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Proportional representation

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Proportional representation is an electoral system in which the number of seats held by members of a political party in a legislature (such as a parliament) is determined by the number of votes its candidates receive in an election. It is designed to represent in a legislative body each political group or party in proportion to its actual voting strength in the electorate.[1]

Systems of proportional representation have been adopted in many countries, including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Systems of proportionality

Various forms of proportional representation exist. Below is a descriptive list of the widely used systems of proportionality:[2]

  • In a party-list system, the elector votes not for a single candidate but for a list of candidates. Each list generally is submitted by a different party, though an individual can put forward his own list. The overall proportionality of the system is dependent upon the district magnitude, the number of members per district, with higher district magnitudes associated with more proportional results. Each party gets a share of the seats proportional to its share of the votes. It is important to note that district magnitude varies from country to country.
  • Single Transferable Vote (STV) has not been widely adopted throughout the world. Under STV, voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference and is entirely left up to the voters themselves.
  • An additional-member system combines proportionality with the geographic link between a citizen and a member of the legislature characteristic of constituency-based systems. Under this system, half of the legislature usually is elected through constituency elections and half through proportional representation. Each person casts two votes, one for a person and one for a party. In most cases, the party vote is generally used as the basis for determining the overall partisan composition of the legislature. It is important to note that the percentage of constituency and proportional representatives varies by country.


There are a few apparent differences between a proportional representation system and a plurality system:[2]

  • Unlike the plurality system, which uses single-member districts, proportional representation systems use multi-member constituencies.
  • Where majority or plurality systems effectively reward strong parties and penalize weak ones by providing the representation of a whole constituency to a single candidate who may have received fewer than half of the votes cast (like in the United States), proportional representation ensures minority groups a measure of representation proportionate to their electoral support.

Advocates for proportional representation argue that an election is like a census of opinion as to how the country should be governed, and only if an assembly represents the full diversity of opinion within a country can its decisions be regarded as legitimate. The proportional system also is suggested as a means of redressing the possible anomaly arising under majority or plurality systems whereby a party may win more seats with fewer popular votes than its opponents.[2]

Critics of proportional representation contend that in an election a country is making a decision, and the function of the electoral system is to achieve a consensus rather than a census of opinion. Opponents argue further that, by making it possible for small parties to be represented, proportional representation encourages the formation of splinter parties that can result in weak and unstable government.[2]


Proportional representation was devised in Europe in the mid-19th century by Victor D'Hondt of Belgium to guarantee minority groups more representation than was possible under the majority or plurality systems. Today, proportional representation systems are actually more widely used and by more nations than plurality voting systems.[2]


Proportional representation is also used in many European countries with party-based systems and a parliamentary form of government. Belgium was the first country to adopt list proportional representation for the 1900 elections to its national parliament. Similar systems were implemented in many European countries during or after World War I. Moreover, all of the members of the European Parliament, or Member of the European Parliament, including those elected from constituencies in Britain, are elected by proportional representation.[2]

United States

See also: Section 2, Article I, United States Constitution and Amendment XIV, United States Constitution

The United States Constitution provides for proportional representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The seats in the House are apportioned based on state population according to the constitutionally mandated Census. Representation based on population in the House was one of the most important components of the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787.[3]

See also

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