Electoral district

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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 (a country, administrative region, or other polity) 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.



The names for electoral districts vary across countries and, occasionally, for the office being elected. The term constituency is commonly used to refer to an electoral district, especially in British English, but it can also refer to the body of eligible voters or all the residents of the represented area or only those who voted for a certain candidate. The terms (election) precinct and election district are more common in American English. In Australia and New Zealand, electoral districts are called electorates, however elsewhere the term electorate generally refers specifically to the body of voters. In India electoral districts are referred to as "Nirvācan Kṣetra" (Hindi : निर्वाचन क्षेत्र) in Hindi, which can be literally translated to English as "electoral area" though the official English translation for the term is "constituency". The term "Nirvācan Kṣetra" is used while referring to an electoral district in general irrespective of the legislature. When referring to a particular legislative constituency, it is simply referred to as "Kṣetra" along with the name of the legislature, in Hindi (e.g. 'Lok Sabha Kshetra' for a Lok Sabha constituency). Electoral districts for municipal or other local bodies are called "wards".

In Canada, districts are colloquially called in English ridings (stemming from an earlier British geographical subdivision) (in some parts of Canada "constituencies" is used for provincial districts and "ridings" for federal districts), and in French, circumscription or (colloquially) comté, "county". Local electoral districts are sometimes called wards , a term also used for administrative subdivisions of a municipality.

In local government in the Republic of Ireland voting districts are called "electoral areas".

National and supranational representatives from electoral districts typically have offices in their respective districts. This photo shows the office of a Member of Parliament in the UK. Michael Moore LibDem MP Office.jpg
National and supranational representatives from electoral districts typically have offices in their respective districts. This photo shows the office of a Member of Parliament in the UK.

District magnitude

District magnitude is the number of representatives elected from a given district to the same legislative body. A single-member district has one representative, while a multi-member district historically in the US especially called a plural district has more than one. Voting systems that seek or are called proportional representation entail multi-member districts or leveling seats. Levelling seats are rarely authorized to foist away a victory from a plurality-winning candidate; most are instead additional members for the entire set of districts, at-large.

In voting systems other than general ticket, plurality block voting and certain pro-landslide party-list systems, a droop quota or threshold is recognised. This means the higher the district magnitude, the more proportional the system (and the greater the number of distinct parties or choices that can be represented). A compromise between the two, a heavily modified general ticket, is the teams model. This is the system of the numerically dominant Group Representation Constituencies in Singapore which requires one team member (at least) to be of a different race from the others.

In proportional representation, in a state where civil and political rights are liberally exercised, there exist political competing views evolving into parties or independent candidatures, a diverse mainstream media, and a moderate cap on election expenses, greater magnitude diversifies the party or non-affiliated makeup of the elected body. This diversity of winners enables clear representation of minorities in viewpoint; a 10%-polling minority party in a district where turnout is quite uniform will not win a seat in a 5-member district but if its turnout is in line with the others will do so in a 9-member district as this is the minimum to exceed a Droop quota.

The distribution of minority groups (parties) interplays with the magnitude: an unpopular or non-campaigning party, body-wide, tends to secure a seat if they are concentrated in a district, and require less concentration if the electoral district's magnitude is greater. Likewise if their support is significant but very diffuse they are more likely to win seats if the magnitude is greater. District magnitude can vary. Examples:

Maximum magnitude:

Apportionment and redistricting

Apportionment is the process of allocating a number of representatives to different regions, such as states or provinces. Apportionment changes are often accompanied by redistricting, the redrawing of electoral district boundaries to accommodate the new number of representatives. This redrawing is necessary under single-member district systems, as each new representative requires their own district. Multi-member systems, however, vary depending on other rules. Ireland, for example, redraws its electoral districts after every census [1] while Belgium uses its existing administrative boundaries for electoral districts and instead modifies the number of representatives allotted to each. Israel and the Netherlands are among the few countries that avoid the need for apportionment entirely by electing legislators at-large.

Apportionment is generally done on the basis of population. Seats in the United States House of Representatives, for instance, are reapportioned to individual states every 10 years following a census, with some states that have grown in population gaining seats. By contrast, seats in the Cantonal Council of Zürich are reapportioned in every election based on the number of votes cast in each district, which is only made possible by use of multi-member districts, and the House of Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by contrast, is apportioned without regard to population; the three major ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats - each get exactly five members. Malapportionment occurs when voters are under- or over-represented due to variation in district population.

In some places, geographical area is allowed to affect apportionment, with rural areas with sparse populations allocated more seats per elector: for example in Iceland, the Falkland Islands, Scottish islands, and (partly) in US Senate elections.


Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral district boundaries for political gain. By creating a few "forfeit" districts where opposing candidates win overwhelmingly, gerrymandering politicians can manufacture more, but narrower, wins for themselves and their party. Gerrymandering relies on the wasted-vote effect, effectively concentrating wasted votes among opponents while minimizing wasted votes among supporters. Consequently, gerrymandering is typically done under voting systems using single-member districts, which have more wasted votes.

While much more difficult, gerrymandering can also be done under proportional-voting systems when districts elect very few seats. By making three-member districts in regions where a particular group has a slight majority, for instance, gerrymandering politicians can obtain 2/3 of that district's seats. Similarly, by making four-member districts in regions where the same group has slightly less than a majority, gerrymandering politicians can still secure exactly half of the seats.

However, any possible gerrymandering that theoretically could occur would be much less effective because minority groups can still elect at least one representative if they make up a significant percentage of the population (e.g. 20-25%), compared to single-member districts where 40-49% of the voters can be essentially shut out from any representation

Swing seats and safe seats

Sometimes, particularly under non-proportional winner-take-all voting systems, electoral districts can be prone to landslide victories. A safe seat is one that is very unlikely to be won by a rival politician due to the makeup of its constituency. Conversely, a swing seat is one that could easily swing either way. In United Kingdom general elections and United States presidential and congressional elections, the voting in a relatively small number of swing seats usually determines the outcome of the entire election. Many politicians aspire to have safe seats. In large multi-party systems like India, swing seats can lead to a hung assembly like situation if a significant number of seats go for regional parties instead of the larger national parties who are the main competitors at the national or state level, as was the situation in the Lok Sabha (Lower house of the Parliament of India) during the 1990s.

Constituency work

Elected representatives may spend much of the time serving the needs or demands of individual constituents, meaning either voters or residents of their district. This is more common in assemblies with many single-member or small districts than those with fewer, larger districts. In a looser sense, corporations and other such organizations can be referred to as constituents, if they have a significant presence in an area.

Many assemblies allow free postage (through franking privilege or prepaid envelopes) from a representative to a constituent, and often free telecommunications. Caseworkers may be employed by representatives to assist constituents with problems. Members of the U.S. Congress (both Representatives and Senators) working in Washington, D.C. have a governmentally staffed district office to aid in constituent services. Many state legislatures have followed suit. Likewise, British MPs use their Parliamentary staffing allowance to appoint staff for constituency casework. Client politics and pork barrel politics are associated with constituency work.

Special constituencies with additional membership requirements

In some elected assemblies, some or all constituencies may group voters based on some criterion other than, or in addition to, the location they live. Examples include:

Voting without constituencies

Not all democratic political systems use separate districts or other electoral subdivisions to conduct elections. Israel, for instance, conducts parliamentary elections as a single district. While the 26 electoral districts in Italy and the 20 in the Netherlands have a role in the actual election, but no role whatsoever in the division of the seats. Ukraine elected half of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) in this way in the elections in October 2012. [2]

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.

Gerrymandering Manipulation of electoral borders to favor certain electoral outcomes

Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems.

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 to ideological partitioning of the electorate. For instance at the European parliament each member state has a number of seats that is (roughly) proportional to its population. The same logic prevails when voters vote for parties. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party or set of candidates as their favorite, then roughly n% of seats will be won by 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.

Party-list proportional representation Family of voting systems

Party-list proportional representation systems are a family of voting systems emphasizing proportional representation in elections in which multiple candidates are elected through allocations to an electoral list. They can also be used as part of mixed additional member systems.

Single transferable vote Proportional representation voting system

The single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system designed to achieve or closely approach proportional representation through the use of multiple-member constituencies and each voter casting a single ballot on which candidates are ranked. The preferential (ranked) balloting allows transfer of votes to produce proportionality, to form consensus behind select candidates and to avoid the waste of votes prevalent under other voting systems.

Single non-transferable vote or SNTV is an electoral system used in multi-member constituency elections. It is a generalization of first-past-the-post, applied to multi-member constituencies.

The additional member system (AMS), also known as mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) outside the United Kingdom, is a mixed electoral system with one tier of single-member district representatives, and another tier of ‘additional members’ elected to make the overall election results more proportional.

Mixed-member proportional representation is a mixed electoral system in which voters get two votes: one to decide the representative for their single-seat constituency, and one for a political party. Seats in the legislature are filled firstly by the successful constituency candidates, and secondly, by party candidates based on the percentage of nationwide or region-wide votes that each party received. The constituency representatives are elected using first-past-the-post voting (FPTP) or another plurality/majoritarian system. The nationwide or region-wide party representatives are, in most jurisdictions, drawn from published party lists, similar to party-list proportional representation. To gain a nationwide representative, parties may be required to achieve a minimum number of constituency candidates, a minimum percentage of the nationwide party vote, or both.

Parallel voting describes a mixed electoral system where voters in effect participate in two separate elections for a single chamber using different systems, and where the results in one election have little or no impact on the results of the other.

Elections in Mexico Political elections for public offices in Mexico

Elections in Mexico are held every 6 years to elect a president and every 2 years to elect a legislature. These elections determine who, on the national level, takes the position of the head of state – the president – as well as the legislature.

Elections in Nepal

There are three types of elections in Nepal: elections to the Federal Parliament, elections to the state assemblies and elections to the local government. Within each of these categories there may be by-elections as well as general elections. Currently three electoral systems are used: parallel voting for House of Representatives and provincial assemblies, Single transferable vote for National Assembly and first past the post for local elections.

In electoral systems, a wasted vote is any vote which is not for an elected candidate or, more broadly, a vote that does not help to elect a candidate. The narrower meaning includes only those votes which are for a losing candidate or party. The broader definition of wasted votes includes votes for winning candidates in excess of the minimum needed to win.

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.

Apportionment is the process by which seats in a legislative body are distributed among administrative divisions entitled to representation.

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.

There are a number of complications and issues surrounding the application and use of single transferable vote proportional representation that form the basis of discussions between its advocates and detractors.

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.

Direct representation or proxy representation is a form of representative democracy where voters can vote for any candidate in the land, and each representative's vote is weighted in proportion to the number of citizens who have chosen that candidate to represent them. This is in contrast to other conventional forms of representative democracy, such as the winner-take-all system, where the winner of a plurality of votes in a given district, party or other grouping of voters, goes on to represent all voters in that group, or the proportional representation system where the number of representatives allotted to each party or political faction is roughly in proportion to the number of voters supporting each faction.

Electoral system Method by which voters make a choice between options

An electoral system or voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and referendums are conducted and how their results are determined. Political electoral systems are organized by governments, while non-political elections may take place in business, non-profit organisations and informal organisations. These rules govern all aspects of the voting process: when elections occur, who is allowed to vote, who can stand as a candidate, how ballots are marked and cast, how the ballots are counted, how votes translate into the election outcome, limits on campaign spending, and other factors that can affect the result. Political electoral systems are defined by constitutions and electoral laws, are typically conducted by election commissions, and can use multiple types of elections for different offices.