Proportional Representation Timeline

1819, Birmingham, England: Thomas Wright Hill organizes the first STV-like election.

Committee of the Birmingham (England) Society for Literary and Scientific Improvement

ref Tideman 1996

1840, Adelaide, Australia: First use of STV-PR for a public election.

Hoag & Hallett 1926, p167:

The first application of the principle of proportional representation to public elections was made in 1839 [sic; the correct date, 1840, is shown four paragraphs down] in Adelaide, South Australia, at that time a struggling colony of a few hundred inhabitants. Rowland Hill was then Secretary of the Colonization Commission of South Australia, and it was at his suggestion that the application was made. In his Prefatory Memoir to the History of Penny Postage (quoted in the Life by George Birkbeck Hill, Volume I, p. 223) he says: “As regards the political system of the colony [South Australia], I may be allowed to mention that when the Commissioners, in their third annual report, recommended Government to grant it municipal institutions, the recommendation included at my suggestion the plan which has already been spoken of as devised by my father many years before, and has recently been more known to the world in connection with the name of Mr. Hare. This plan was adopted at the time, though abandoned at a later period.”

ref Hoag & Hallett 1926

1844, Philadelphia PA: Thomas Gilpin proposes a party-list system for Philadelphia.

ref James 1896

1855, Denmark: Carl Andrae introduces STV-PR with ranking of candidates, Hare quota.

ref Tideman 1996

1857, England: Thomas Hare publishes The Machinery of Representation.

ref Tideman 1995

1865, England: Thomas Hare introduces revised STV with elimination of candidates with fewest votes.

ref Tideman 1995

1868, England: H R Droop introduces the Droop quota.

ref Tideman 1995

1873, Buenos Aires, Argentina, adopts constitution prescribing PR “for all public elections”.

Hoag & Hallett 1926, footnote p65.

ref Hoag & Hallett 1926

1880, Australia: J B Gregory develops method with fractional surplus transfers.

ref Tideman 1995

1891, Ticino, Switzerland: First documented public use of party-list PR in Europe, in the canton of Ticino, Switzerland.

Hoag & Hallett 1926:

In the majority [cantonal] elections of 1889 the votes were almost evenly divided between the Conservatives (12,783) and the Liberals (12,166), yet the Conservatives elected 77 deputies to the cantonal council and the Liberals only 35. The Liberals charged the Conservatives with gerrymandering the districts to obtain this unfair advantage and demanded a revision of the constitution. When this was refused a rebellion broke out. One of the members of the cantonal government was killed and others were imprisoned. At this point the federal government intervened and succeeded in getting both sides to agree to proportional representation. The result was complete pacification of the canton. The agreement was ratified by popular vote in 1891 and has been in force ever since.

ref Hoag & Hallett 1926

1893, United States: American Proportional Representation League organized.

The American Proportional Representation League organized to promote proportional representation in the United States, and early on focused on STV-PR. In 1912 they decided to promote STV for local city governments, leading to the first adoption of STV in the US by Ashtabula, Ohio in 1915, followed by several other cities, most notably New York City in 1936.

The APRL merged with the National Municipal League in 1932.

ref Amy 2002; (PR)

1899, Belgium adopts list PR for parliamentary elections.

Like Switzerland, Belgium had experimented successfully with PR for local elections before adopting it nationally.

ref Lakeman 1970

1909, Tasmania, Australia: First use of Gregory method.

ref Farrell 1995

1915, Ashtabula, Ohio, is first American city to adopt STV-PR.

ref Amy 2002

1918, Switzerland adopts, by referendum, list PR for federal elections, after similar proposals had been defeated in 1900 and 1910.

ref Hoag & Hallett 1926

1921, Malta adopts STV-PR.

1922, Northern Ireland adopts STV-PR for parliamentary elections.

1932, United States: American Proportional Representation League merges with National Municipal League.

ref Amy 2002

1936, New York City, NY, adopts PR.

ref Amy 2002

1936, USA: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences adopts STV-PR for their Oscar® nominations.

The Academy has used STV ever since for some, but not all, Oscar nominations. The actual counting is performed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, using a variation on the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method (WIGM).

Press Release

1940, Cambridge, MA, adopts STV-PR.

From Cambridge’s website:

Adoption Of Plan E

On June 1, 1938, Massachusetts Governor Charles F. Hurley signed a bill adding a fifth city charter form (Plan E) to the four plans already available. Modeled after a charter successful in Cincinnati, Plan E provided for a city manager form of government with proportional representation (PR) elections.

As soon as the bill became law, a group of citizens formed the Cambridge Committee for Plan E and obtained the necessary signatures on a petition to put the question of adopting Plan E on the Cambridge ballot in November 1938.

In the ensuing campaign, Plan E advocates said it would mean that a trained administrator and not a politician would run the city. Of PR voting, they said itwould guarantee majority rule and at the same time give minority groups representation in proportion to their actual strength.

Opponents centered much of their fire on the PR voting system, which they said would excite group prejudices and make voting a lottery. They also said the plan would be too expensive and would give too much power to the City Council.

Emotions ran high and , on that electionday in 1938, Plan E was defeated by 1,767 votes. Two years later, it was adopted by 7,552 votes, with a winning margin in eight of the city’s eleven wards. The first PR election was held in 1941 with the first Plan E government taking office in January 1942. Since then, there have been five referenda—in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1961, and 1965—on whether to repeal or retain the PR voting system. Each time the vote was to retain it.

1947, New York City, NY, repeals PR.

ref Kolesar 1996

1948, Australia: STV-PR (Gregory method) adopted for Australian Senate (first use 1949).

ref Farrell 1995

1949, Germany: Mixed-member proportional representation adopted as part of Basic Law.

ref Wikipedia

1993, New Zealand adopts MMP; first MMP election held 1996.

2001, New Zealand introduces STV-PR using Meek’s method for some local elections.

2005, British Columbia, Canada: initiative to adopt STV-PR fails.

The initiative, proposed by a citizen’s assembly, failed with a 58% vote (60% required for approval).

2006, Minneapolis, MN, adopts STV-PR.

Minneapolis adopted PR by initiative in 2006. The result was challenged in court, and the initiative was upheld in 2009. STV will be used for the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Park Board at-large seats. The Minneapolis city council is elected from single-seat wards, for which seats, along with the mayor and other single-seat offices, the initiative specifies IRV.

2006, Davis, California, passes advisory measure favoring STV-PR.

As a California general-law city (as opposed to a charter city), Davis must either adopt a charter or be authorized by the state legislature to use a new election system. As of 2010, such legislation has been passed, but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

2007, Scotland adopts STV-PR for local elections.


4 Responses to Timeline

  1. Mark Jaroski says:

    1918, Switzerland, proportional representation introduced by referendum in the National Council.

    The effect has been to force a collaborative approach to governance, since the National Council in turn elects the executive Federal Council. No one party has had a majority in the legislative since 1919.

  2. jlundell says:

    Thanks, Mark. The history of PR in Switzerland is a great example of the power of fair representation. The adoption of PR in Ticino and a year or so later in Geneva helped to put a stop to what was effectively civil war and riots.

    I should also add an entry for Belgium.

  3. Araz says:

    NewZealand switched to PR (MMP) for legislative election in 1996

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