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 things passed.
- Proportional Representation encourages diversity of representation and leads to a higher percentage of 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. In nonpartisan elections the same effect can be observed where it can allow smaller factions to gain representation who otherwise would be unable to win.
- Proportional Representation is often lauded as a way to mitigate the impacts of gerrymandering because multi-member districts reduce the number of district lines that matter, 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 significantly more complex and less transparent, regardless of the ballot itself.
- 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.
- 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.
- Proportional representation is a multi-winner system by definition, and so its adoption will always come at the cost of local representation and local accountability compared to if the area had used single-winner districts. Elected officials in multi-winner elections will always represent a larger number of voters over a larger geographical area, which can make it harder for voters to access their representatives, to know who to go to with a specific problem, and also can make it harder for candidates to run grassroots campaigns.
- No nonpartisan proportional representation methods in use currently are precinct summable. This 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 if proportional representation were used for anything beyond municipal elections. For this reason, proportional representation may be better suited for elections in smaller multi-member districts, especially if used at the statewide, provincial, or national scale in large countries like the USA or Canada.
A Few Other Proportional Methods to Consider:
Sequentially Spent Score voting is another method for counting Proportional STAR ballots. In Sequentially Spent Score, voters fill out their ballots as above to indicate their preferences and level of support for various candidates. As ballots are tallied, each voter has up to five stars to spend. If a candidate you gave three stars to wins in the first round, you only spend a maximum of three stars on that candidate. This ensures that you still have two stars left to help your favorite or others you support win election as well. Voters are not considered fully represented until they elect their favorite or until all five of their stars have been spent.
Options with a more traditional looking ballot:
For those who use Approval Voting or even traditional Choose-One Plurality voting for some offices, and want to switch to proportional representation for other races without upgrading to a more expressive ballot, there are a few Proportional Representation options which use a traditional looking ballot.
PLACE voting is a simple and user-friendly option which allows voters to either support one candidate or party in their district, or write in a candidate from another district if desired. PLACE stands for "Proportional, Locally-Accountable, Candidate Endorsement" voting. Votes are tallied and candidates are eliminated in rounds. Before the election, each candidate releases an official transfer order, or ranked list of which other candidate should get their votes if they are eliminated. After a series of elimination rounds, the candidate with the most votes in each district is elected.
PLACE voting is one of the few proportional methods that is 'precinct summable' ie. allows ballots to be locally tabulated and doesn't require centralized tabulation. For larger countries where proportional representation is used at the national level precinct summability is an increasingly important consideration for ensuring that elections can be secure.
Proportional Approval Voting (PAV or SPAV) is a proportional version of Approval Voting. Voters are able to approve multiple candidates on a traditional looking ballot. Candidates are elected in rounds, and the ballots of voters who voted for the winners are reweighted, ensuring that unrepresented voters can have a voice and a chance to elect their candidates as well. The process continues until all seats have been filled.
Proportional Methods We Do Not Recommend:
Single Transferable Vote (STV) is the proportional version of Instant Runoff Voting used for some offices in Ireland and Australia. (The two systems are both commonly referred to as Ranked Choice Voting.) While the tabulation for Instant Runoff voting is already quite complex, STV's tabulation complexity is orders of magnitude more so, and because the algorithm is based on Instant Runoff, many of the well known issues carry over, including vote-splitting, wasted votes, and exhausted ballots when multiple candidates are all competitive. STV does get proportional results, but we have concerns that it may be unnecessarily polarizing and lacking accountability.
Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) is a partisan proportional method used in New Zealand which in which voters get two votes: one to decide the representative for their single-seat constituency, and one for a political party. The system is a hybrid of Choose-One Plurality Voting and Party List Proportional systems such as those used in Europe. Because the system uses a choose-one ballot vote-splitting remains a major issue, and because of the dual nature of the system it's harder for voters to successfully navigate the strategic incentives in order to not waste their vote. The Party List part of the system increases the power of political parties and political insiders in the system and decreases voter choice over who controls those parties. MMP does get proportional results, but we have concerns that it may be unnecessary polarizing and lacking accountability.
Party List Proportional systems are used in much of Europe and often credited as partly responsible for both the best and the worst moments in European history. Some countries use Closed Party List systems and others use Open Party List systems, some have much higher quota thresholds and some like Israel have very low thresholds. These details all matter immensely but regardless, voter choice and accountability are limited at best compared to more expressive options. Further, all these systems have partisan politics designed directly into their political system, which increases the power of political parties and political insiders and decreases voter choice over who controls those parties. Because these systems use the choose-one ballot, vote-splitting and strategic voting remain major issues. The Party List methods do get proportional results, but we have concerns that they may be unnecessary polarizing and lacking accountability.
Studying Proportional Representation:
Proportional Representation is the cutting edge of voting science and we are excited to be on the forefront.
After careful review of the leading options in 2017, our conclusion at the Equal Vote Coalition was that not only were none of the leading proposals ideal, but the field itself lacked sufficient objective metrics for comparing and evaluating proposals.
In 2018, The Equal Vote Coalition convened a team of local and international electoral science experts and voting method 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 for tabulating 5 star ballots that is the most equitable, accurate, fair, simple, and resistant to strategic voting. In early 2020 as we completed phase two, the committee narrowed our list of methods under consideration down to three leading options. As phase three progressed we were able to further narrow it down to two methods, while doing a deep dive studying and fine tuning variations of each. Allocated Score is the option presented above as Proportional STAR, Sequentially Spent Score (with the scaling variation) is another leading option we plan to continue to study, and Sequential Monroe is a subtle variation on Allocated Score.
In early 2021 the Equal Vote Coalition's 0-5 Star Proportional Representation Research Committee put out a video presentation of our research process, findings, and our official recommendations at this time. An ebook of the presentation slides can be found here. The committee plans to convene a fourth stage of the process to continue studying the leading methods and plans to write a paper on our conclusions which will be submitted for peer review at that time.
If you are interested in joining the committee please send us an email at [email protected]
If you are considering adopting a proportional representation voting method, please contact us for a consult for more detailed information on the options presented. We can be reached at [email protected]