An Overview of Majoritarian and Proportional Electoral Systems

A list of the eight main systems, with pros and cons (and some useful trivia).

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  • Created on: 10-01-11 09:56
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Electoral Systems
A form of pluralist democracy
Whoever with the most votes wins the election e.g. if Labour poll at 23,500 votes and
Conservatives poll at 15,000, Labour wins the seat.
The United Kingdom has used this system since 1950. It is also used in the United States.
Quick and efficient.
Easy for the voter to understand.
Not majoritarian. For example, Labour won the 2005 election with only 35% of the
vote. This is termed the "elective dictatorship" (Lord Hailsham); this is while the
Liberal-Democrats were underrepresented in Parliament despite getting the votes.
"This runs contrary to basic notions of democracy" Johan Hari observes.
Votes for other parties are wasted/not considered.
Could lead to weak and distrusted minority governments.
Proportional Representation
Seats are distributed in proportion to votes cast for each party/candidate.
For example, if Labour got 38% of the vote, and the Tories 62%, they would get that
percentage of the seats in the House of Commons.
Used in Israel and Malta.
Correctly represents the electorate's political make-up.
Uses all votes equally, no waste.
Hard for the voter to understand.
Slow to count and calculate votes, from which problems could arise.
Could lead to weak coalition government is there is no majority victor (Israel for
example, but not Malta, which has a stable two-party system).
Small parties could end up having undue influence on the central government and the
mainstream society in general.
Alternative vote (Instant run-off voting/Preferential voting)
Semi-proportional representative system.
Voters mark candidates in order of preference. For example, a left-leaning voter with a
choice of Labour, Tory, and Lib-Dem, could write Labour as their first choice, Lib-Dem as their
second, and Tory as their third (or leave the allotted space blank).
If there is no clear majority, the lowest candidate is scraped and their votes are re-allotted to
the remaining candidates. If there is still no majority, this process is repeated until there is.
It is used in presidential elections in Ireland, Australian parliamentary elections, and the UK
Labour Party leadership election.
Reduces the chance of a "spoiler effect", when one minor candidate ultimately
influences the outcome of the election by taking votes from the main two sided race
of the election.
Tactical voting made unnecessary.
Always a majority winner.
A wide range of choices is presented to the voter.
Could potentially ease ethnic and political division.

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Complicated for the voter, possibly leading to more spoiled ballots.
Long polling time.
Could theoretically conflict with the idea of "One man, one vote".
Potentially costs more.
Electronic ballot counting of the system could lead to voter fraud.
Not entirely proportional.
Alternate Vote Plus
Semi-proportional representative system.
A voter has two preferential votes; the first ranks candidates in order of preference, the
second ranks parties in order of preference.…read more

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The voter votes for their most preferred candidate (not a party), and after that candidate
either wins or loses his/her seat, surplus or unused votes are re-allotted in accordance with
the voter's stated preferences (as like in the above Alternative Vote).
Currently used for the lower house of Australian parliament, Regional Assembly elections in
Northern Ireland, and parliamentary elections in Ireland. A noted supporter was John Stuart
Wasted votes minimised (but not eliminated).…read more

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The degradation of links between the constituency and MP.
No majority winner.
Coalitions likely.…read more


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