Election Resources on the Internet:
General Elections in Costa Rica, Parts I and II
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

The Republic of Costa Rica, which held a general election on Sunday, February 4, 2018, returned to the polls on Sunday, April 1st, 2018 for a presidential runoff vote. A description of the electoral system of the Central American nation - which has been ruled almost uninterruptedly by democratically elected, civilian regimes since 1889 - is presented here; Costa Rica's party system will be reviewed in Part III of this presentation.

National- and provincial-level results are available here for the following presidential and legislative elections:

      February 4, 2018       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 2-April 6, 2014       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 7, 2010       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 5, 2006       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 3-April 7, 2002       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 1st, 1998       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 6, 1994       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 4, 1990       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 2, 1986       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 7, 1982       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 5, 1978       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 3, 1974       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 1st, 1970       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 6, 1966       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 4, 1962       President       Legislative Assembly      
      February 2, 1958       President       Legislative Assembly      
      July 26, 1953       President       Legislative Assembly      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Digital Electoral Atlas of Costa Rica.

General Aspects of the Electoral System

As set forth by the 1949 constitution, Costa Rica is a free and independent democratic republic, in which sovereignty resides exclusively in the Nation. Its government is popular, representative, alternative and responsible, and it is exercised by three distinct and independent branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.

Executive power is exercised, on behalf of the people, by the President of the Republic - who is directly elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years - and the Cabinet Ministers in the capacity of subordinate collaborators. The president and two vice-presidents are chosen by the runoff voting system. If the ticket with the largest number of votes does not attain at least forty percent of the total number of validly cast votes in the first round of voting, a second round is held between the two tickets with the largest number of votes, in which the candidates from the ticket that obtains more votes are deemed elected. The president may run for re-election, but only after at least eight years have passed since the conclusion of his previous term.

The power to legislate resides in the people, which delegate this power, by means of suffrage, to the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly consists of a single chamber, composed of fifty-seven deputies; these have that character for the Nation, and are directly elected for a four-year term of office. Each one of Costa Rica's seven provinces is a constituency, and Assembly seats are allocated among the provinces in proportion to their population. Parties and coalitions may present lists of candidates; the lists are closed, so electors may not choose individual candidates in or alter the order of such lists. Electors cast a ballot for a single list.

Legislative Assembly seats are distributed in each constituency according to the quotient and sub-quotient method. The quotient is obtained by dividing the total number of valid votes by the number of constituency seats. Then, the number of votes each party or coalition has obtained is divided by the quotient, and the result of this division, disregarding fractions, is the initial number of deputies elected by each party or coalition. If there remain unallocated seats after the application of quotients, these are distributed according to the largest remainder method among parties and coalitions that have obtained seats by the quotient method or that have attained sub-quotient, that is a total amount of votes smaller than the quotient, but equal to or larger than fifty percent of said figure.

The organization, direction, and supervision of acts pertaining to suffrage are the exclusive function of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which enjoys independence in the performance of its duties; all other electoral organs are subordinate to the Tribunal. There is no appeal against the decisions of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, except for actions on the grounds of breach of public duty.

Allocation of Seats in the Legislative Assembly

To illustrate the functioning of the Legislative Assembly's electoral system, the allocation of seats in the province of San José for the February 1990 general election is presented here in detail. The nine parties contesting the election for the province's twenty-one seats received a total of 528,642 votes, and the quotient for the constituency was calculated in the following manner:


= 25,173

Therefore, the threshold to attain sub-quotient - fifty percent of the quotient - was 12,587 votes.

The votes obtained by each party were then divided by the quota - disregarding remainders at this stage - to obtain the initial apportionment of constituency seats:

Partido Unidad Social Cristiana:    234,763 

= 9   (Remainder: 8,206)
Partido Liberación Nacional:    227,751 

= 9   (Remainder: 1,194)
Pueblo Unido (Coalición):    23,767 

= 0   (Remainder: 23,767)
Partido Unión Generaleña:    19,905 

= 0   (Remainder: 19,905)
Partido Alianza Nacional Cristiana:    9,853 

= 0   (Remainder: 9,853)
Partido Nacional Independiente:    4,810 

= 0   (Remainder: 4,810)
Partido del Progreso:    3,702 

= 0   (Remainder: 3,702)
Partido Independiente:    3,349 

= 0   (Remainder: 3,349)
Partido Revolucionario
de los Trabajadores en Lucha:

= 0   (Remainder: 742)

Up to this point, the allocation of seats in San José province stood as follows:

   List    Seats   
   Partido Unidad Social Cristiana    9   
   Partido Liberación Nacional    9   
   Total    18   

However, three of the twenty-one seats remained to be allocated. The largest remainders - including votes cast for Pueblo Unido and Partido Unión Generaleña, which won no quotient seats but attained a sub-quotient - were then determined, by sorting them in descending order, as shown below:

   List    Remainder   
   Pueblo Unido (Coalición)    23,767   
   Partido Unión Generaleña    19,905   
   Partido Unidad Social Cristiana    8,206   
   Partido Liberación Nacional    1,194   

Remainders for parties that won no quotient seats and failed to attain sub-quotient were not taken into consideration.

Since Pueblo Unido, Partido Unión Generaleña and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana had the three largest remainders, one seat was assigned to each of these parties. This operation completed the allocation of seats in San José province in the following manner:

   List    Seats   
   Partido Unidad Social Cristiana    10   
   Partido Liberación Nacional    9   
   Pueblo Unido (Coalición)    1   
   Partido Unión Generaleña    1   
   Total    21   

Had there been no sub-quotient threshold, the Partido Alianza Nacional Cristiana would have won the last seat in the province at the expense of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, as the former had a larger remainder of 9,853 votes.

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Copyright © 2009-2018 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: April 1st, 2018.