Proportional Representation

Date: 25 Nov 2008 | posted in: governance | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

While some reformers believe that campaign finance reform will cure many of the ills of our election process, others feel the key is proportional representation, or other, related reforms.

Proportionalrepresentation means electing representatives to our legislatures in proportion to their support in the population. Under our current system of winner-take-all elections in single-member districts, the representative for each district need have no more than 50 percent of the support in that district. Under Proportional Representation, ten one-seat districts might be combined into a single ten-seat district. A party or candidate that receives at least 10 percent of the vote in that district would win a seat.

ProportionalRepresentation is likely to increase voter turnout. Turnout for the 1996 presidential election was 49 percent. Voter turnout is generally estimated to be 10-12 percent higher in nations with PR than in similar nations using winner-take-all elections. Thirty of the of the 36 countries rated "free" by the human rights organization Freedom House use proportional representation to elect their most powerful legislature.

Some other popular reforms are related to straightforward proportional representation in that they tend to allow representation for minority groups or opinions within the population, but differ in the details.

"Preference voting" characterizes Cambridge MA’s proportional representation system as well as Australia’s instant run-off voting. Voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference.

Cumulative voting has been used in at large elections (Amarillo, Texas) or within three-seat districts (Illinois). In cumulative voting, voters may cast more than one vote, and they are allowed to "cumulate" their votes, or give all or part of them to a single candidate. In systems where voters have multiple ballots, but are not allowed to cumulate them, there is a smaller chance that ethnic or ideological minorities will get elected.

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