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  • Writer's pictureGary Swing

Proportional Representation of Diverse Populations

Winner take all voting systems exclude political minorities from representation.

Only two parties hold seats in Congress. No third party candidate has been elected to Congress since 1970, Only one of 7,383 seats in state legislatures is held by a candidate who was elected as a member of third or fourth largest national parties.

In 2021, Congress had more women than ever before. Women account for 28% of US Representatives and 24% of US Senators. The United States ranks 72nd for representation of women in national legislatures.

Ninety-four nations use proportional representation to secure fair, inclusive representation for diverse populations in their parliaments.

In a single transferable vote system, voters rank individual candidates. If your first choice doesn’t have enough support to win, your ballot is transferred to your highest ranked candidate who can be helped by your ballot. In a district with nine seats to be elected, a candidate needs one-tenth of the vote to be elected.

In Australia, Senate elections allow voters to cast either a single transferable vote for individual candidates or a simple vote for their favorite party. More than 95% of voters choose to cast a simple vote for their favorite party instead of ranking individual candidates.

Most nations with proportional representation use some form of party list voting. Voters choose a list of candidates representing their favorite political party. Each party wins legislative seats in proportion to its share of the vote. Five percent of the vote equals five percent of the seats.

Party lists may be open or closed. In a closed party list system, the party chooses the order of candidates on their list through the party’s own internal nominating process.

Under an open party list system, voters cast a vote for one or more individual candidates within a party list. The most popular candidates from each party are elected. These votes also determine the total number of seats allotted to each party.

Seven nations use mixed member proportional representation. Voters cast one vote for their favorite party, and another vote for a local candidate. Members of parliament are added on from the party list to make overall representation for each party proportional to their share of the vote.

Nations that use party list systems to elect their legislators generally have better representation of women and ethnic minorities in government.

As of 2013, nineteen of the twenty nations with the most women in Parliament used party list systems of proportional representation. In 2019, women accounted for 53 percent of Bolivia's national parliament, 48 percent of Mexico's parliament, and 45 percent of South Africa's National Assembly.

Many party list systems require a minimum percentage of the vote for a party to win seats. When this threshold is set low, almost all voters are able to elect representatives of their choice. New Zealand sets a 5% threshold. They have five parties in parliament. Bolivia sets a 3% threshold. They have eight parties in parliament. Denmark has ten parties in government with a 2% threshold.

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