220 American Government and Politics
Spring, 2000

Kenneth Janda, Instructor

Week 5: Elite-Mass Linkage
Lecture 1: Varieties of Electoral Systems

April 24


Differences between the US and Europe in institutional mechanisms

  • Trias Politica (defined in Slomp, 50-51)
    • Latin for the executive, judicial, and executive powers of government
    • These powers are separate in the US
    • They are united in Europe
      • The European style of democracy is "parliamentary democracy"
      • The executive resides in parliament, which is dominant
      • The judiciary plays a limited role, with limited powers of judicial review, if any.
  • Parliamentary elections are the important elections in Europe
    • They are general elections in the sense that they choose all seats in the national parliament
    • They usually don't choose regional or local offices
    • They are usually unpredictable, so not carefully planned in advance.
    • They usually require only a simple choice by the voter.
    • The electoral systems themselves vary widely
      • Only Britain has a system remorely similar to ours.
      • The basic difference is between electoral systems that emphasize majority representation
        • United States
        • Britain
        • To a lesser extent, France
      • And electoral systems that try to achieve proportional representation
    • To explain differences in methods of voting, we must first consider district magnitude--the number of members elected to parliament from each district

SINGLE-MEMBER DISTRICTS: Only one representative is elected from each district.

  • Simple plurality vote ("first-past-the-post"):
    • The candidate who receives the largest number of votes wins.
    • I.e., a person may win with less than a majority.
    • [The U.S. & Britain use this system.]
  • Majority vote:
    • Requires a majority of the vote (50% plus 1) to win.
    • May require repeated ballots to produce a winner.
    • Simple plurality usually decides the second ballot:
      • If no candidate wins a majority on the first round, a second vote is taken (usually within a couple of weeks) and the plurality rule applies.
      • [France and Russia use this. Similar to the run-off primary in the south.]
  • Alternative vote:
    • The voter indicates a 1st choice, 2nd choice, and so on.
    • [Used in Australia]
  • Approval voting:
    • Voters vote for all the candidates they prefer, without ranking choices.
    • [A recent favorite of some political scientists.]


MULTI-MEMBER DISTRICTS: N representatives are elected in each district (where N > 1).

  • Simple plurality vote:
    • The N candidates who receive the most votes win.
    • This usually results in one party sweeping all the seats to be elected.
    • [Used in 1964 to elect 177 members to the Illinois House of Representatives.
      • Each party agreed to nominate 118 candidates (2/3 of the House of 177).
      • The Democrats won all 118 from their list.
      • he Republicans elected the top 59 from their list.
  • Methods for ensuring some minority representation:
    • Single vote:
      • Every voter is given only one vote.
      • A concerted minority can elect one of the N candidates if can reach the Droop quota:
      • Droop quota =
        size of the electorate

        + 1

        N + 1
    • Limited vote:
      • The voters are given more than one vote but a number less than the number of candidates to be elected. [
      • Used perviously in Japan.]
    • Cumulative vote:
      • Each voter has N votes, and these votes may all be cast for one candidate or apportioned among the candidates.
      • [Used in Illinois until 1970.]
    • Extra votes:
      • This is the logical conclusion of the possibilities:
      • each voter has more than N votes, which can be apportioned as the voter wishes.
      • [Because this method is possible, it's probably used somewhere.]
  • Methods for producing proportional reporesentation (called PR).
    • List systems:
      • Each party offers a list of N candidates for the N seats elected in the district.
        • In some countries (e.g., in Israel and Holland), the entire country is the district.
        • In other countries, districts may range in size from 5 to 20 or so.
        • But multi-member districts are needed for list PR.
      • The voter chooses the party rather than the candidates.
      • Seats are awarded to parties in proportion to the popular vote they receive.
      • Hence, the term proportional representation.
      • [Used in most European countries.]
    • Mixed systems:
      • Part elected in single-member districts using simple plurality rule.
      • Part of the parliament elected in multi-member districts using a list system
      • Seats are awarded to parties in parliament according to the proportion of votes won in the list voting.
        • All candidates who won in districts are seated.
        • Other candidates are chosen from the top of party lists to round out the membership.
      • [Used in Germany, Hungary, and Russia]
    • Single transferable vote (STV)
      • As in the alternative vote, voters express preferences among candidates by ranking them.
      • Each candidate who gets enough votes to surpass the Droop Quota is elected.
      • The candidates' second preferences are distributed among the remaining candidates.
      • As each candidate, surpasses the Droop quota, that candidate is elected, and the candidate's "extra" votes are distributed among the remaining candidates.
      • If no one else gets enough to surpass the Droop Quota after each counting,
        • the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped and
        • that candidate's second preferences are distributed among the remaining candidates, and so forth.
      • [Used in Ireland.]: