Introduction to Proportional Representation
Proportional Representation, electoral system designed to produce legislative bodies in which the number of seats held by any group or party is proportional to the number of votes cast for members of that group during the most recent election. The purpose of proportional representation has usually been to reduce the power of a dominant political party and to provide minority groups with a degree of representation that has been denied them previously.” (1)
Parliamentary System and Proportional Representation
There is no need of some form of parliamentary system in order to institute proportional representation says Ed LaBonte Jr. The parliamentary system is a form of government, proportional representation is a voting system. Most countries that have proportional representation also have some form of parliamentary system, but it is not necessary. England and Canada have parliamentary systems but they do not have proportional representation.
Proportional Representation Systems
There are many systems that can be used. All require multi-seat districts – more than one representative per district. Here are a few examples:
Party List System – This is by far the most popular form of proportional representation but unfortunately it is probably the least likely to be accepted in the United States. All parties provide lists of candidates which are displayed on the ballot. The voter votes for a party rather than an individual candidate. Some party list systems allow the voter to also give his preferences as to individual candidates, but those candidates must be in the same party that he is voting for. The seats up for grabs are then allotted to the different parties according to the percentage of the vote they received. It is a very straight forward system and ensures proportional representation but it is not very likely that Americans will like the idea of voting for a party rather than an individual candidate.
Mixed Member Systems – This system is used in Germany and Italy. First representatives are elected in single member majority elections. The rest of the seats are then given to at-large members in a proportion which offsets the nonproportionality of the single member elections. The following demonstrates how this system might be used for the U.S. Senate. Each state would elect a single Senator. The other 50 seats would be filled according to the percentage of the vote that each party received. For example: suppose in a Senate election the Democrats won 24 seats while the Republicans won 26 seats (this is supposing that the Senate elections were all held in the same year for the sake of simplicity). The other 50 seats would depend on the percentage of votes each party received. Suppose the Democrats received 44%, the Republicans 46% and the Green Party received 10%. Twenty of the at-large seats would go to the Democrats, which would bring their total up to 44 seats, accurately reflecting their vote proportion. The Republicans would also get 20 seats which would bring their total up to 46, again reflecting their vote proportion. And the Greens would get 10 at-large seats. In the single member elections it is doubtful that the Greens would win any seats and all the Green voters in the country would be unrepresented. The strength of this system is that it is 100% proportional but combines that with regional representation so each state would have an elected member that it could call on to represent the regional concerns of that state. Unfortunately a constitutional amendment would be necessary to apply this system to the U.S. Senate.
Preference Voting (also known as Single Transferable Vote) – This is a system that is presently in use in Australia and Ireland. Its unique value is that it provides a means of ensuring proportional representation while still allowing people to vote for individual candidates. It could be used for the American House of Representatives without requiring a constitutional amendment. It would require that congressional districts be enlarged so that more than one member would represent each district. The voter lists his preferences by placing a number beside the name of each candidate. “1” represents his first preference, “2” his second, etc. All first preferences are tallied. Anyone reaching the “quota” is elected to a seat. The quota is determined by the number of seats open and the number of ballots cast. Depending on the system used, in a three member district the quota would be between 25% and 33% of the total vote. If no one reaches a quota on the first count the candidate receiving the fewest first preference votes is eliminated. His ballots are then allotted to their second preferences. Anyone reaching the quota is then elected. If the seats have not all been filled then the last place candidate is eliminated and his ballots are assigned to the next preference. The process continues until all seats have been filled. This system is presently being used in Cambridge MA to elect the city council and school committee.
Cumulative Voting – In this voting system everyone is allowed the same number of votes as there are seats to be filled. Three votes in three member districts, five in five member districts, etc. The voter may distribute his votes in any way he sees fit. He may cast fractional votes or he may cast all his votes for a single candidate. In this way minorities can bunch their votes together behind one or two candidates while majorities are forced to spread their votes thin over many candidates. The top vote getters are elected to the available seats This system has been used in Voting Rights Act cases instead of redistricting to ensure minority representation at the municipal level.
Limited Voting – In this system voters are allowed no more than half the votes as there are seats to be filled. In five member districts voters would get two votes, in seven member districts no more than three. Minorities would then bunch their votes behind a limited number of candidates and thus ensure their election while majorities would be forced to spread their votes thin to ensure majority representation. The top vote getters are elected. This system has also been used in Voting Rights cases to ensure minority representation. A version of it is used in Japan.
Majority Preference Voting – Strictly speaking this is not a form of proportional representation as it is specifically designed for single seat winner-take-all elections (like, say President of the United States). It has distinct advantages over our present system. It is similar to Preference Voting described above. I will explain it by describing how it might be used in an election for the U.S. Presidency. Under our present system third party candidates are at a distinct disadvantage. Not only do they not have the resources that the major parties can provide their candidates but the voters tend to view a vote for a third party candidate as a wasted vote (justifiably). This second disadvantage can be overcome by using Majority Preference Voting (MPV). Under MPV each voter would list his preferences. If after all the first preferences are tallied no one candidate has a majority then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. If, after this there is still no candidate with a majority the last place is again eliminated. Under this system votes are never wasted. There is no need to put a lesser evil as your first choice. But still it ensures that your worst evil will never benefit from your vote. Third party candidates are much more likely to win in these kinds of elections because they are not marginalized by people’s fear of wasting their vote. As a result they would be taken much more seriously by the media and their overall chances would be greatly improved. They would be more likely to be included in debates and issues which the two major parties might want to avoid would have a greater likelyhood of being discussed.
Proportional Representation in Use
Countries using proportional representation:
(Party List) ALGERIA, ANGOLA, ARGENTINA, AUSTRIA, BELGIUM, BENIN, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, BRAZIL, BULGARIA, BURKINA FASO, BURUNDI, CAMBODIA, CAPE VERDE, CHILE, COLOMBIA, COSTA RICA, CYPRUS, CZECH REPUBLIC, DENMARK, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, EQUATORIAL GUINEA, ERITREA, ESTONIA, FINLAND, GREECE, GUINEA-BISSAU, GUYANA, ICELAND, INDONESIA, ISRAEL, LATVIA, LIBERIA, LIECHTENSTEIN, LUXEMBOURG, MOLDOVA, REPUBLIC OF MOZAMBIQUE, NAMIBIA, NETHERLANDS, NETHERLANDS ANTILLES, NEW CALEDONIA, NICARAGUA, NORWAY, PARAGUAY, PERU, POLAND, PORTUGAL, ROMANIA, SAN MARINO, SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE, SLOVAKIA, SLOVENIA, SOUTH AFRICA, SPAIN, SRI LANKA, SURINAME, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND, THE STATE UNION OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO, TURKEY, URUGUAY, WALLIS AND FUTUNA
(Mixed Member Proportional) BOLIVIA, GERMANY, HUNGARY, ITALY, LESOTHO, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, VENEZUELA
(Preference Voting) IRELAND, MALTA, AUSTRALIA
Countries not using proportional representation:
(First pass the post) AFGHANISTAN, AMERICAN SAMOA, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, ARUBA, BAHAMAS, BANGLADESH, BARBADOS, BELIZE, BHUTAN, BOTSWANA, CANADA, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF, COOK ISLANDS, DOMINICA, ETHIOPIA, GAMBIA, GHANA, GRENADA, GUAM, INDIA, JAMAICA, KENYA, KOREA, DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF, MALAWI, MALAYSIA, MARSHALL ISLANDS, MONGOLIA, MONTSERRAT, MOROCCO, MYANMAR, NEPAL, NIGERIA, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, PAKISTAN, PALAU, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, RWANDA, SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS, SAINT LUCIA, SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES, SIERRA LEONE, SOLOMON ISLANDS, SUDAN, SWAZILAND, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, TANZANIA, UNITED REPUBLIC OF, TONGA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS, TUVALU, UGANDA, UNITED KINGDOM, UNITED STATES, YEMEN, ZAMBIA, ZIMBABWE
(Two round systems) BELARUS, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, CONGO, CUBA, EGYPT, FRANCE, FRENCH GUIANA, GABON, GUADELOUPE, HAITI, IRAN, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF, IRAQ, KAZAKSTAN, KIRIBATI, KYRGYZSTAN, MALI, MAURITANIA, MONACO, REUNION, TAJIKISTAN, TOGO, TURKMENISTAN, UZBEKISTAN, VIETNAM
The above information was gleaned from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance web site (idea.int/index.htm) in 2007.
Mixed Member Proportional Representation (mmpr) in Election Law
This attempts to combine the positive attributes of both majority and proportional representation (PR) electoral systems by achieving the true proportional distribution of seats. A proportion of parliament is elected by plurality-majority methods, usually from single-member districts, while the remainder is constituted by PR lists. The MMPR system ensures that the list of PR seats compensates for any disproportional result produced by the district seat results. For example, if one party wins 10% of the national votes but no district seats, it will be awarded enough seats from the PR lists to bring its representation up to approximately 10% in parliament.
Proportional Representation System in Election Law
In its most simple form, this system involves each party or group presenting a list of candidates to the electorate. Voters opt for a list, and lists receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the vote. Winning candidates are taken from the lists. Lists can be open, closed or free. Another form in proportional representation systems is the Single Transferable Vote, in which voters choose individual candidates rather than lists.
Pure Proportional Representation in Election Law
Any system which allocates a number of seats that is entirely proportional to the number of votes obtained. For example, if a party wins 40% of all votes, it is awarded approximately 40% of all seats.
Concept of Proportional Representation
Note: explore also the meaning of this legal term in the American Ecyclopedia of Law.
- Election Law
- Electoral Laws
- Electoral Legislation
- Election Law
- Electoral Laws
- Electoral Legislation
- Election Law
- Electoral Laws
- Electoral Legislation
Notes and References
- Information about Proportional Representation in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
Guide to Proportional Representation
Hierarchical Display of Proportional representation
Concept of Proportional representation
Characteristics of Proportional representation
Translation of Proportional representation
- Spanish: Representación proporcional
- French: Représentation proportionnelle
- German: Verhältniswahl
- Italian: Rappresentanza proporzionale
- Portuguese: Representação proporcional
- Polish: System proporcjonalny
Thesaurus of Proportional representation
Politics > Electoral procedure and voting > Voting method > Proportional representation
Politics > Electoral procedure and voting > Parliamentary seat > Allocation of seats > Electoral quota > Proportional representation