Electoral district

Last updated

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 territorial subdivision for electing members to a legislative body. Generally, only voters (constituents) who reside within the district are permitted to vote in an election held there. From a single district, a single member or multiple members might be chosen. Members might be chosen by a first-past-the-post system or a proportional representative system, or another voting method entirely. Members might be chosen through a direct election under universal suffrage, an indirect election, or another form of suffrage.

Contents

Terminology

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 "Nirvachan Kshetra" (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 "Nirvachan Kshetra" is used while referring to an electoral district in general irrespective of the legislature. When referring to a particular legislatorial constituency, it is simply referred to as "Kshetra" 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 ridings (stemming from an earlier British geographical subdivision); in French, circonscription or (colloquially) comté, "county." Local electoral districts are sometimes called wards , a term which also designates administrative subdivisions of a municipality. In local government in the Republic of Ireland voting districts are called "electoral areas".

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 has more than one. Voting systems that seek proportional representation (such as the single transferable vote) inherently require multi-member districts, and the larger the district magnitude the more proportional a system will tend to be (and the greater the number of distinct parties or choices that can be represented.) Non-proportional systems may use multi-member districts, as in the House of Commons until 1950, Singapore's Group Representation Constituency, or the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Representatives from electoral districts typically have offices in their respective districts. This photo shows the office of Michael Moore, a Member of Parliament (MP) in the UK. Michael Moore LibDem MP Office.jpg
Representatives from electoral districts typically have offices in their respective districts. This photo shows the office of Michael Moore, a Member of Parliament (MP) in the UK.

Under proportional representation systems, district magnitude is an important determinant of the makeup of the elected body. With a larger number of winners, candidates are able to represent proportionately smaller minorities; a 10% minority in a given district may secure no seats in a 5-member election but would be guaranteed a seat in a 9-member one because they fulfill a Droop quota.

The geographic distribution of minorities also affects their representation – an unpopular nationwide minority can still secure a seat if they are concentrated in a particular district. Likewise a small party with very diffuse support is more likely to win more seats with larger multi-member districts rather than smaller single-member districts where they may not have enough support in any particular seat. District magnitude can sometimes vary within the same system during an election. In the Republic of Ireland, for instance, national elections to Dáil Éireann are held using a combination of 3, 4, and 5 member districts. In Hong Kong, the magnitude ranges from 5 to 9, respective to the geographic constituencies' populations.

The only democracies with one single nationwide electoral district and no other territorial correctors are Fiji, Israel, The Netherlands, Moldova, Mozambique, Slovakia, South Africa and Serbia.

Apportionment and redistricting

Main articles: 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 counties 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.

Given the complexity of this process, software is increasingly used to simplify the task, while better supporting reproducible and more justifiable results. [ citation needed ]

Gerrymandering

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

Main articles: Marginal seat and Safe seat

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 the most among their counterparts 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. The system is often used to elect members of a legislative assembly or executive officers. It is the most common form of the system, and is used in most elections in the United States, the lower house in India, elections to the House of Commons and English local elections in the United Kingdom.

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. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party as their favorite, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. 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 proportional voting system designed to achieve or closely approach proportional representation through voters ranking candidates in multi-seat organizations or constituencies. There are various ways of counting votes under STV, as described below.

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.

Mixed-member proportional (MMP) 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

Elections in Mexico 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.

Constituencies of Singapore Subdivisions of Singapore for electoral purposes of representation in Parliament

Constituencies in Singapore are electoral divisions which may be represented by single or multiple seats in the Parliament of Singapore. Constituencies are classified as either Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) or Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). SMCs are single-seat constituencies but GRCs have between four and six seats in Parliament.

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

New Zealand electorates voting district for elections to the New Zealand Parliament

An electorate is a geographical constituency used for electing members to the New Zealand Parliament. In informal discussion, electorates are often called seats. The most formal description, electoral district, is used in legislation. The size of electorates is determined on a population basis such that all electorates have approximately the same population.

A single-member district or single-member constituency is an electoral district that returns one officeholder to a body with multiple members such as a legislature. This is also sometimes called single-winner voting or winner takes all. The alternatives are multi-member districts, or the election of a body by the whole electorate voting as one constituency.

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.

Plurality-at-large voting, also known as block vote or multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV), is a non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multimember 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, limits on campaign spending, and other factors that can affect the outcome. 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.

References