What is Proportional Representation?
Proportional Representation electoral systems are designed to elect candidates in proportion to the amount of support that they have in the electorate. The goal is to maximize diversity of representation and ensure that all factions who have enough support will have a seat at the table.
For example, if there were five seats available on a council, and if a faction had the support of 1/5 of the voters, they would be able to win one out of the five available seats.
Proportional Representation governments are common all around the world, especially in countries that have a parliamentary system, and proportional representation can be achieved using any kind of ballot, including the five star ballot.
For the sake of simplicity, when we refer to proportional representation in this article we mean voting methods that are "fully proportional" and pass a quota rule, ie, if a faction has enough voters to fill the quota, and if they vote as a block, they will be always be able to win a seat.
Proportional STAR Voting:
(STAR-PR for short)
Voters score candidates from zero up to five stars. Give your favorite candidates five stars, give your last choice candidates zero or leave them blank, and show your preference order and level of support for the remaining candidates. You can score candidates equally to indicate no-preference if needed.
How is STAR-PR counted?:
Winners in Proportional STAR Voting are elected in rounds. Each round elects the candidate with the highest total score and then designates a quota worth of voters from that candidate's strongest supporters as represented. The next round tallies only the ballots from all voters who are not yet fully represented and the highest scoring candidate is elected to the next seat. This process continues until all seats are filled.
Learn more about Proportional STAR voting here.
The case for Proportional STAR:
Proportional STAR Voting is a user friendly method designed to empower voters and give them as much voice as possible in the political process. The five star ballot allows voters to show their preference order and level of support for as many (or as few) candidates as they like, making it the most adaptable and user friendly option for voter expression.
The expressive ballot also gives voters better accountability over candidates who they dislike, as a candidate with more broad support will be elected before a more polarizing candidate when possible. The tabulation rounds ensure that candidates are representing their strongest supporters only, and that those who would feel less represented by a candidate will have other chances to elect their favorite or a candidate they like more strongly with the full weight of their vote still at their disposal.
Proportional STAR pairs well with single-winner STAR Voting, and basic multi-winner STAR Voting, so voters can have accurate representative elections for single-winner executive offices, basic multi-winner elections, and proportional representation races using the same consistent and user friendly ballot. (Click here for more information on how to choose between single-winner, multi-winner, and Proportional Representation for a given election.)
Like single-winner STAR, Proportional STAR voting better incentivizes honest and expressive voting, doesn't waste votes, and is a lot simpler to tabulate than many other proportional voting methods currently in use.
As a default, Proportional STAR is non-partisan, though it could be used for a party list proportional system if desired.
Proportional STAR can be used in small multi-member districts, or it can be paired with local clusters to ensure that proportionate geographical representation and local accountability are preserved.
Pros and Cons of Proportional Representation in General:
- Proportional Representation is designed to create a round table government where smaller factions have a seat at the table, even if they don't represent a majority of voters. (This is in direct contrast from multi-winner bloc voting methods, which seek to elect majority preferred winners to each available seat.)
- Proportional Representation encourages coalition building, as smaller factions must band together to support or oppose legislation in order to get anything passed.
- Proportional Representation encourages diversity of representation and leads to a higher percentage of the voters feeling represented.
- Proportional Representation can help break two-party domination as it allows minor parties to win elections and gain a foothold, even where they don't have majority support.
- Proportional Representation is often lauded as a way to mitigate the impacts of gerrymandering, and it can be quite effective at doing so, though we recommend just solving that problem directly using scientific and objective measures of fairness such as Efficiency Gap to ensure that voters across districts have an equally weighted vote. Efficiency Gap should be used in conjunction with independent non-partisan redistricting commissions to ensure that districts make sense geographically.
- Compared to single-winner or basic multi-winner bloc elections, Proportional Representation is more complex and less transparent, regardless of the ballot itself. While STAR Voting is less complex to tally than ranked ballot alternatives like STV, the fact remains that voters may not fully understand how votes are tallied and how winners are determined.
- Voters have less accountability and less power to vote out an elected official who they strongly oppose. For example, in an election with five seats up for election, over 80% of voters would need to oppose an incumbent to prevent them from winning re-election.
Lack of accountability can be mitigated by breaking large districts into smaller districts with fewer winners in each to ensure that the win threshold is not too low. This is also mitigated by a 5 star ballot, as the more nuanced data collected allows the system to identify less polarizing and more representative candidates when possible.
- The case has been made that Proportional Representation can lead to more stagnation and less effective governments because hard-line factions can refuse to coalition and block legislation in order to leverage other factions to meet demands.
- No Proportional representation methods in use currently are batch summable, which means that ballots must be centrally tabulated (and audited) for each election. To preserve current standards for election security, election integrity protocols would need to be significantly upgraded and rigorously enforced. Proportional representation may be better suited for elections at the local level or in regional multi-member districts if used at the statewide, provincial, or national scale in large countries like the USA or Canada.
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