The alternativa system in Spanish American religious orders was an early example of deliberate electoral engineering to address the problem of social division. It was subject to criticism, however, for stealing voters’ freedom, ignoring the rights of candidates, and restricting access to competent officeholders. Moreover, it often gave disproportionate power to a minority faction. Hence, the alternativa remained, at best, an expedient, short-term solution to the problem of factionalism. Examining the canonists’ debate about the alternativa is instructive because it reveals the darker moral side of power-sharing regimes whenever and wherever they occur.

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