Proportional Representation



What is Proportional Representation?:

Proportional Representation voting methods, to put it simply, are a class of multi-winner voting methods designed to elect candidates in proportion to the amount of support that they have in the electorate. 

For example, if there were five seats available on a council, and if a faction had the support of 1/5 of the voters, their top candidate would be able to win one out of the five available seats. 

Proportional Representation (PR) electoral systems are common all around the world, especially in countries that have a parliamentary system, and proportional representation elections can be achieved using any kind of ballot, including the 5 star ballot. 

Proportional Representation is a representational goal which PR voting methods seek to maximize. For political parties or distinct factions a given election's level of proportionality can be measured and is defined as the proportion of voters who were able to elect a winner who represents them. 

  • Fully Proportional: Multi-winner voting methods which passes a quota rule and ensure that if a faction had the support of 1/5 of the voters, their top candidate would be able to win one out of the five available seats. Elected officials each represent their 'faction' or party specifically, rather than trying to represent the electorate as a whole. 
  • Semi-Proportional: Multi-winner voting methods which are designed to produce higher proportionality but do not guarantee any strict proportional criteria like a quota rule.
  • Popular Vote methods: Single-winner and multi-winner bloc voting methods are designed to elect a candidate to each seat who best represents the electorate as a whole. Each winner is supported by the majority or by as many voters as possible. 

For the sake of simplicity, when we refer to a proportional method we mean that it is "fully proportional" and passes a quota rule. 


Proportional STAR Voting:

Proportional STAR voting
 uses the a five star ballot, and like single-winner STAR, the tabulation better incentivizes honest and expressive voting, doesn't waste votes, and is a lot simpler than many other proportional voting methods currently in use. 

  • 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 the choice between single-winner, multi-winner, and Proportional Representation for a given election.)
  • As a default, Proportional STAR is non-partisan, though it could be used as a party list method 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. 

Learn more about Proportional STAR voting here.



Other Proportional Voting 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. 

Sequential Proportional Approval Voting (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. 


Pros and Cons of Proportional Representation:


  • Proportional Representation (PR) 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.) 
  • Encourages coalition building, as smaller factions must band together to support or oppose legislation in order to get anything passed.
  • Encourages diversity of representation and leads to a higher percentage of the voters feeling represented.
  • PR is one proven path to 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, in conjunction with independent non-partisan redistricting commissions working to ensure that districts make sense geographically. 


  • Compared to single-winner elections, Proportional Representation (PR) is more complex and less transparent.
  • Voters have less accountability and less power to vote out an elected official who they strongly oppose. For example, in a multi-member district with five seats up for election, over 80% of voters would need to oppose a candidate to prevent them from winning re-election. This 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 a less polarizing and more representative candidate who is also strongly supported by their faction when possible. 
  • Almost all Proportional representation methods are not precinct summable, which means that ballots must be centrally tabulated (and audited) for each election. To preserve election security and election integrity, PR may be better suited for elections on a local or regional scale, or in small counties if used at the national scale. 


The case for Proportional STAR:

Proportional STAR 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.

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. 


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 election scientists 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 continue studying proportional representation 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, as well as information and resources on why some of the more common proportional representation options were not included above. We can be reached at [email protected]