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Which Voting System Is Best At Representing Diverse Interests?

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Voting is one of the most important parts of politics. Voting ensures freedom of speech and the existence of democracy. Voting is a basic process that keeps a nation’s governmental system works. It enables the citizens to choose their own government. It also allows the people to choose their representatives in the government. The purpose of every government is to develop and implement various policies for the benefit of its citizens. Although elections always involve citizens casting votes for candidates or political parties, there is a great deal of variation in the precise set of rules employed by the world’s electoral systems. Some allow citizens to vote for candidates, others allow them to vote only for political parties, some allow citizens to cast only one vote, some involve electing only one representative in each district. But not all forms of voting are equal or cannot represent small groups of people or diverse interests. In many cases small groups of people who’s interests are different from the majority have no impact on politics which means that their preferred beliefs or principles are put aside. That consequently affects not only politics, economics but also society. Our diverse, modern society requires a modern voting system that will facilitate adequate representation of this growing diversity. The need to represent more communities of interest while promoting coalitions is especially pressing in our cities, where the majority is increasingly composed of a collection of minorities. Governments should take great care in choosing an electoral system, as the ability to bring all groups to the table of representation may be the only glue in the future that will hold our countries, major cities and surrounding suburbs together.

The present winner-take-all electoral system used in most elections in the United States typically divides representation into districts or wards, with each district electing one representative. Other times it elects several seats at-large, with 50.1% of voters having the power to win all seats. These winner-take-all systems were implemented at a time when no other systems had been developed and when the electorate of most states was relatively homogeneous and when communication and transportation were slow, making geographic-based representation more logical. To early Americans, any method of election was a vast improvement over being ruled by a king.

But winner-take-all systems do a poor job in representing political minorities that are geographically dispersed. The problem with winner-take-all voting in the 21st century is that many cities and states are composed of an increasingly diverse population with a variety of political views. Particularly in urban areas, people are from varying race, class, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Yet they all must share the same representative in the House of Representatives and in most state legislatures. What about the 49.9% of voters who might not vote for a winning candidate or those on the winning side who had to settle on a lesser of two evils? What about the majority of adults who no longer vote in most elections? They all too likely are represented by someone with whom they feel little affinity. This poor representation calls into question the effectiveness of a single representative speaking for increasingly diverse populations.

Fortunately, there are tried and true alternatives. Proportional representation systems of voting (such as choice voting and party list voting) and semi-proportional systems (such as limited voting and cumulative voting) are designed to promote full representation. This means that various political constituencies within the majority and the minority can win representation while still maintaining majority rule. In our society, minority often has the connotation of a racial or ethnic minority, but proportional voting systems allow representation of any type of minority: Republicans in a Democratic area, liberal black voters in a white-majority area in the south, pro-life voters in a pro-choice stronghold, independent voters most everywhere, and so on. With proportional representation, more voters get a seat at the table. And more voters get a piece of the pie.

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Choice voting, limited voting and cumulative voting are candidate-based systems already used in local elections in the United States. Each use different methods to achieve full representation, and, not surprisingly, result in different outcomes. Limited voting and cumulative voting are semi-proportional system that are particularly successful in opening access to representation for a cohesive political minority by allowing its members to express a strong preference for particular candidates. Because of their particular rules, both limited and cumulative voting sometimes fail to achieve the broader goal of full representation, but both result in more representative assemblies than winner-take-all systems.

Choice voting comes closer to achieving full representation. When compared to winner-take-all systems, choice voting sharply reduces the percentage of votes it takes to win a legislative seat. This lower victory threshold allows various minority constituencies to win representation without having to be a local majority created in the districting process. It allows them to elect a candidate to represent their shared values and interests – in a sense, choice voting allows individual voters to district themselves with political allies. At the same time, choice voting encourages coalition-building and majority representation by valuing a candidate’s ability to be the second and third choice of supporters of other candidates. Choice voting promotes coalition-building and organizing across racial, ethnic and partisan lines. When its potential is fully realized, choice voting combines the best of local, district elections and at-large, citywide elections. On the one hand, neighborhoods tend to win representation because candidates often decide they can best earn strong support from voters in their geographic area. Yet other candidates will win by appealing to a geographically dispersed community of interest, all while forming coalitions. The end result is a legislature that is a perfect view of the community, and more fully representative of the wishes of the electorate.

There is a large body of both theoretical and empirical literature suggesting that, the more fragmented and dispersed a political system is, the less effective its government is likely to be. Electoral systems are relevant here because the question of whether a given government can enact legislation effectively is linked to whether it can assemble a working majority in the legislature, which is in turn linked to the electoral system. The conventional wisdom has been that plurality systems are more effective than PR systems because they are supposed to be less fragmented and therefore more decisive. The main argument, originally developed by Maurice Duverger (1954), is that, because only one candidate from one party can win, candidates tend to cast a wide net to secure as broad a base of support as possible, and this tends to provide inducements for the aggregation of different interests into a fewer number of political parties, which normally should be no more than two. There are also essential economies of scale involved in this process .Proportional systems, on the other hand, are supposed to encourage the multiplication of parties, and, as a result, they are more prone to give rise to coalition governments and to be less effective.

Scholars disagree as to which electoral systems may be most appropriate in divided or conflict‐prone states and societies. Two schools of thought predominate. One school has long argued that some form of proportional representation is needed in the face of deep‐rooted ethnic divisions, in order to give minorities adequate representation. Such arguments have been important in influencing the electoral design recommendations of consociational/proportional representation approaches to managing ethnic cleavages, based on elite power‐sharing mechanisms. According to promoters of this school of thought, in terms of electoral systems, party‐list PR tends to be the best choice for divided societies, because it enables different groups, to define themselves into identity‐based parties, and to gain representation in parliament in proportion to their numbers. The scholar most associated with the consociational model, Arend Lijphart (1969), developed this prescription from a detailed examination of the features of power‐sharing democracy in some continental European countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland). However, there is disagreement over how far these measures can work when applied to violence/conflict in developing countries. 9 Other scholars have argued that systems based on PR are more likely to exacerbate fault lines of conflict than to generate compromise because they encourage fragmentation and the hardening of narrow identities. In a setting with multiple social cleavages, this magnifies rather than compresses differences, makes it difficult to build sturdy government (coalitions), and can lead to immobilism and even polarization. According to this school of thought, the situation is exacerbated in PR systems where thresholds are low, because there are considerable incentives for the proliferation of parties. This may in turn enable very small parties that can make or break a government to have disproportionate impact in determining policy and receiving patronage. On this basis, scholars in this tradition argue that, while proportionality and moderation are both worthwhile goals, they may be difficult to achieve simultaneously and they may in fact pull in opposite directions. According to this tradition, what is needed are electoral systems that can generate incentives for conciliation among different groups and to help build bridges across groups by making such behavior essential to secure electoral success. Electoral systems in the plurality family are believed to provide those kinds of incentives more readily, because candidates need to cast a wider net of support in order to win. For example, the system used for presidential elections in Nigeria requires the winning candidate to gain support from different regions, thus helping to break down the claims of narrow parochialism or regionalism.


  1. Blais, A. (1991), ‘The Debate over Electoral Systems’, International Political Science Review/Revue international de science politique, Vol. 12, No. 3
  2. Gallagher, M., Laver, M. & Mair, P. (2011), ‘Chapter 11: Elections, Electoral Systems and Referendums’ in Representative Government in Modern Europe, 5th Ed., McGraw-Hill Education, Berkshire UK
  3. Lijphart, A. (2012), ‘Chapter 8: Electoral Systems: Majority and Plurality Methods Versus Proportional Representation’ in Patterns of Democracy: government forms and performance in thirty-six countries, 2nd Ed., Yale University Press, Newhaven USA & London UK
  4. Protsyk, O. & Sachariew, K. (2012), ‘Recruitment and Representation of Ethnic Minorities under Proportional Representation: Evidence from Bulgaria’, East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 26, No. 2
  5. Reilly, B. and A. Reynolds (1999) “Electoral Systems and Conflict in Divided Societies”.
  6. Raabe, J. (2015), ‘Principles of representation throughout the world: Constitutional provisions and electoral systems’, International Political Science Review, Vol. 36, No. 5
  7. Moser, R. G. (2008), ‘Electoral Systems and the Representation of Ethnic Minorities’ Comparative Politics, Vol. 40, No. 3

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