Multi-Winner and Proportional Representation Elections
Single winner elections are only ideal for some situations:
Basic STAR Voting is a great voting method for determining a single winner that best represents the electorate as a whole. It's ideal for electing executive offices like mayors, governors, and also for higher offices like the presidency, but what if we're trying to elect a council with multiple members to better represent the people as a whole?
The Round Table Model:
Governing by council is probably one of the oldest methods in existence and the round table model can mean that diverse factions within the population can still have a voice, even if they don't have a majority. The idea is that if there are 4 seats on the council a candidate representing a 1/4 of the population should have a seat at the table.
The Three Options:
District Based Equal Representation and Single-Winner STAR Voting:
Splitting the electorate into 4 districts (for example) and electing one representative from each is a simple way to accomplish fair geographical representation. District based elections are well suited for situations where the council will be focused on local issues, and less on bigger picture ideological decision making. Districts are an especially good fit for situations where different ideological factions are clustered in different areas, and they maximize accountability, but alone they don't ensure ideological diversity.
For example, let's consider a city where 1/3 of the people belong to a minor political party or cultural group, but where there is a strong majority group who is evenly spread out around the city. With a district based election method the majority party or group would win every single seat, and the other 1/3 of the population would be left with nothing. Since there are 4 seats up for election in this example, 1/4 of the population should be enough for them to earn representation, but that doesn't happen here.
Another major problem with district based representation is gerrymandering. There are a number of ways to eliminate gerrymandering without getting rid of single-winner districts (such as measuring efficiency gap, looking at district compactness, and having independent redistricting boards), but when gerrymandering is an reality, proportional representation can at least help to mitigate it's impacts.
Lastly, some geographical areas or groups just can't or shouldn't be subdivided. Neighborhood associations and corporate boards are two examples where single-winner, district based elections aren't an option.
Multi-Winner Districts and Multi-Winner Bloc STAR Voting
For elections where some geographical representation is important, but where a larger pool of candidates would be beneficial as well, simple multi-winner, aka. Bloc STAR Voting is a great middle ground, offering the advantages of multi-member districts while still ensuring majority preferred winners. This option is not recommended for at-large elections where a minority groups or populations is clustered in one section of a multi-winner district.
At large plurality bloc voting has historically been used to deny representation for People of Color in cases where they would have otherwise been able to win. Multi-winner Bloc should only be considered as an option when a population's distribution of minority voters is quite homogenous, where sub-diving a district further wouldn't make sense, and where those types of racist outcomes would be impossible.
Proportional Representation and STAR Voting:
Proportional Representation (PR) voting methods aim to elect representative councils and allow minority factions to have a seat at the table without dividing up the area into districts. A number of situations call for a multi-winner election, but in order for these elections to elect a representative council we need to use a Proportional Representation voting method.
There are a number of ways to tabulate a 5 star ballot to produce a proportional result. The mechanisms which can be used are all shorter and simpler than that used by Single Transferable Vote and do not waste votes. Proportional STAR pairs well with single winner STAR Voting, so voters can have accurate elections for both single, multi-winner bloc, and proportional representation races using the same ballot.
Read more about what type of STAR Voting is right for each election here.
Are multi-winner elections in the US and Canada currently proportional?
With one exception, no. Though it was once more common, in the US, Cambridge, Massachusetts is the only place which still uses Proportional Representation for governmental elections. Canada has had a number of referendums to consider moving to a proportional representation system in recent years, but to date none have passed.
There are a few different types of multi-winner and at-large elections used in North America, but none of them offer proportional representation. The problem is that with these types of elections, the majority wins every single seat and everyone else ends up with no representation at all. This is especially true because of our current "Choose-One-Only" voting method. To make matters even worse, at-large and multi-winner versions of our current plurality systems are actually worse at ensuring diverse councils than single-winner plurality voting where at least each district is accurately represented.
Portland's City Council is an example of an unrepresentative at-large multi-winner election. Many people in Portland are concerned that almost all of the City Council has historically lived in West Portland and in the cities most affluent neighborhoods. This leaves East Portland largely unrepresented and issues that are critical to East Portland residents can easily fall through the cracks. When there is a problem these voters don't have a specific representative they can hold directly accountable.
Is proportional representation right for local elections like the City of Portland? Which option is right for my community?
The Equal Vote Coalition has been doing a lot of outreach and networking and we have made sure to use this opportunity to talk with people who have strong feelings about how to reform City of Portland. What we have heard unanimously is that this is a decision that Portland's diverse communities want to have a voice in. A number of people are advocating for a switch to single-winner districts. Others are advocating multi-member districts, and/or proportional representation.
We believe that any of these options with a star ballot would lead to much better representation, and we plan to help facilitate that discussion and include everyone who would like to have a seat at the table. Any of the above options meet our 5 core criteria for voting systems: Equality, Accuracy, Honesty, Expressiveness, and Simplicity. Each option has pros and cons which are worth considering carefully. We plan to work together with the communities who will be directly affected to find the best option for each election.
If you or your group would like to be included in this process or if you have feedback on how we should reforming other Oregon elections please send us an email at [email protected] We're compiling an email list specifically for this and we can let you know if there are events or opportunities to work on this or other voting reforms in your area. If you know of opportunities or efforts we should be a part of please let us know as well!
Is proportional representation right for statewide and national elections?
Most countries which use proportional representation are geographically much, much smaller than the USA and Canada. This is relevant because almost all proportional representation systems aren't precinct summable, meaning that tabulation can't begin until all ballots have been returned, and ballots have to be centralized in a single location. For large countries this presents some major logistical hurdles and even potential security risks around chain-of-custody for ballots. Luckily this can be overcome by breaking larger areas into smaller local district clusters which tally their ballots independently, and which elect a set of representatives to specifically represent their cluster. For geographically large countries, states, and provinces we recommend this approach so as to not trade off election security in the name of better representation.
If local clusters were used, proportional recommendation could be a great option for statewide or provincial level elections such as the state legislature's House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, incremental or staged adoption of proportional representation for national or federal offices raises other issues. The current Choose-One Plurality system consistently delivers extra representation to the majority in each state or province. In some states this bias favors the left, in others it favors the right and nationally, to some extent, it balances out. This means that if a left or right leaning state were to go first and adopt proportional representation for their national offices it would upset the balance and could backfire, leave them underrepresented as a consequence. If proportional representation was adopted for federal offices that would need to happen nation-wide. This isn't a concern for swing states, so they could be a good choice to go first to model proportional representation for federal elections.Politics presents another key barrier. Because the two parties hold all the political power in the USA, passing a system nationally that would re-distribute that power would be next to impossible- in the United States, doing so would require a super majority to change the constitution.
Why not use other proportional representation systems?
Many countries across Europe, Latin America, and Africa use various proportional systems where voters essentially vote a party line to varying degrees. These methods are built from the Choose-One ballot, and as such don't empower voters to express their preferences or opinions on multiple candidates or parties. In the USA nearly 1/2 of voters don't identify with a political party, so those voters wouldn't be well represented by a Party List or MMP type system. Proportional representation in general does have a positive impact on partisanship, encouraging parties to form that better represent the political spectrum, but many people are concerned that these systems encourage voters to pay less attention to the issues and to the individual candidates while potentially increasing polarization between factions.
Australia and Ireland use Single Transferable Vote (STV) for parliamentary elections. STV uses a more expressive ranked ballot, which would be a step in the right direction compared to Choose-One, and the system isn't as reliant of partisanship, but STV's runoff and elimination method is based on Instant Runoff Voting (the common single-winner Ranked Choice method,) and as such suffers from the same flaw in the elimination process where some rankings that should have been taken into account can be ignored.
Proportional STAR Voting presents an alternative which addresses these concerns. The five star ballot shows not only a voter's preferences, but also how much or little they like each candidate- regardless of the candidates' political affiliations. Despite the fact that a star ballot contains more information than a ranked ballot, the math required to tally five star ballots is much simpler.
The good news is that single-winner, multi-winner, and proportional STAR Voting would all encourage and allow the formation of more representative political parties!
Proportional Representation is the cutting edge of voting science and we are excited to be on the forefront.
In 2018, the Equal Vote Coalition convened a team of interested citizens, international voting scientists, and researchers to evaluate the proposals on the table, to develop better methods for comparing and testing proportional voting methods, and to consider and study new proposals and innovations in the field. The goal was to definitively determine the proportional method that is the most equitable, accurate, fair, simple, and resistant to strategic voting.
In late of 2020 the committee concluded Phase Three of the project, studying, simulating, refining, and vetting the proposals, and came to consensus on a recommendation for Proportional STAR Voting. The proposal was presented to the Equal Vote Coalition and was approved by the board in December, 2020.
The committee's final recommendation was presented over a video conference on February 25th, 2021, and you can read the through the presentation report as an e-book here. Please stay tuned for the final research report as the committee launches into phase four, writing up findings for an academic audience, and publishing its findings.
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