Proportional Representation - History

Proportional representation - system of electing members of the legislature, in which the number of seats given to a particular party is determined by the percentage of the popular vote which goes to that party. This system is used in many countries, including most European nations.

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Systems of proportionality

STV has not been widely adopted, being used in national elections in Ireland and Malta, in Australian Senate elections, and in local and European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland. Under STV, voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference. In the 1860s Henry Richmond Droop developed a quota (the so-called Droop quota) to determine the number of votes a candidate needed to capture to win election under STV. The quota is calculated by dividing the total number of valid votes cast by the number of seats to be filled plus one, and one is then added to the quotient, which is expressed in the following formula: Quota = ( Total Votes / Total Seats + 1 ) + 1 For example, if 250,000 votes are cast and 4 seats are to be allocated, the quota would equal 250,000 divided by 5, plus 1, or 50,00l. After the first preference votes are counted, any candidate whose votes exceed the quota is elected. Votes received by successful candidates in excess of the quota are transferred to other candidates according to the voters’ second preferences. Any surplus among subsequently elected candidates is similarly transferred, and so on, if necessary. If any seats are still vacant, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and all his ballots are transferred to the voters’ second preferences, and so on, until all seats are filled. In this way the results reflect fairly accurately the preferences of the electors and, therefore, their support for both individuals and parties. Although the system provides representation to minor parties, results in STV elections generally have shown that minor centrist parties benefit from the system and minor radical parties are penalized. For example, though the Democratic Left (Daonlathas Clé) and Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, received similar shares of the national vote in the Irish general election of 1997, the more centrist Democratic Left won four seats to the Dáil to Sinn Féin’s one.


Dates Edit

Elections to Sweden's county councils occur simultaneously with the general elections on the second Sunday of September. Elections to the municipal councils also occur on the second Sunday of September. Elections to the European Parliament occur every five years in May or June throughout the entire European Union the exact day of the election varies by country according to the local tradition, thus in Sweden they happen on a Sunday.

Voter eligibility Edit

To vote in a Swedish general election, one must be: [1]

  • a Swedish citizen,
  • at least 18 years of age on election day,
  • and have at some point been a registered resident of Sweden (thus excluding foreign-born Swedes who have never lived in Sweden)

To vote in Swedish local elections (for the county councils and municipal assemblies), one must: [1]

  • be a registered resident of the county or municipality in question and be at least 18 years of age on election day
  • fall into one of the following groups:
  1. Swedish citizens
  2. Citizens of Iceland, Norway, or any country in the European Union
  3. Citizens of any other country who have permanent residency in Sweden and have lived in Sweden for three consecutive years

In order to vote in elections to the European Parliament, one must be 18 years old, and fall into one of the following groups: [1]

  1. Swedish citizens who are or have been residents of Sweden
  2. Citizens of any other country in the European Union who are currently residents of Sweden such citizens, by choosing to vote in European Parliamentary elections in Sweden, become ineligible to vote in European Parliamentary elections in any other EU member state

In general, any person who is eligible to vote is also eligible to stand for election.

Sweden does not disenfranchise prisoners or those with criminal convictions. [2] Expat Swedish citizens may however be removed from the polling register if they do not renew their registration every 10 years.

Voting Edit

Unlike in many countries where voters chose from a list of candidates or parties, each party in Sweden has separate ballot papers. The ballot papers must be identical in size and material, and have different colors depending on the type of election: yellow for Riksdag elections, blue for county council elections and white for municipal elections and elections to the European Parliament.

Sweden uses open lists and utilizes apparentment between lists of the same party and constituency to form a cartel, a group of lists that are legally allied for purposes of seat allocation. [3] A single preference vote may be indicated as well. [4]

Swedish voters can choose between three different types of ballot papers. The party ballot paper has simply the name of a political party printed on the front and is blank on the back. This ballot is used when a voter wishes to vote for a particular party, but does not wish to give preference to a particular candidate. The name ballot paper has a party name followed by a list of candidates (which can continue on the other side). A voter using this ballot can choose (but is not required) to cast a personal vote by entering a mark next to a particular candidate, in addition to voting for their political party. Alternatively, a voter can take a blank ballot paper and write a party name on it. [5] Finally, if a party hasn't registered its candidates with the election authority, it is possible for a voter to manually write the name of an arbitrary candidate. In reality, this option is almost exclusively available when voting for unestablished parties. However, it has occasionally caused individuals to be elected into the city council to represent parties they don't even support as a result of a single voter's vote. [6]

The municipalities and the national election authority have the responsibility to organise the elections. On the election day, voting takes place in a municipal building such as a school. It is possible to do early voting, also in a municipal building which is available in day time, such as a library. Early voting can be performed anywhere in Sweden, not just in the home municipality.

Earlier Swedish election policy of always displaying the ballot papers for voters to select in public, making it impossible for many voters to vote secretly, has been criticised as undemocratic and is arguably in blatant contravention of Protocol 1, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights ( ECHR ) which clearly stipulates that elections must be free and by secret ballot . Whilst many wrongly believe that the use of masking by selecting multiple ballot papers is an effective mitigation of this lack of secrecy, it is readily demonstrated that it cannot be considered as such by simply considering a case where an individual is being coerced into not voting for a particular party.

In 2014 a German citizen, Christian Dworeck, reported this lack of secrecy in Swedish voting to the European Commission [7] and from 2019 ballot papers are selected behind a screen. [8] It remains to be seen if this measure, quietly introduced to bring EU elections in Sweden into compliance with European human rights law, will be extended to Swedish parliamentary and local elections.

Cost of ballot papers Edit

For the general elections, the State pays for the printing and distribution of ballot papers for any party which has received at least one percent of the vote nationally in either of the previous two elections. For local elections, any party that is currently represented in the legislative body in question is entitled to free printing of ballot papers. [9] [10]

Constituencies Edit

In Riksdag elections, constituencies are usually coterminous with one of the Swedish counties, though the Counties of Stockholm, Skåne (containing Malmö), and Västra Götaland (containing Gothenburg) are divided into smaller electoral constituencies due to their larger populations. The number of available seats in each constituency is based on its number of voters (vis-à-vis the number of voters nationwide), and parties are apportioned seats in each constituency based on their votes in that constituency. [11]

In County Council elections, individual municipalities—or alternatively groups of municipalities—are used as electoral constituencies. The number of seats on the county council allocated to each constituency, and the borders of these constituencies, is entirely at the discretion of each county council itself. As mandated by Swedish law, nine out of ten seats on each county council are permanent seats from a particular constituency the remaining seats are at-large adjustment seats, used to ensure county-wide proportionality with the vote, just as with general elections. [5]

For European parliamentary elections, all of Sweden consists of one electoral district.

Party list candidate selection Edit

In Sweden the seats of the Riksdag are allocated to the parties, and the prospective members are selected by their party. [11] Sweden uses open lists and utilizes apparentement between lists of the same constituency and party to form a cartel, a group of lists that are legally allied for purposes of seat allocation. [3] Which candidates from which lists are to secure the seats allocated to the party is determined by two factors: preference votes are first used to choose candidates which pass a certain threshold, [12] then the number of votes cast for the various lists within that party are used. [3] [13] [12] In national general elections, any candidates who receive a number of personal votes equal to eight percent or greater of the party's total number of votes will automatically be bumped to the top of the list, regardless of their ranking on the list by the party. This threshold is only five percent for local elections and elections to the European Parliament. [14]

Although sometimes dissatisfied party supporters put forward their own lists, the lists are usually put forward by the parties, and target different constituencies and categories of voters. [13] Competition between lists is usually more of a feature of campaign strategies than for effective candidate preferences, and does not bear prominently in elections. [13]

Because seats are allocated primarily to the parties and not candidates, the seat of an MP who resigns during their term in office can be taken by a replacement runner-up candidate from their own party (unlike systems such as the United Kingdom, a by-election is not triggered). In contrast to assigning the seat, resigning is a voluntary action of the MP, meaning that there exists the possibility of MPs resigning from their parties but not their seats and sitting as independents. The system of replacement runner-up candidates also means that the Prime Minister and their potential members of cabinet appear on ballot papers, but surrender their seats to replacement candidates as they are appointed as ministers (holding both posts is not permitted). This allows senior party politicians to assume roles as opposition members of parliament if they lose an election.

Seat allocation Edit

Seats in the various legislative bodies are allocated amongst the Swedish political parties proportionally using a modified form of the Sainte-Laguë method. This modification creates a systematic preference in the mathematics behind seat distribution, favoring larger and medium-sized parties over smaller parties. It reduces the slight bias towards larger parties in the d'Hondt formula. At the core of it, the system remains intensely proportional, and thus a party which wins approximately 25% of the vote should win approximately 25% of the seats. An example of the close correlation between seats and votes can be seen below in the results of the 2002 Stockholm municipal election.

In Riksdag elections, 310 of the members are elected using a party-list proportional representation system within each of Sweden's 29 electoral constituencies. The remaining 39 seats in the Riksdag are "adjustment seats," distributed amongst the parties in numbers that will ensure that the party distribution in the Riksdag matches the distribution of the votes nationally (in the previous election) as closely as possible. [11] County elections use the same system. All seats on municipal assemblies are permanent there are no adjustment seats. This can cause the distribution of seats in the municipal assemblies to differ somewhat from the actual distribution of votes in the election. [15] The European Parliament has 751 permanent seats, 20 of which were allocated to Sweden for the 2019 election. After Brexit, an additional seat was allocated for Sweden. [16]

In order to restrict the number of parties which win seats in the Riksdag, a threshold has been put in place. In order to win seats in the Riksdag, a party must win at least four percent of the vote nationally, or twelve percent of the vote in any electoral constituency. [15] County elections use a lower threshold of three percent. For municipal elections, since the elections of 2018 there has been a minimum threshold of two percent in municipalities with only one constituency, and three percent in those with more than one. [17]

Comparison of vote share vs. share of allocated seats after 2018 municipal elections: [18]

Party Votes (%) Seats (%)
Social Democratic Party 27.6 29.5
Moderate Party 20.1 18.9
Sweden Democrats 12.7 14.2
Centre Party 9.7 12.6
Left Party 7.7 6.4
Liberals 6.8 5.4
Christian Democrats 5.2 5.3
Green Party 4.6 3.1

Terms of office Edit

The assembly members are elected for a fixed term of four years. In 1970 to 1994, terms were three years before that, normally four. The Riksdag may be dissolved earlier by a decree of the prime minister, in which case new elections are held however, new members will hold office only until the next ordinary election, the date of which remains the same. Thus the terms of office of the new members will be the remaining parts of the terms of the MPs in the dissolved parliament. [ citation needed ]

The unicameral Riksdag has never been dissolved by decree. The last time the second chamber of the old Riksdag was dissolved in this manner was in 1958.

The regional and local assemblies cannot be dissolved before the end of their term.

Party organization Edit

While parties have been very careful to maintain their original mass party image, party organizations have become increasing professionalized and dependent on the state, and less connected with their grass-roots members and civil society. [19] [20] Party membership has declined to 210,067 members in 2010 across all parties (3.67% of the electorate), from 1,124,917 members in 1960 (22.62% of the electorate). [19] Political parties can be registered with the support of 1500 electors for Riksdag elections, 1500 electors for EU elections, 100 electors for county council elections, and/or 50 electors for municipal elections. [21]

The unicameral Parliament of Sweden has 349 members: 310 are elected using party-list proportional representation, and 39 using "adjustment seats."

Latest result Edit

At the 2018 general elections the red-green coalition consisting of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left got 40.7% of the votes compared to 40.3% for the Alliance parties, resulting in a single-seat difference between the blocks. After a prolonged government formation process, Stefan Löfven was able to form a minority government with the Greens, conditional on external support from Centre Party and the Liberals.

Riksdag election results in percent 1911–2018 [22] [23] Edit

The first elections to a unicameral Riksdag were held in 1970. The older figures refer to elections of the Andra kammaren under the older bicameral system.

Proportional representation in United States

I can see this working for election of President where each states delegates are assigned by it instead of winner takes all. I believe only one or few states have that. This would change presidential elections since it obligates candidates to not give up on a region. Without getting bogged down in current politics how would that of changed things if say republican candidate now has chance of getting 1/2 or 1/3 of California votes or democratic get 1/2 if Texas or Florida.

Could we see 3 way races for president like in the 19th century where each of candidates gets 1/3 of delegates?

As for congress or state elections it would only work if it is based on regional areas. Example in state of New York it would need to be divided into let say 10 districts. Each district represent a geographic area. So New York City is one district, upstate a another, Long Island different and so forth. Each district would have X amount of seats and each party puts forth a list of candidates to fill all those seats in each district and based on percentage of vote the people from the list get elected. Cannot be for whole state because high population areas be over represented.

The concept of transferable voting was first proposed by Thomas Wright Hill in 1819. [1] The system remained unused in public elections until 1855, when Carl Andræ proposed a transferable vote system for elections in Denmark. [2] Andræ's system was used in 1856 to elect the Danish Rigsdag, and by 1866 it was also adapted for indirect elections to the second chamber, the Landsting, until 1915.

Although he was not the first to propose a system of transferable votes, the English barrister Thomas Hare is generally credited with the conception of Single Transferable Voting, and he may have independently developed the idea in 1857. [2] Hare's view was that STV should be a means of "making the exercise of the suffrage a step in the elevation of the individual character, whether it be found in the majority or the minority." In Hare's original STV system, he further proposed that electors should have the opportunity of discovering which candidate their vote had ultimately counted for, to improve their personal connection with voting. [3]

The noted political essayist, John Stuart Mill, was a friend of Hare and an early proponent of STV, praising it in his 1861 essay Considerations on Representative Government. His contemporary, Walter Bagehot, also praised the Hare system for allowing everyone to elect an MP, even ideological minorities, but also added that the Hare system would create more problems than it solved: "[the Hare system] is inconsistent with the extrinsic independence as well as the inherent moderation of a Parliament – two of the conditions we have seen, are essential to the bare possibility of parliamentary government." [4]

STV spread through the British Empire, leading it to be sometimes known as British Proportional Representation. In 1896, Andrew Inglis Clark was successful in persuading the Tasmanian House of Assembly to adopt what became known as the Hare-Clark system, named after himself and Thomas Hare.

In the 20th century, many refinements were made to Hare's original system, by scholars such as Droop, Meek, Warren and Tideman (see: Counting Single Transferable Votes for further details).

Republic of Ireland Edit

"Proportional Representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote" (commonly called "Proportional Representation" rather than "Single Transferable Vote") is used for all public elections in the Republic of Ireland, except that the Qu-winner elections (presidential elections and the Qu-vacancy by-elections) reduce to instant-runoff voting. The most important elections in the Republic are those to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament). The Dáil is directly elected from constituencies of between three and five seats. The Irish constitution specifies a minimum size of three seats and, although there is no maximum size, there have been no constituencies of more than five seats since 1947.

In the Senate, the weak upper house, six University seats are filled from two three-seat constituencies, while 43 vocational panel seats are filled on a restricted franchise from five panels of up to eleven seats. The panel election rules depart from true STV by requiring a minimum number of candidates to be elected from each of two sub-panels [5] in the 2007 Cultural and Educational Panel election Ann Ormonde was elected despite having fewer votes than Terence Slowey when Slowey was eliminated. [6] [7]

STV is also used in local and European elections, and is common in private organisations, such as student unions. However, some representatives on the Senate of the National University of Ireland are elected by cumulative voting. [8] [9]

All votes are paper ballots completed and counted manually. Electronic voting was trialled in some constituencies in the 2002 election, but discontinued due to concerns about the lack of an audit trail. Irish STV elections use the simple Hare method of surplus transfers, except for the Senate panels, which use the Gregory method. A ballot need only rank the Qu candidate to be deemed valid the quota is not recalculated to take account of exhausted ballots, which means candidates may be elected without reaching the quota.

Body elected Vacancies Seats/constituency
Dáil Éireann By-election using STV/IRV [n 1] 3–5
Seanad Éireann By-election using IRV [n 2] 3–11
Local government Co-option [n 3] 3–7 [n 4] (2019)
4–10 [n 5] (2014)
European Parliament Replacement list 3–4

History Edit

STV was first used in Ireland in the University of Dublin constituency in the 1918 Westminster election. The 1917 Speaker's Conference had recommended STV for all multi-seat Westminster constituencies, but it was only applied to university constituencies. With the growth of revolutionary Irish nationalism in Ireland, STV was introduced at local level by the UK government to ensure unionist minority representation in nationalist-majority areas and vice versa however, minority representation did not always occur in practice. STV was first applied in the 1919 Sligo borough election under the Sligo Corporation Act, 1918, a private act of Parliament sponsored by the Corporation after representations from a mainly-Protestant group of leading ratepayers. [22] The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1919 extended STV universally from the 1920 local elections, and the Government of Ireland Act 1920 applied it to the 1921 Home Rule elections. The 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State mandated proportional representation, [23] and STV was specified in statute law. [24]

Initially 46% of Dáil members were elected from constituencies of seven, eight or nine seats, until 1935 when seven seats became the largest size. Since 1947 Dáil constituencies have been no larger than five seats. The 60 members of the Free State Seanad were intended to be directly elected, one of four cohorts every three years, with the state forming a single 15-seat STV constituency. The only such election was in 1925, for 19 seats (15 scheduled plus 4 casual vacancies). There were 78 candidates on the ballot paper, counting took two weeks, and many independents were elected. The process was seen as too cumbersome, and so indirect election by Oireachtas members was introduced for subsequent Seanad elections. [25]

Two attempts have been made by Fianna Fáil governments to abolish STV and replace it with the first past the post plurality system. Both attempts were rejected by voters in referendums held in 1959 and again in 1968. In the past, gerrymandering was also attempted by several governments, in particular by varying the sizes (that is, the number of seats) of particular constituencies. This attempt backfired, however, in the 1977 general election when a larger than expected vote-swing caused a tipping effect resulting in disproportionate losses for the government. This botched attempt at Gerrymandering became known as the "Tullymander" after minister James Tully. Since 1977, constituencies have been drawn up by an independent Constituency Commission under terms of reference given by the Minister for the Environment. Elections from 1932 to 1987 resulted in either a single-party Fianna Fáil government or a coalition of two or more of the other parties. Since 1989, every government has been a coalition.

From 1941 to 1965, the city councils of Cork, Limerick and Waterford were each elected in a single local electoral area (LEA), returning 21, [26] 17, [n 6] and 15 [29] councillors respectively. [30] Electoral law empowered the minister for local government to split county boroughs into multiple LEAs only if the council requested these councils did not do so, as a majority of councillors were independents or from small parties and feared that smaller LEAs would favour the large parties. The Electoral Act 1963 allowed the minister to act unilaterally and the boroughs were divided in time for the 1967 local elections. [31] The change was justified on the basis that the ballots were long and unwieldy and many votes were wasted when ballots were exhausted. [32] The LEAs defined under the Local Government Reform Act 2014 return between 6 and 10 councillors [33] the Fine Gael–led government formed after the 2016 election is considering reducing these sizes. [34]

From 1979 to 2012, some members of Údarás na Gaeltachta were elected by STV from Gaeltacht constituencies: from 1979 to 1999, 7 of 13 members were elected from 2- or 3-seat constituencies [35] from 1999 to 2012, 17 of 20 were elected from constituencies returning 1 to 6 members. [36] [37]

Australia Edit

Australia uses two forms of STV, usually referred to within Australia as Hare-Clark Proportional Representation and Group-Voting Proportional Representation (or sometimes Ticket-Voting Proportional Representation). Both systems require voters to rank several, or all, of the candidates on the ballot, reducing or eliminating the possibility of exhausted votes.

The Hare-Clark System is used in Tasmania's House of Assembly and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly. This is essentially the system described above using the Droop quota (not the Hare quota), but candidates' placements, within the column for each party, are randomised by Robson Rotation rather than alphabetical. Casual vacancies are filled by the countback method, which involves recounting the original ballots to elect one of the candidates who stood but failed to be elected in the last election.

The Group-Voting or Ticket-Voting system was used in the Australian Senate from 1984 to 2013 and the Legislative Councils of Victoria (from 2006), Western Australia and South Australia (from 1985 to 2014). The votes are counted in the basically same way as under Hare-Clark, but when casting votes, voters have the option of selecting one single group voting ticket instead of numbering individual candidates below the line. Groups of candidates (usually, but not inevitably, corresponding to political parties) may each pre-register one ranked list of all the candidates (or, in some systems, two lists) and the votes above the line for each ticket are deemed to have numbered the candidates in the order pre-specified on the team's list (if the team lodged two lists, 50% of the votes go to each version). Casual vacancies are usually filled by the house of parliament with the vacancy, though there may be a requirement by law or convention to select a nominee of the out-going member's party.

Each form has its pros and cons. The Hare-Clark system with Robson Rotation is advocated on the grounds that the effect of 'donkey voting' is reduced because of the randomised ordering, and the absence of the group voting tickets creates more personal accountability. The alternative system is advocated on the grounds that informal voting (spoiled ballots) is reduced because only one number need be written on the other hand, it greatly increases the potential for tactics by parties as they have direct control of a large percentage of the vote. In the Australian Senate elections, nearly 95% of voters use the group voting tickets instead of ranking their own preferences. As a result, the informal rate reduced from around 10 percent, to around three percent.

Jurisdiction Body elected Group tickets Vacancies Transfer method [38] Seats/constituency Year introduced
Federal Parliament Senate Yes (but only for the party, Voters may rank parties) Appointment Gregory (inclusive) 2 or 6 (2 or 12 at a double dissolution) 1948
Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly No Countback Gregory (simple) 5 1993
New South Wales Legislative Council Yes (but only for the party, Voters may rank parties) Appointment (formerly highest runner-up of same team) Random 21 1978
South Australia Legislative Council Yes (but only for the party, Voters may rank parties) Appointment Gregory (inclusive) 11 1973
Tasmania House of Assembly No Countback Gregory (simple) 5 (previously 7) 1907
Victoria Victorian Legislative Council Yes 8
Western Australia Legislative Council Yes Countback Gregory (weighted inclusive) 6 (previously 5 or 7) 1987

Canada Edit

Alberta Edit

STV-PR was used in the Calgary and Edmonton electoral districts for electing Members of the Alberta Legislative Assembly from 1926 to 1955, with five, six or seven MLAs being elected at-large in each city. Medicine Hat used STV for the 1926 election only, electing two MLAs. Between 1924 and 1955, all other electoral districts used instant-runoff voting alternative voting / preferential voting. In 1958 the cities were divided into many single-member constituencies, and all MLAs were elected in single-member first past the post elections.

As well, STV was used for city elections in Calgary from 1917 to 1961 and in 1971, Edmonton from 1923 to 1927 and Lethbridge in 1928. [39]

British Columbia Edit

Many British Columbia (BC) cities used multi-member at-large voting for their municipal elections at one point, including Vancouver, Victoria, New Westminster and Nelson. [39] Two types of voting were used at different times – block voting during most periods, and between 1917 and 1926, many used the single transferable vote.

Provincially, British Columbia used a mixture of voting methods to elect their members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs): single-member districts using first-past-the-post and multi-member districts using through block voting. Elections in BC from the province's creation until the 1990 election were held under a mix of multi-member and single-member districts, with district types often being changed back and forth from one election to the next.

Through the 1940s, the province was governed by a coalition of the British Columbia Conservative Party (the Conservatives) and the British Columbia Liberal Party (the Liberals). Neither party had sufficient electoral support to form government alone, and the coalition allowed these parties to keep the left-of-centre Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) out of power.

By the 1950s, the coalition had begun to fall apart, resulting in the Conservatives and Liberals having to run for office separately under their own party banners. However, to try to prevent the CCF from being elected, one of the last acts of the coalition government was to introduce the alternative voting system (known today in the US as instant-runoff voting), which was implemented for the 1952 general election.

Rather than voting for one candidate by marking an "X" on their ballots, electors ranked the candidates running in their constituency by placing numbers next to the names of the candidates on the ballot. If a candidate received a majority of votes cast, that candidate was elected. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes was dropped and the second choices were allocated among the remaining candidates. This procedure was repeated until a candidate received a majority of votes.

The result of using this voting method was the unexpected election of enough candidates of a new party, the British Columbia Social Credit Party (the SoCreds), to form a minority government, with the CCF forming the official opposition. The BC Liberals were reduced to six members in the Legislature. The Conservatives (who changed their party name to the "Progressive Conservatives" in tandem with their federal counterparts) were reduced to four.

The SoCred minority government lasted only nine months. Alternative voting was again employed for the next general election. The result was a SoCred majority. During this term of office, the SoCreds abolished the new voting system and returned the province to the province's traditional mixed system of block voting in multiple-member constituencies and FPTP contests in single-member districts, which benefited the government party by creating large numbers of wasted votes and a wide possibility for gerrymandering. Finally in the 1980s, this unfair system was discarded due to wide criticism, and the province adopted FPTP.

Electoral reform became an issue again in the 1990s, particularly after the CCF, now the British Columbia New Democratic Party (BC NDP), was re-elected for a second time that decade in the 1996 election. While the NDP won a majority of seats in the election, the opposition Liberals had won a larger share of the popular vote. After the Liberals won the 2001 election, they created the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

The Assembly surprised many when it proposed an STV electoral model called BC-STV and recommended it to the electorate. [40] In the ensuing electoral reform referendum held on May 17, 2005, BC-STV achieved a majority 57.7% Yes support. However, this did not give it the 60% province-wide support set as a requirement by the Liberal government for the referendum outcome to be automatically binding. Nevertheless, the "Yes" simple majority support in 77 provincial ridings (out of 79) far exceeded the 48-riding level that had also been specified as a requirement.

Due to the evident support for electoral reform, the re-elected BC Liberal government announced in the Throne Speech on September 12, 2005, that the public of British Columbia would get a second referendum on STV in November 2008. This was later rescheduled: the second referendum on electoral reform was then planned to be held in conjunction with the May 12, 2009 provincial general election. In the interim, the Electoral Boundaries Commission designed new boundaries for both FPTP and STV. Both supporting and opposing sides of the referendum campaign received government funding to help educate the public in time for the referendum. [41] In contrast to the 2005 vote, which saw 57.7% of voters in favour of STV, the STV initiative was then defeated on May 12, 2009, with only 39% of voters in support. [42]

Manitoba Edit

Provincial elections in Manitoba were conducted partly by STV from 1920 until 1958:

    was constituted as a ten-member constituency in 1920 for that year's election, [43] while the other single-member constituencies had to wait until 1924 for the adoption of instant run-off voting which was first used in the 1927 election. [44]
  • In 1949, after considerable debate, Winnipeg was divided into three four-member constituencies, and St. Boniface became a two-member constituency. [45]
  • Manitoba returned to first past the post voting in 1955, [46] which was implemented in the 1958 election.

Municipal elections in Winnipeg, Transcona, St. James and St. Vital were also conducted by STV from 1920 to 1971. [47] [48]

Ontario Edit

The municipal election act used for elections to all of Ontario's municipal councils was amended in 2016, and since then municipalities have had the option to institute a ranked ballot. Ontario's municipalities have a variety of electoral configurations: some with all single-member districts, some with all multi-member districts, some electing members at-large, and some using a mixture of these approaches the relevant regulations outline the use of instant-runoff voting where a single representative is to be elected and STV where multiple representatives are to be elected. [49]

As of the 2018 Ontario municipal elections, only one council, that of the City of London, will be elected using a ranked-choice ballot. As London exclusively uses single-member districts, its election will be instant-runoff voting and not STV. The next opportunity for a municipality to potentially adopt STV will be the 2022 Ontario municipal elections.

Saskatchewan Edit

The city of Saskatoon used STV for its municipal elections 1916 to 1930 and 1938 to 1942.

AS well, Regina, Moose Jaw and North Battleford also used the system at one time. [39]

Senate Edit

Under the proposed Bill C-43 before the Parliament of Canada during the 39th Parliament – 1st Session (April 3, 2006 – September 14, 2007)), STV would have been used for consultative elections of Senators. [50]

Hong Kong Edit

For the 1995 election of Hong Kong's 60-member Legislative Council, STV was used to elect the 10-member Election Committee constituency. Following the 1997 transfer to Chinese sovereignty, the method changed to plurality-at-large voting.

India Edit

STV is not used for direct elections in India, but is used for the indirect election of most members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the federal parliament. The Rajya Sabha consists of 250 members: twelve are nominated by the President of India while the remainder are elected using STV by members of the legislatures of the states and the union territories. The number of members of the Rajya Sabha elected by each state and union territory is loosely proportionate to its population, such that, as of 2006 [update] , Bihar, with a population of 82 million, is represented by 22 members, while Sikkim, with a population of 540,000 is represented by just one member.

In addition, the federal president and vice-president are indirectly elected by MPs using alternative vote, which is STV applied to one vacancy at a time.

Malta Edit

STV has applied for all elections in Malta since 1921. However, top-up seats (similar to the additional member system) may be added in the national parliament to ensure that a party with a majority of first-preference votes wins a majority of seats. This was a response to the controversial election in 1981 when the Nationalist Party won 51% of the first-preference vote but the Labour Party won a majority of the seats. [51] Some subsequently accused Labour of having gerrymandered the 5-seat constituencies: 8 had narrowly split 3:2 in its favour, while 5 had more widely split 3:2 in favour of the Nationalists. The top-up rule was also invoked in 1987 for the benefit of the Nationalists and in 1996 for the benefit of the Labour Party.

The Maltese electorate largely does not take advantage of the cross-party voting opportunities provided by STV. Almost all voters give preferences to all the candidates from one of the two major parties, but do not give preferences to candidates from the other party. Third parties, meanwhile, get minimal support. The effect of this voting pattern is similar to a tight two-party open list PR system simultaneously using STV within each party to decide its representatives whilst using the indicated first preference candidate's party as the voter's preferred party. Because of the transfer behaviour of the voters, each party can stand many more candidates than there are winners in total without being adversely affected. Strangely, some candidates stand and are elected in more than one constituency, leading to vacancies filled by countback

New Zealand Edit

In New Zealand STV is used in elections to small number of local authorities and in all elections for District Health Boards. The count is conducted using Meek's method. District Health Boards consist of a mixture of appointed and elected members. The vast majority of local authorities use plurality at large (bloc voting) instead of STV. Current use of STV was introduced by the Local Electoral Act 2001 and began with elections to local councils and District Health Boards in October 2004 [52]

During the 20th century STV was used for elections to the Christchurch City Council in 1917, 1929, 1931 and 1933, and for Woolston Borough Council in 1917 and 1919. In business, Fonterra used STV for their board of directors and Shareholders' Council elections in 2002. The Local Electoral Act 2001 provided that STV was mandatory for District Health Board elections but offered local councils the choice of either staying with plurality at large or changing to STV. It also provided for a binding poll of voters in an area to be held to determine the which system would be used, either at the initiative of the council or by a citizen's initiative instigated by voters in an area. [53] In practice very few local authorities adopted STV under the Act's provisions, and in those that did the use of STV was plagued by poor explanations of the STV process, which often gave little more information than an algorithmic description of how to place a vote. This left the unfortunate impression among voters that STV was little more than a gratuitously complex equivalent to existing voting mechanisms. Nonetheless New Zealand made history by becoming the first country in the world to use the advanced Meek's method of STV.

In the 2004 elections 81 STV elections occurred, but two were not contested. Confusion was caused by the fact that some local elections included ballots for multiple local government bodies, some of which were conducted by single-winner plurality ("first past the post"), some by plurality at large, and some by STV. An example of the confusion among voters was one result from the 2007 elections, in which the first place went to blank or incomplete voting forms and the fourth place went to incorrectly filled-out forms. The actual candidates came in at places two and three. [54] Due to low voter turnout, the high number of spoilt votes and the long time taken for results to be declared, the Justice and Electoral Committee of the Parliament of New Zealand has undertaken an inquiry into the use of STV in New Zealand.

United Kingdom Edit

STV is not used for elections to the UK Parliament at Westminster but is used for all Assembly, local government and previously European elections in Northern Ireland, for local elections in Scotland and for local elections in Wales. In Northern Ireland, Assembly elections involve five-seat constituencies, while local elections currently use constituencies of between five and seven seats. For European elections between 1979 and 2019, Northern Ireland serves as a single three-seat constituency. Local elections in Scotland use constituencies of three or four seats. All official STV elections in the UK use the Gregory method of counting votes.

STV is also used by many private organisations. For example, it is used in many British university students' unions (and promoted by the National Union of Students as the fairest way of running elections), for all elections within the University of Cambridge [55] and for electing board members in The Co-operative Group.

As noted above, because it was re-invented by the Englishman Thomas Hare and has been used in many parts of the former British Empire, STV has in the past been referred to as "British proportional representation". Nonetheless it has never been used by more than a handful of constituencies in the British Parliament. In 1917, the Speaker's Conference in the United Kingdom advocated the adoption of STV for 211 of the 569 constituencies in the UK, and instant-runoff voting for the rest, and the Representation of the People Bill was introduced in Parliament that year. The House of Commons and the House of Lords engaged in an extended series of amendments and counter-amendments, in which the House of Commons kept trying to replace the STV provisions of the bill with the Alternative Vote scheme, and the House of Lords tried to reinstate the STV provisions. In the end, the House of Commons agreed to strip all preferential voting provisions in return for agreeing to discuss introducing STV in 100 seats in the future (the House of Commons subsequently reneged on this commitment later in 1918). [56] [57] [58] Nonetheless in 1918 STV was adopted for the university constituencies of Cambridge, Oxford, Combined English Universities, Combined Scottish Universities and Dublin University these constituencies continued to use STV until their abolition in 1950 (or 1922 in the case of Dublin University). STV was also introduced for local elections in the Irish borough of Sligo in 1918, and extended to all Irish local government shortly afterwards.

Northern Ireland Edit

In 1921 the UK government attempted to establish two home rule parliaments in Ireland–the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Parliament of Northern Ireland–with the Irish general elections of 1921, both of which were conducted using STV. The intention of using STV in Ireland was partly to ensure adequate representation for the Catholic minority in the North and the Protestant minority in the South. Southern Ireland seceded from the UK in 1921 but today, as the Republic of Ireland, continues to use STV for all of its elections. The Northern Ireland Parliament continued to use STV until 1929 when it switched to the first-past-the-post plurality system. However STV was reintroduced there after the imposition of direct rule in 1973, and is now in use for all elections except those to Westminster. [59]

Scotland Edit

In Scotland, following the passage of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act on 23 June 2004, all local governments have used STV to elect their councillors since 2007. [60]

Wales Edit

In Wales, the Richard Commission recommended in March 2004 changing the electoral system for the National Assembly for Wales (now Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament, simply Senedd) to STV. However, in the white paper Better Governance for Wales published on 15 June 2005, the UK Government, without giving reasons, rejected Richard's recommendation to change the electoral system. STV was later introduced for council elections starting from 2022 after the Senedd passed the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021. The Act gives an option for local councils to switch to STV if the individual council desires so. [61]

United States Edit

As of 2016 [update] , the only official governing bodies that use STV to elect representatives are the City Council and School Committee of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation (2 members) and the Park and Recreation Board (3 members) of Minneapolis, Minnesota. [62] However, STV was more widely used in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.

Twenty-two American cities have used STV for local elections. It was first used in North America in Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1915. [63] It was used for the election of the nine-member city council of Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1924 to 1957, and was also used in Cleveland, Ohio and Sacramento, California. New York City adopted STV in 1936 as a method for breaking the corrupt political machine of Tammany Hall dominating the city and used it for five elections in 1937 to 1945. Except in Ashtabula and New York City, STV was part of a council–manager city charter adopted at the same time. STV was included in the National Municipal League's model city charter from 1914 to 1964. Every adoption was by initiative. The typical adoption coalition included a city's minority party and other groups seeking increased representation. [64]

African-Americans and political minorities such as supporters of the Communists and urban Republicans used STV to win seats. And opponents of political reform challenged STV after these successes. Only two of the first 24 repeal efforts in cities around the nation were successful, but after World War II, harsh campaigns against STV were successfully carried out. After STV's removal and subsequent reversion to the current FPTP in New York in 1947, the Democratic Party immediately regained near unanimous control of municipal elections with Tammany Hall quickly returning to political dominance until its ultimate downfall in the mid 1960s. [65] STV has also been used in the election of New York City community school board members.

More recently, there have been other campaigns in some cities to introduce STV. Davis, California passed an advisory referendum to use STV for future city council elections. The community school boards of the City of New York used STV until the school boards themselves were abolished in 2002. The city of San Francisco in 1996 considered multimember STV in a referendum this effort failed, with the city instead voting for district elections and, in 2002, adopting instant runoff voting. Cincinnati also narrowly failed to restore STV for city council elections in citizen initiatives in 1988 and 1991.

STV has become increasingly used at American universities for student government elections. As of 2017 [update] , the schools of Carnegie Mellon, [66] [67] MIT, Oberlin, Princeton, Reed, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Vassar, and Whitman all use STV, and several other universities are considering its adoption.

The proposed Fair Representation Act would require multi-member districts for elections to the US House of Representatives which would then be elected by STV. States with only one representative would instead have elections by instant runoff voting. [68]

Usage in American cities Edit

The following cities in the United States have all used single transferable vote methods to elect local government legislative bodies, typically for city council elections. Most of these cities had stopped using it by 1960. (Listed by State):

California : Sacramento
Colorado : Boulder
Connecticut : West Hartford
Massachusetts : Cambridge (currently used, city council and school committee)
Massachusetts : Lowell
Massachusetts : Medford
Massachusetts : Quincy
Massachusetts : Revere
Massachusetts : Saugus (Used in 1948 and 1950 [69] First Massachusetts town to use STV. [70] )
Massachusetts : Worcester
Michigan : Kalamazoo
Minnesota : Hopkins
Minnesota : Minneapolis (currently used, Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation)
New York : Long Beach
New York : New York City (city council)
New York : New York City (32 community school board elections)
New York : Yonkers
Ohio : Ashtabula
Ohio : Cincinnati
Ohio : Cleveland
Ohio Hamilton
Ohio : Toledo
Oregon : Coos Bay
West Virginia : Wheeling

NGOs Edit

Many non-governmental organisations also use STV. Most Australian political parties, unions and peak business organisations use STV. All National Union of Students of the United Kingdom, Cambridge Union, and Oxford Union elections and those of their constituent members are under the system. It is used as well by ESIB – The National Unions of Students in Europe. It is used in several political parties for internal elections such as the British Liberal-Democrats, all the British Green Parties, the Green Party of the United States and the Green Party of California. It is also used to elect members of the General Synod of the Church of England. The UK Royal Statistical Society [71] uses STV with Meek's method to elect their council. Some Unitarian Church groups have used Single Transferable Vote to select projects for funding. Twin Oaks Community uses a version of STV they call Fair-Share Spending [72] to elect projects and set their budgets. [73] The US-Based Pacifica Radio Network uses STV to elect its station governing boards.

The Object Management Group (OMG) uses STV for their Architecture Board (AB) elections.

The selection of nominees for Academy Awards is via an STV ballot of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Differences from STV are that voters may only rank as many choices as nominees (five for most categories, with ten for best picture), and that at least one first preference is required for a candidate to be successful. Selection of a winner from among the nominees is done using plurality voting. [74] [75]

Beginning Readings

If you are relatively new to the issue of proportional representation and the workings of voting systems, you will want to start your readings here. These articles contain basic information about what voting systems are, what proportional representation is, what the many advantages of proportional representation voting are, and how various proportional representation voting systems work. There is also some useful background material, including a glossary of terms and a survey on the basic kinds of voting systems.

"Should I Be Interested in Proportional Representation?"
A brief survey to see if proportional representation addresses some of your own political concerns about elections in the United States.

"What is Proportional Representation and Why Do We Need this Reform?"
Essential reading explaining how proportional representation would cure some of the serious shortcoming of American elections, and exactly why it is superior to our current voting system.

"How Does Proportional Representation Work?"
A brief explanation of how various forms of proportional representation work, illustrated with ballots.

"How Can I Help Promote Proportional Representation?"
Ideas for how you can get involved in encouraging this political reform.

"Types of Voting Systems"
A brief survey of the full range of available voting systems, including plurality-majority systems, proportional systems, and semi-proportional systems.

Glossary of Terms
Specific terminology is used in the discussion of and analysis of voting systems. If you come across in your readings a term you don't understand, look it up here.

Proportional Representation and the Guyana Recent Elections

The constitutional basis for the conduct of elections in Guyana since 1964 is by way of a system of Proportional Representation (PR). On this basis, voters in Guyana recently enabled a regime change when they voted on 11 May last. The coalition parties comprising A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) led by former Army Brigadier David Granger, won the majority of seats in the sixty-five member Parliament, referred to as the National Assembly. The outgoing regime, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) led by former President of the Republic, Donald Ramotar is now the official opposition. This latter party remained in power in Guyana for over 23 years, since 1992.

A PR system refers to a number of electoral systems where seats in parliament are more or less distributed to political parties in proportion to the votes cast for those parties at general elections. There are three main types of PR systems: the Single Transferable Vote System as used in Northern Ireland and Malta the Mixed-Member Proportional Voting system as used in Germany, Venezuela, Scotland and Wales and the Party List Voting System as used in Guyana. In Guyana, on Nomination Day, the main political parties submit at least two lists of candidates: A National Top-up List and a Geographical Constituencies List based upon the ten administrative regions in that country. They do also provide a Regional Democratic Council List for local elections purposes.

When voters go to the polls on election-day they cast their votes for a particular political party and not for individual candidates. After the elections, the number of persons going to the National Assembly from each party depends on the calculation by a special formula which has to be used by the Chief Election Officer (CEO). This formula is prescribed by section 96 of the Representation of the People Act. The decision of the CEO has to be endorsed by the Guyana Elections Commission. Forty seats come from the National Top-up Lists and 25 from the Geographical Constituency Lists.

Following the results of the recent elections which were officially published on the 16 instant, the APNU/AFC will obtain 33 seats and the PPP/C, 32 seats. The winning party, having indicated on its list its choice of presidential candidate beforehand, had former Brigadier David Granger sworn in as President of the Republic on the 16 May. The President becomes both Head of State and Head of government as he is an Executive President as that of the USA and not a ceremonial one as that of Trinidad and Tobago or Dominica. He is entitled to appoint a Prime Minister who will be responsible for the day to day affairs of the state.

The PR system is contrasted with the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system which is presently being utilized in Grenada at general elections. In this situation, whichever candidate obtains a simple majority vote in a particular constituency wins the seat and becomes the representative for the constituency. The party which wins the majority of seats wins the general elections and is entitled to elect a Prime Minister and form the government. To many, it is a much simpler process than any of the PR systems.

The claimed advantages of the PR system include: more accurate representation of political parties better representation for political, religious and racial minorities fewer wasted votes higher levels of voter turn-out and disincentive for gerrymandering of constituency boundaries. The claimed disadvantages include: too complex for many voters may discourage voter participation may encourage too many minority parties delay in the announcement of an official winner following elections disproportionate power to minority parties enables a high incidence of coalition governments and lack of incentive to pay much regard to constituencies.

The PR system is well suited to what seems to be an ongoing racial divide in the voting pattern of Guyanese voters. Indo-Guyanese usually become pitted against Afro-Guyanese and vice versa. If a huge geographical area comprising a substantial majority of a particular racial grouping is divided into smaller constituencies, then there would be obvious disadvantages for the other racial grouping. In Northern Ireland the PR system was utilized from since 1998 to counter the problem of the religious divide between Catholics and Protestants there. Each of these groupings resides in particular geographical areas in Northern Ireland. If these geographical areas were divided into smaller constituencies and the FPTP system was used then serious disparities would arise.

The PR system may be seen therefore as having an important role to play in certain situations such as where racial and religious disharmonies exist, however in other situations its usage may not be appropriate.

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Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation (PR) as a title covers a wide variety of electoral systems where seats in parliament are more or less in proportion to votes cast. British Politics has used forms of proportional representation in elections for devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A form of proportional representation was used in the London mayoral election as well. But it has never replaced First-Past-The-Post in British national elections.

PR, in one form or another, is used throughout Europe, has long been advocated by the Liberal Democrats and support for it has grown in Britain since the 1970s. This is partly because the first-past-the-post system(FPTP) failed in the 1970’s to produce strong majority governments, and partly because the increasing third-party vote since the mid-1970s has highlighted the distortions of the present voting system.

The 1997 Labour government promised a referendum on the issue, but the referendum itself was delayed and the amount of choice which might be offered to the electorate could be very limited – it has been argued that both the two main political parties, Labour and Tories, have the most to lose from any changes to the FPTP system, hence their desire to see it continued.

If pure PR had been used at the 1997 election, the huge Labour majority would have been suitably shrunk with the Liberal Democrats gaining – possibly from the 46 seats they achieved to as many as 106 MP’s. They gained 16.8% of the total votes but much less than 10% of the total seats available at Westminster. PR would have changed their standing – and reduced the final Labour tally. A similar result would have been obtained in the 2001 election result with the implication that FPTP is unfair and potentially undemocratic in that the number of votes cast for the government is disproportionate to its popularity with the British public.

All forms of PR share the same basic advantages – so it is claimed by supporters of the system:

The system more clearly represents the wishes of the voters’ as expressed at the ballot box.

Fewer votes are ‘wasted’, therefore greater participation may be encouraged. FPTP may lead people into not voting for what they might see as a wasted cause.

Minority parties might end up with a much fairer representation.

T here are more opportunities for independent candidates – only one (Martin Bell) won a constituency vote in the 1997 election and he lost his attempt to win another independent seat in 2001 using FPTP.

PR is likely to remove ‘safe’ seats with their characteristics of low turn-outs. If each vote counts, people will feel more inclined to involve themselves in elections.

Voters may have more of a choice of candidates using PR and it is possible that those candidates may be of better quality and represent their constituents in a more professional manner.

The two-party system (which may have both pros and cons) is usually eliminated using PR and the end result is more ‘pluralist’. The possibility of single-party ‘elective dictatorship’ is greatly diminished.

An argument against PR is that it generally demands more knowledge of party beliefs/manifestos etc and greater activity of the voters (for example, to rank candidates in order of preference such as in the single transferable vote system), and hence may discourage participation. The procedure may simply prove to be too complex for many voters. Conversely, however, voters may welcome the opportunity to be better informed and to exercise greater choice, and turnout may actually increase.

If there are more than two main parties competing in an election, a proportional allocation of seats to votes will tend to produce a ‘hung Parliament’ where no party has 50 per cent of the seats. In the British system of parliamentary government, the choice between first-past-the-post and PR is therefore often presented as a choice between single-party, ‘majority’ government or a ‘fair’ reflection of the votes. However, such a summary is too simplistic:

PR produced an absolute majority government in Spain in October 1982 and the first-past-the-post system produced a hung Parliament in Britain in February 1974.

The pros or cons of a hung Parliament are not clear-cut. A hung Parliament in post-war Britain is relatively rare. Given the nature of the British constitution when it happens the ‘rules’ are uncertain as to what should happen next who may become Prime Minister? When should that person be appointed ? Should a fresh election should be called ? etc.

A hung Parliament – where no party has a required majority of public support – need not result in coalition government (i.e. two or more parties in executive office). More often in Britain the result has been single-party, minority government with under 50 per cent of the seats in the Commons.

For example, in February 1974, Labour under Harold Wilson continued for eight months as a minority government, boosting its own popularity with pension increases and rent freezes before calling a new election in October 1974 and winning a small overall majority. By 1977 Labour had lost this majority through by-election defeats, and therefore entered the 15-month Lib-Lab pact. This was not a coalition government – there were no Liberals in the executive – but an informal agreement of Liberal support for the Labour government in the House of Commons in return for consultation on policy.

This minority Labour government pushed through a lot of contentious legislation: the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act and the Race Relations Act, for example. It was not, in that sense, a ‘weak’ government, any more than majority governments are always ‘strong’. By late 1995, for example, John Major’s government was not strong in the face of persistent opposition from its own backbenchers (on Post Office privatisation, family law, VAT etc.).

The Liberal Democrats argue that single-party majority government is normally ‘weak’ in that it rests on a minority vote (see the 2001 and 1997 election results) and therefore lacks consent it may also lack power in relation to interest/pressure groups, such as business or the trade unions.

The Liberal Democrats prefer to call a hung Parliament a ‘balanced Parliament’ they favour a centrist coalition, arguing that it would curb ‘elective dictatorship’, encourage moderate policies and promote greater stability of national direction and policy and therefore be more efficient than the present ‘swing of the pendulum’. The 1970’s through to the late 1980’s saw great swings away from the Labour policies of the 1970’s to the policies of the Thatcher era, which aimed to remove or severely change all manner of Labour policies that had been introduced under Harold Wilson. PR would lead to such vast policy swings being minimised.

A hung Parliament usually ensures better attendance in the Commons as MP’s with aspirations to move up the party hierarchy have to be seen to be doing ‘their bit’. Coalition governments can draw on a wider pool of talent, and may be quite stable. Equally, one-party government may be ‘unstable’ if it adopts sudden policy changes: for example, Major’s forced withdrawal from the ERM in 1992 which made the Tories and only the Tories appear to be loosing control of the financial events it was meant to be handling as the party that governed the nation. Such apparent incompetence only benefited the opposition parties.

The case against PR is that no one votes for a real coalition as there is no mandate for compromise politics. Coalition government may also give disproportionate power to small parties (as Israel has experienced) and therefore be as unrepresentative, in its own way, as the first-past-the-post system. Nor is there any obvious virtue in centrism which, may be seen as stagnation. If the Labour and Liberal Democrat goal of a permanent, centre-coalition and consensus was to be achieved, it could amount to a new ‘elective dictatorship’ and a retreat from pluralism.

Proportional representation

Proportional representation is a system used to elect a country's government. This means the results of an election decide directly how many seats each party has got. Decisions are then made by the people who are elected. This has advantages over other systems, and some disadvantages.

The alternative is the first-past-the-post system in which constituencies vote in one member, and that's all there is to it. That is how it is in the United Kingdom.

In most western countries, there are more than one political party. Each elected representative will be a member of one or another party. If one party has an overall majority, then it forms the government. Otherwise the government must have members of more than one party.

Countries which have systems that are similar or use semi-proportional representation include: Australia, Germany, Hungary, India, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Thailand. India is one of the most successful examples of a country with proportional representation.

Similar principles apply to sub-regions, who may have their own parliament or assembly.

Proportional Representation - History

Douglas J. Amy
Department of Politics
Mount Holyoke College

(An earlier version of this article was previously published as "The Forgotten History of the Single Transferable Vote in the United States," in Representation 34, number 1 (Winter 1996/7).)

The United States has always had a tradition of single-member district, winner-take-all elections. So it is hardly surprising then that few Americans are aware of our history of experimentation with proportional representation (PR) elections. Admittedly these experiments were few in number. During the first half of the 20th century, two dozen American cities used for a time the single transferable vote (STV)--a form of proportional representation that is often called "choice voting" today. The story of how proportional representation came to be adopted and eventually abandoned provides some useful information about the history of this voting system, its political effects, and the politics of voting system reform.


The political roots of proportional representation in the United States originated in the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century. Besides such issues as child labor laws, anti-monopoly legislation, and women&rsquos suffrage, Progressives were also interested in government reform. Many were particularly concerned about the corruption in urban governments. Large cities often were dominated by &lsquoparty machines,&rsquo of which Tammany Hall in New York City was the most infamous. Bribery, kickbacks, favoritism, and voting fraud were rampant in these cities. The Progressives wanted to clean up these cities and blunt the power of the party bosses.

Their urban reform program included such things as the non-partisan ballot and replacing elected mayors with appointed city managers. Some Progressives also added proportional representation to this reform agenda. They argued that winner-take-all, single-member district elections served to reinforce the power of urban political machines. It was not unusual for machines to win almost all the seats on city councils, based on only 50%-60% of the vote. PR was seen was a way to break these one-party monopolies and to allow for the fair representation of a variety of political parties.

The Proportional Representation League of the United States was also instrumental in promoting the use of PR. Founded in 1893, the League soon followed the lead of English electoral reform groups and endorsed the single transferable vote as the most preferable version of PR. The League eventually began to enjoy some political success when it decided in 1912 that its most realistic goal would be to promote the adoption of PR on the city level. Cities presented the fewest legal and procedural obstacles to PR. Usually cities would only need to change their charters to adopt PR elections. This change could be made by referendums that would be voted on directly by citizens, thereby avoiding the need to convince government officials to pass this reform.

Proportional representation received an important boost in 1914 when the National Municipal League, a leading proponent of urban reform, included PR elections in its model city charter. Soon afterwards, in 1915, Ashtabula, Ohio became the first American city to adopt PR elections. Before long, Boulder, Kalamazoo, Sacramento, and West Hartford followed suit. In the mid-1920s, the first large urban areas, Cleveland and Cincinnati, adopted PR elections, and two other Ohio cities, Toledo and Hamilton, soon joined them. The greatest victory of PR advocates came in 1936 when voters in New York City approved the adoption of PR elections by a large margin. Interest in PR jumped dramatically as a result, with it eventually being adopted in eleven other cities, including seven in Massachusetts. In all, two dozen American cities joined the PR camp.


What political effects did proportional representation have on the cities that adopted it? In particular, did PR fulfill the political promises of it proponents to reduce corruption, ensure fair representation, and increase voter participation? Or did it confirm the fears of PR critics who predicted confused voters, lower turnout, and increased political divisiveness?

Scholars have begun to shed some light on these questions. The most extensive research to date has been produced by Kathleen Barber and several colleagues. Their study, Proportional Representation and Electoral Reform in Ohio, systematically analyzed the political effects of PR in five Ohio cities. In many cases their findings were also confirmed by results in other PR cities. For example, Barber found that choice voting produced fairer and more proportional representation of political parties. In particular, it eliminated the tendency of winner-take-all systems to exaggerate the seats given to the largest party and to underrepresent the smaller parties. In the election before the adoption of PR in Cincinnati, the Republicans won only 55% of the vote, but received 97% of the seats on the council. In the first PR election, the results were much more proportional, with the Republicans winning 33.3% of the seats based on 27.8% of the vote, and the rival Charter party winning 66.7% of the seats on 63.8% of the vote.

Similarly, in the last pre-PR election in New York City, the Democrats won 95.3% of the seats on the Board of Alderman with only 66.5% of the vote. During the use of PR, the Democrats still had a majority of the seats, but it was a much smaller one that reflected more accurately their strength in the electorate. In 1941, proportional representation gave the Democrats 65.5% of the seats on 64% of the vote. Moreover, it also produced representation for the Republicans and three smaller parties in proportion to their voting strength. Similar results occurred in the other PR cities, demonstrating that this system greatly improved the accuracy of partisan representation.

Proportional representation also encouraged fairer racial and ethnic representation. It produced the first Irish Catholics elected in Ashtabula, and the first Polish-Americans elected in Toledo. In Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Toledo, African-Americans had never been able to win city office until the coming of PR. Significantly, after these cities abandoned PR, African-Americans again found it almost impossible to get elected.


At times, proportional representation helped undermine the power of political machines and party bosses. In several cities, such as Cincinnati, the machines lost their majorities and their grip on power. After the transition to PR, Cincinnati went from a city with one of the worst reputations for corruption to one that won praise for the integrity and professionalism of its city government. Interestingly, even in cities where the dominant party retained its majority, PR sometimes helped to curb the power of the party bosses. It did so by allowing the election of independent Democratic and Republican candidates--candidates nominated by petition and not beholden to party bosses. PR proponents were correct, then, in predicting that this candidate-centered system would take power away from party leaders and give more of it to voters.

Proponents of proportional representation also believed it would minimize wasted votes. They argued that the ballot transfer process would ensure that most people would cast effective votes--votes that actually elected someone to office. The evidence supports this claim. In Cincinnati, the number of effective votes improved dramatically, rising from an average of 56.2% in the three pre-PR elections to an average of 90% for the 16 PR elections. Similar effects were found in other PR cities. In Cleveland, the number of effective votes increased from an average of 48.3% in the pre-PR period to an average of 79.6% during the PR period. And in New York City, the number of effective votes grew from an average of 60.6% to 79.2% with PR.


How did proportional representation effect the size of the party systems in these cities? Did it subvert the traditional American two-party system, as some critics feared it would? Not always. In some cities, PR produced a stable two-party system. In Cincinnati, the PR elections were contested between the Republicans and the Charter Committee, with no minor party candidates winning representation. Indeed, only once in all of the PR elections in the five cities in Ohio did a minor party candidate win office--a Socialist in Ashtabula in 1915.

The situation was different in New York City--an intensely cosmopolitan area with a variety of political cultures. PR nurtured a vigorous multi-party system, where at any one time the Democrats and Republicans were joined on the city council by three smaller parties, including the American Labor party, the Fusion party, and the Communist party. In general, however, PR did not seem to automatically favor a multi-party system over a two-party system, but instead it tended to produce a party system that reflected whatever degree of political diversity already existed in particular cities.

Proponents of proportional representation had predicted higher voter participation, reasoning that having fewer wasted votes and more choices at the polls would give citizens more incentive to vote. Opponents had forecast a drop in turnout, with voters discouraged by complicated ballots and incomprehensible vote counting procedures. In reality, however, PR seemed to have little effect on voter turnout. Barber and her colleagues looked at turnout rates before, during, and after the use of PR in five Ohio cities and found little correlation between voting system and the degree of voter participation. She concluded that "the emergence and disappearance of local issues and candidates appear to have had more to do with the act of voting than did the form of the ballot." (1) The scattered evidence from other PR cities seems to confirm the importance of local factors, with some cities seeing increased turnout with the adoption of PR and others seeing a decline.


Another common concern of PR critics was that it would increase political conflict and divisiveness. They worried that it would encourage so-called &lsquobloc voting&rsquo along ethnic, racial, religious, and class lines, and that the resulting city councils would be paralyzed by conflict. In practice, PR often did result in substantial bloc voting. But as defenders observed at the time, so too did winner-take-all elections. As noted earlier, PR also produced some city councils that were more demographically and politically diverse. But there is no evidence that this increased political pluralism had any detrimental impact on the workings of these city councils. In the five Ohio PR cities, Barber and her colleagues found "no systematic evidence of greater dissension on PR elected councils, compared the councils elected by other means. Indeed, striking decreases in conflict were found after PR/STV was implemented in Hamilton and Toledo." (2) This lack of increased conflict may have resulted from the ballot transfer process in choice voting, which may have encouraged politicians to be more civil to each other so as not to risk alienating potential supporters.


On the whole, from the available evidence, proportional representation seemed to have a beneficial effect on the cities that adopted it. It clearly produced more representative government and, where voters wanted it, a more diverse party system. Large increases in the number of effective votes were also enjoyed in these cities. It may not have resulted in the substantial increases in voter turnout that proponents predicted, but neither did it produce the increases in voter alienation that critics feared. And finally, even though PR city councils were often more diverse politically, this did not seem to impair their political efficiency or effectiveness.

If proportional representation amassed such a generally favorable record, why was it eventually rejected by all but one U.S. city, Cambridge, Massachusetts? The answer to this question is complex, with a number of factors playing a role in the abandonment of PR. Sometimes the reasons were primarily local. In a few cities dissatisfaction grew over other elements of the reform charters, such as the city manager, and when the reform charter was thrown out, PR went with it.

However, there were several common factors at work in many of the cities that abandoned proportional representation. For instance, this system universally came under attack from the politicians and parties who lost power and privileges. In Michigan and California, the dominant political parties mounted legal challenges and the courts in these states ruled that PR violated their constitutions. A more common attack was the effort to repeal PR by popular referendum. The referendum was a two-edged sword for PR--initially making it easier to adopt this reform, but also making it easier for opponents to challenge it. In Cleveland, well-financed opponents sponsored five repeal referendums in the first ten years of PR, with the final one succeeding. Similarly, PR opponents in Hamilton finally won their repeal effort after four failed referendums in 12 years.

Another common factor contributing to the demise of proportional representation was the inability of supporters to defend it effectively. By 1932, the PR League was losing steam. It was unable to finance its separate existence and had to merge with the National Municipal League. In some cities, the progressive political coalition that supported PR gradually disintegrated. Important reform leaders lost interest over the years, moved to the suburbs, or died. Two exceptions to this trend were Cincinnati and Cambridge, both of which had active and well-supported organizations dedicated to defending PR. In Cincinnati the Charter Committee aggressively defended proportional representation and it survived there for over thirty years, despite repeated challenges. The Cambridge Civic Association has also proved to be an energetic and capable defender of PR and has defeated every repeal effort to date.

Another factor working against defenders of proportional representation in many cities was the controversial nature of minority representation. Many Americans in the early twentieth century were hostile to political and racial minorities--the very groups aided by PR. Opponents of PR were not above fanning the flames of prejudice in their efforts to get rid of this reform. In particular, critics often played upon two of the most basic fears of white, middle class Americans: communists and African-Americans.

In Cincinnati, race was the dominant theme in the successful 1957 repeal effort. The single transferable vote had allowed African Americans to be elected for the first time, with two blacks being elected to the city council in the 1950s. The nation was also seeing the first stirrings of the Civil Rights movement and racial tensions were running high. PR opponents shrewdly decided to make race an explicit factor in their repeal campaign. They warned whites that PR was helping to increase black power in the city and asked them whether they wanted a "Negro mayor." Their appeal to white anxieties succeeded, with whites supporting repeal by a two to one margin.

In New York City, fear of communism proved the undoing of proportional representation. Although one or two Communists had served on the PR-elected city council since 1941, it was not until the coming of the Cold War that Democratic party leaders were able to effectively exploit this issue. As historian Robert Kolesar discovered, the Democrats made every effort in their repeal campaign to link PR with Soviet Communism, describing the single transferable vote as "the political importation from the Kremlin," "the first beachhead of Communist infiltration in this country," and "an un-American practice which has helped the cause of communism and does not belong in the American way of life."(3) This "red scare" campaign resulted in the repeal of PR by an overwhelming margin.

Just as the adoption of the single transferable vote in New York City prompted other cities to consider this reform, its well-publicized defeat there also encouraged repeal efforts in other PR cities. PR was abandoned in neighboring Long Beach and Yonkers in 1947 and 1948. Repeal campaigns also won in Boulder (1947), Toledo (1949), and Wheeling (1951). The PR movement never recovered from these defeats and although supporters remained optimistic, the 1950s saw the repeal of PR in one city after another. By 1962, only Cambridge, Massachusetts retained this system.

While the repeal of proportional representation in these American cities is taken by opponents as evidence that this voting system failed, proponents argue that it is more accurate to conclude that this system was rejected because it worked too well. They note that PR worked well in throwing party bosses out of government--bosses who never relented in their attempts to regain power--and it worked well in promoting the representation of racial, ethnic, and ideological minorities that were previously shut out by the winner-take-all system. For advocates of PR, then, it was the very political successes of this system that set the stage for a political backlash that was effectively exploited by its opponents and eventually led to the its demise in most of these cities.

1. Kathleen L. Barber, Proportional Representation and Election Reform in Ohio (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1995), p. 295.

2. Barber, Proportional Representation, p. 305.

3. Robert J. Kolesar, &lsquoCommunism, Race, and the Defeat of Proportional Representation in Cold War America&rsquo (University Heights, Ohio: History Department, John Carroll University, 1996), pp. 4-5.

October 19th 2009
A better election system
Lowell Sun

Election expert Doug Amy explains how choice voting can "inject new blood" into the elections of Lowell (MA), and give voters a greater incentive to participate.

In Detroit, there have been three mayors in the past two years and the current one has come under scrutiny. Perhaps a system like instant runoff voting will help bring political stability to motor city.

Limited voting, a form of proportional voting, will be used in Euclid (OH), in the hopes of allowing better representation of minorities.

July 2nd 2009
Reforming Albany
New York Times

FairVote's Rob Richie responds in a letter to the editor making the case for proportional voting systems to bring substantive reform to New York's legislature.

Watch the video: Ομιλία Πρωθυπουργού στη Βουλή στο σν για την Αναλογική εκπροσώπηση των πολιτικών κομμάτων (November 2021).