An excellent example of the disenfranchisement that can be caused by using single winner districts to elect members to a legislature can be seen in the 1926 Canadian federal election for the province of Manitoba.
The province of Manitoba was entitled to 17 seats. The Conservative party had 42.2% of the popular vote within Manitoba but was unable to win any of the single winner districts.
Here is the data care of RangeVoting.org :
||Number of seats
More information about the 1926 Manitoba election can also be found on wikipedia
There are two common types of elections that occur. Those in which a single winner is selected and those in which multiple winners are selected. Multi-winner elections would typically be used to select representatives for a body like a legislature.
In the US we generally do not use multi-winner elections to select representatives. Instead we use a districting approach where districts are drawn, single-winner elections are held in each district to choose a winner and those winners become representatives in the legislature.
What values does such a system endorse?
- local representation – Voters have a representative that is local to them and whom they presumably can access
What values does such a system ignore?
- representation for all of the population – in a close race only a minority of people in the district approve of and consider themselves to be represented by their representative. For example, a district might have 52% Republican party supporters and 48% percent Democratic party supports. This district might elect a Republican as it’s representative based on straight party-line voting. Thus 48% of the population of this district has been disenfranchised. They have a representative that does not represent their view points. It is true that other representatives from other districts may be elected who share this disenfranchised population’s viewpoints and that, in that sense, they may be represented. But this is unlikely to happen evenly. For example, if the population at large voted 60% for the Republican party and 40% for the Democratic party the distribution of voters within districts may be such that the legislature ends up with 80% Republicans and 20% Democrats.
One must ask whether the single-winner districted approach makes sense for a multi-winner election. Is the benefit of having a local representative worth the cost of having a large portion of society unrepresented? If your local representative does not actually represent much of the local population’s viewpoints, is there really a significant benefit to that population in the representative being local to them?
In future posts I will discuss voting methods for both single-winner elections and multi-winner elections as well as discuss more of the issues we face when we use a districted single-winner system for multi-winner elections.