Proportional Representation">

Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation, electoral system designed to produce legislative bodies in which the number of seats held by any group or party is proportional to the number of votes cast for members of that group during the most recent election. The purpose of proportional representation has usually been to reduce the power of a dominant political party and to provide minority groups with a degree of representation that has been denied them previously.


Modern systems of proportional representation

Modern systems of proportional representation probably originated during the French Revolution. The principle was favored by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill, who believed that in several of the new national states it might protect the interests of ethnic and linguistic minorities that were then seriously threatened by the domination of the majority. The technique was first used in Denmark in 1855, and subsequently in such multinational countries as Switzerland (1891), Belgium (1899), and Finland (1906). By 1920, some form of proportional representation was being used by almost all the countries of continental Europe. A variant of proportional representation used in the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s is thought to have been instrumental in allowing the National Socialist Party to gain legislative representation.

During the past 50 years

During the past 50 years, the practices of proportional representation have been subject to several modifications and refinements. The list system used by most European democracies for legislative elections allows the voter to select a party, which is then allotted representation proportional to the number of votes it has received. The Hare System, first proposed by the British barrister Thomas Hare, is used primarily in Anglo-Saxon countries, in an effort to make every voter equally influential in the electoral process. This system, as used frequently in local elections, allows each voter to submit a schedule of preferences; candidates are marked in numerical order according to the number of representatives to be chosen; the totaling of these preferences determines the election.

Application in the U.S.

The Hare System and the principles of proportional

The Hare System and the principles of proportional representation were advocated by municipal reformers in the U.S. during the early 20th century. The movement for proportional representation finally brought the system to 23 towns and cities, where reformers said that it would give each vote its maximum influence. They hoped to prevent boss and machine politics and to assure honest representation of minority groups. In Cincinnati, Ohio, the reformers of the 1920s used proportional representation to break the power of the local Republican Party, which had dictated civic affairs for more than a generation. In New York City, where the system was used from 1937 to 1948, it was directed against the domination of the Democratic Party. In both cities the proportional system permitted the representation of groups normally excluded by majority politics, such as blacks, socialists, and Communists. Opponents argued that the system was too complicated and that it offered an undesirable attraction to extremists. It was subsequently abandoned in New York and Cincinnati and in other cities that had adopted it. In the 1970s, the Democratic Party began using proportional representation in selecting delegates to its national political convention.

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