in turn elect the German chancellor. Yet in cases where more candidates win as individuals than would be warranted by a party's overall level of electoral support, all of those elected will serve, resulting in an "overhang seat" and thus making the eventual number of politicians serving in the German Bundestag unknowable.
In 2008, the German Constitutional Court ruled this practice unconstitutional -- as it makes it theoretically possible for a party that wins fewer votes to wind up with a greater number of seats. The court ordered that the government fix the law within three years, making July 2011 the final deadline for a reformed process. Immediately prior to that deadline, the Chancellor Angela Merkel's government -- whose party base has traditionally benefited from this system -- turned in a draft for a new revised electoral law that was rejected as unconstitutional along similar grounds, thus leaving the nation devoid of an electoral process.
A new electoral law will now have to be drafted and approved prior to the scheduled fall 2013 general elections, or else a considerable constitutional crisis may result. Meanwhile, hanging over the process is the very real possibility that should a dissolution of parliament or a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Merkel take place, either one of which would require a new election before the next scheduled contest, there would be no functional system under which to do so. So, with one hand tied and each step planted with the greatest of care, the German government limps along.
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So, in the end, remember this as you settle down in front of the television tonight after waiting in long lines to listlessly cast your ballot alongside the other 79 percent of Americans whose individual votes will be largely symbolic: it could always be worse.