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At-large is a description for members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent a whole membership or population (notably a city, county, state, province, nation, club or association), rather than a subset. In multi-hierarchical bodies the term rarely extends to a tier beneath the highest division. A contrast is implied, with certain electoral districts or narrower divisions. It can be given to the associated territory, if any, to denote its undivided nature, in a specific context. Unambiguous synonymous are the prefixes of cross-, all- or whole-, such as cross-membership, or all-state.


The term is used as a suffix referring to specific members (such as the U.S. congressional Representative/the Member/Rep. for Wyoming at large). It figures as a generic prefix of its subject matter (such as Wyoming is an at-large U.S. congressional district, at present). It is commonly used when making or highlighting a direct contrast with subdivided equivalents that may be past or present, or seen in exotic comparators. If fairly applied it indicates that the described zone has no further subsets used for the same representative purpose. A fair exception is a nil-exceptions arrangement of overlapping tiers (resembling or being district and regional representatives, one set of which is at large) for return to the very same chamber, and consequent issue of multiple ballots for plural voting to every voter. This avoids plural voting competing with single voting in the jurisdiction, an inherent different level of democratic power.

Examples of a democratic power disparity were found in a small number of states at certain U.S. Congresses, between 1853 and 1967, and in the old lower houses of United Kingdom and Ireland, whereby certain voters could vote for (and lobby) at-large (whole-state/County) and district(-based) representatives to them, giving zones of plural voting and thus representation contrasting with zones, for the same national assembly, of single voting and representation. [1] [2] In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court banned such plural voting for the US Congress (thus banning at-large, whole-state congressional districts which overlap state subdivision congressional districts).

Universal principles apply regardless whether election(s) are for an at-large member, or not.


Some municipalities in Canada elect part or all of their city councils at-large. The form of municipal election is widespread in small towns to avoid "them and us" cultural dissociation of dividing them into wards. Notable larger instances are, from west to east:

The three territories: Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are federally served in the Parliament of Canada by one at-large Member of Parliament and Senator each. These have high apportionment but are ethnically diverse and of exceptional size. Provinces are divided to make up the other 335 electoral districts (ridings or comtés). The latter are combined into large regions to select the other 102 senators.


In Israel, elections for the Knesset (the national parliament) are conducted on an at-large basis by proportional representation from party lists. Election of municipal and town (but not regional) councils are on the same basis.


In the Netherlands, elections for the House of Representatives (the lower house of the States-General, the national parliament) are conducted on an at-large basis by proportional representation from party lists.


This manner of election applies the Senate. All voters can cast twelve votes to refresh half of the senate, namely twelve senators, from a longer list of candidates. The simple tally determines the winners (plurality-at-large voting).

The legislatures of the provinces elect one member to the House of Representatives resulting in their prestige of being those who represent "sole districts". Likewise, the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Councils), Sangguniang Barangay (Village Councils), Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Councils) and some Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Councils) elect the other members. It follows each such true or quasi-local government unit does not in the purest sense elect members at-large when analysing their geography as each member co-exists with the others who have territorial overlap, as representing greater or lower-rank districts. The members are in law chosen by the public directly or indirectly. City Council-elected and Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board)-elected members are elected such that the city or province may be split into as much as seven districts, then each elects at least two members.

United States

Article One of the United States Constitution provides for direct election of members of the House of Representatives. A congressional act passed in 1967, 2 U.S.C. § 2c, dictates that representatives must be elected from geographical districts and that these must be single-member districts. Indeed it confirms when the state has a single representative, that will be a representative at-large.

U.S. House of Representatives

States as at-large congressional districts

Highlighted in green are the US congressional districts being states at-large US Congressional districts being states at-large.png
Highlighted in green are the US congressional districts being states at-large

Former at-large congressional districts

Non-voting at-large congressional districts

Former non-voting at-large congressional districts

Simultaneous at-large and sub-state-size congressional districts

This is a table of every such instance. It shows the situation applied to a small, varying group of states in three periods. The 33rd Congress began in 1853; it ended two years later. The 38th began in 1863; the 50th ended in 1889. The 53rd began in 1893; the 89th ended in January, 1967, the final such period. This was due to the 1964 case of Reynolds v. Sims : the United States Supreme Court determined that the general basis of apportionment must be "one person, one vote." [3]

CongressState & Number of at-large seats
33rd MS (1)
38th IL (1)
39th IL (1)
40th IL (1)
41st IL (1)
42nd IL (1)
43rd AL (2), AR (1), IN (2), LA (1), NY (1), PA (3), SC (1), TN (1), TX (2)
44th AL (2)
48th AR (1), CA (2), GA (1), KS (4), NY (1), NC (1), PA (1), VA (1)
49th PA (1)
50th PA (1)
53rd IL (2), KS (1), PA (2)
54th KS (1), PA (2)
55th KS (1), PA (2)
56th KS (1), PA (2)
57th KS (1), PA (2)
58th CO (1), CT (1), KS (1)
59th CO (1), CT (1), KS (1)
60th CO (1), CT (1)
61st CO (1), CT (1)
62nd CO (1), CT (1)
63rd AL (1), CO (2), FL (1), IL (2), MI (1), MN (1), OH (1), OK (3), PA (4), TX (2), WA (2), WV (1)
64th AL (1), IL (2), PA (4), TX (2), WV (1)
65th IL (2), PA (4), TX (2)
66th IL (2), PA (4)
67th IL (2), PA (4)
68th IL (2)
69th IL (2)
70th IL (2)
71st IL (2)
72nd IL (2)
73rd CT (1), FL (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1), TX (3)
74th CT (1), FL (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)
75th CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)
76th CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)
77th CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)
78th CT (1), FL (1), IL (1), NY (2), OH (1), PA (1)
79th CT (1), IL (1), OH (1)
80th CT (1), IL (1), OH (1)
81st CT (1), OH (1)
82nd CT (1), OH (1)
83rd CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)
84th CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)
85th CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)
86th CT (1)
87th CT (1)
88th CT (1), MD (1), MI (1), OH (1), TX (1)
89th MD (1), OH (1), TX (1)

State elections

As of 2021, ten U.S. states have at least one legislative chamber which uses multi-winner at-large districts:

In the 1980s, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, South Carolina, and Virginia all moved entirely from multi-winner districts in either chamber, followed by Alaska, Georgia, and Indiana in the 1990s [4] . After the 2010 United States redistricting cycle, Nevada eliminated their two remaining multi-member senate districts and implemented single-winner districts in both houses [5] . In 2018, West Virginia passed a law switching all remaining multi-winner House of Delegates seats to single-winner districts following the 2020 United States Census [6] .

Local elections

Since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and lessening of some historic barriers to voter registration and voting, legal challenges have been made based on at-large election schemes at the county or city level, including in school board elections, in numerous jurisdictions where minorities had been effectively excluded from representation on local councils or boards. An example is Charleston County, South Carolina, which was sued in 2001 and reached a settlement in 2004. Its county commission changed to nine members elected from single-member districts; in 2015 they included six white Republicans and three African-American Democrats, where the black minority makes up more than one-third of the population.

In another instance, in 2013 Fayette County, Georgia, which had an estimated 70% white majority and 20% black minority, was ordered by a federal district court to develop single-member districts for election of members to its county council and its school board. Due to at-large voting, African Americans had been unable to elect any candidate of their choice to either of these boards for decades. [7] Such local election systems have become subject to litigation, since enabling more representative elections can create entry points for minorities and women into the political system, as well as providing more representative government. In the late 1980s, several major cities in Tennessee reached settlement in court cases to adopt single-member districts in order to enable minorities to elect candidates of their choice to city councils; they had previously been excluded by at-large voting favoring the majority population. [8] By 2015, voters in two of these cities had elected women mayors who had gotten their start in being elected to the city council from single-member districts.

The town of Islip, New York was sued by four residents in 2018 for violating the Voting Rights Act by maintaining a discriminatory at-large council system. One-third of Islip's population is Hispanic, but only one person of color has ever been elected to a town seat. As part of the settlement reached in 2020, the at-large system will be abolished and replaced by four council districts by 2023. [9]

Some states have laws which further discourage the use of at-large districts. For example, the California Voting Rights Act removes one of the criteria required for a successful federal Voting Rights Act challenge, thus resulting in hundreds of cities, school districts, and special districts to move to single member area-based elections.

Some jurisdictions have kept at-large city councils and boards. The solution adopted by Cambridge, Massachusetts is to elect council officials via proportional representation for all seats.

See also

Related Research Articles

Plurality voting is an electoral system in which each voter is allowed to vote for only one candidate, and the candidate who polls more than any other counterpart is elected. In a system based on single-member districts, it may be called first-past-the-post (FPTP), single-choice voting, simple plurality or relative/simple majority. In a system based on multi-member districts, it may be referred to as winner-takes-all or bloc voting.

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. The concept applies mainly to geographical and political divisions of the electorate. For instance in the European parliament, each member state has a number of seats that is (roughly) proportional to its population, enabling geographical proportional representation. Almost all European countries also have political proportional representation : When n% of the electorate support a particular political party or set of candidates as their favorite, then roughly n% of seats are allotted to that party or those candidates. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result—not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts, as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, PR systems that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats, as large as a province or an entire nation.

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An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral area, circumscription, or electorate, is a subdivision of a larger state created to provide its population with representation in the larger state's legislative body. That body, or the state's constitution or a body established for that purpose, determines each district's boundaries and whether each will be represented by a single member or multiple members. Generally, only voters (constituents) who reside within the district are permitted to vote in an election held there. District representatives may be elected by a first-past-the-post system, a proportional representative system, or another voting method. They may be selected by a direct election under universal suffrage, an indirect election, or another form of suffrage.

Elections in the Philippines are of several types. The president, vice-president, and the senators are elected for a six-year term, while the members of the House of Representatives, governors, vice-governors, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, mayors, vice-mayors, members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod/members of the Sangguniang Bayan, barangay officials, and the members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are elected to serve for a three-year term.

Congressional districts, also known as electoral districts, legislative districts, wards and electorates in other nations, are divisions of a larger administrative region that represent the population of a region in the larger congressional body. Notably, in Australia, electoral districts are referred to as "electorates" or "seats"; in Canada these are called "constituencies" or more informally "ridings". Countries with congressional districts include the United States, the Philippines and Japan.

1812 and 1813 United States House of Representatives elections House elections for the 13th U.S. Congress

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Elections to the United States House of Representatives for the 3rd Congress were held in 1792 and 1793, coinciding with the re-election of George Washington as President. While Washington ran for president as an independent, his followers formed the nation's first organized political party, the Federalist Party, whose members and sympathizers are identified as pro-Administration on this page. In response, followers of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison created the opposition Democratic-Republican Party, who are identified as anti-Administration on this page. The Federalists promoted urbanization, industrialization, mercantilism, centralized government, and a broad interpretation of the United States Constitution. In contrast, Democratic-Republicans supported the ideal of an agrarian republic made up of self-sufficient farmers and small, localized governments with limited power.

General ticket representation is a type of block voting in which voters opt for a party, or a team's set list of candidates, and the highest-polling one becomes the winner. It, unless tempered to apply to a specific proportion, arrives at a 100% return for one party's list who become representatives for the membership or representative positions which are the purpose of the election.

A single-member district is an electoral district represented by a single officeholder. It contrasts with a multi-member district, which is represented by multiple officeholders. Single-member districts are also sometimes called single-winner voting, winner-takes-all, or single-member constituencies.

The legislative districts of the Philippines are the divisions of the Philippines' provinces and cities for representation in the various legislative bodies. Congressional districts are for House of Representatives, while there are districts for Sangguniang Panlalawigan, and some Sangguniang Panlungsod. For purposes of representation, the Senate, most Sangguniang Panlungsod, Sangguniang Bayan, Sangguniang Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan are all elected at-large, although there were districts for the Senate from 1916 to 1935.

A plural district was a district in the United States House of Representatives that was represented by more than one member. States using this method elected multiple members from some of their geographically defined districts. They did so on a single ballot or on separate concurrent ballots for each seat. In more modern terms, for less ambiguity, such a district is termed a multi-member district.

Sangguniang Panlalawigan, commonly known as the Provincial Board, are the legislatures in Philippine provinces. They are the legislative branch of the province and their powers and responsibilities are defined by the Local Government Code of 1991. Along with the provincial governor, the executive branch of the province, they form the province's government.

Multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV), also known as plurality-at-large voting or block vote, is a non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multi-member electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election. Multiple winners are elected simultaneously to serve the district. Block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead the usual result is that where the candidates divide into definitive parties the most popular party in the district sees its full slate of candidates elected, resulting in a landslide.

Electoral districts go by different names depending on the country and the office being elected.

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  1. Electoral Reform in England and Wales, by Charles Seymour (David & Charles Reprints 1970)
  2. The Parliaments of England by Henry Stooks Smith (1st edition published in three volumes 1844-50), second edition edited (in one volume) by F.W.S. Craig (Political Reference Publications 1973)
  3. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964).
  4. Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr. and Christopher A. Cooper, "The Mismeasure of MMD: Reassessing the Impact of Multi Member Districts on Descriptive Representation in U.S. State Legislatures," accessed May 27, 2015
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures, "Changes in Legislatures Using Multimember Districts after Redistricting," September 11, 2012
  6. ABS Staff, "Fayette County at-large election process violates the Voting Rights Act", Atlanta Black Star, 22 May 2013, accessed 11 April 2015
  7. BUCHANAN v. CITY OF JACKSON, 683 F. Supp. 1515 (W.D. Tenn. 1988), Case Text website
  8. "Latinos, advocates hail change to how Islip officials are elected". Newsday. Retrieved 2020-10-15.

Further reading