History of Proportional Representation
Roots of PR
While the discussion of proportional representation dates back at least to the late 18th century (Mirabeau, 1780), the first actual use of PR was in 1819, for the Committee of the Birmingham (England) Society for Literary and Scientific Improvement; the idea is credited to Thomas Wright Hill. The first public PR election, using a form of STV, was held in Adelaide, Australia, in 1840, organized by Hill’s son Rowland. In 1844, Thomas Gilpin proposed a party-list system for Philadelphia, but his proposal was not adopted.
Proportional representation was not widely popularized, though, until STV was re-proposed by Thomas Hare in the 1850s, and championed by John Stuart Mill.
Early public use of PR
The first public adoption of list PR was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1873, and in the Swiss canton of Ticino in 1891. Switzerland adopted list PR for federal elections in 1918.
STV was first used for a public election in Adelaide, Australia, in 1840; then in Tasmania, Australia in 1909, Ashtabula OH in 1915, and Northern Ireland in 1922.
PR in the United States
Beginning with Ashtabula OH in 1915, a number of American cities adopted STV-PR, including Cincinnati OH, Sacramento CA, New York City, Cambridge MA, and about 20 other cities . By 1950, though, all but Cambridge MA had repealed STV-PR, largely motivated by party machines who were able to better dominate under a majority-take-all system.
Recent years have seen a revival of interest in PR in several US cities, including Davis CA and Minneapolis MN.
PR around the world
Outside the United States, proportional representation, chiefly in the party list form, was adopted early for national elections, and its use has persisted and grown. In Europe, PR is used in Germany, across Scandinavia, most of Eastern Europe, Italy, and to elect the European Parliament. Around the world, countries that directly elect their legislatures are split roughly in have between PR or mixed systems on the one hand, and plurality/majority systems on the other. The PR/mixed camp includes Israel, Iraq, Mexico, South Africa and Japan, among many others, and in addition to the European examples.
See the PR timeline for an overview of the history of proportional representation.
- Wikipedia: History and use of the Single Transferable Vote
- Wikipedia: List of US cities that have used STV
- Douglas Amy, “STV: A Progressive Cause: A short history of STV in the US” [PDF]