List PR in Practice

List-PR systems are in widespread use around the world. In this section we’ll look at representative examples. For more examples, see the ACE Project’s Electoral Systems Case Studies (note that not all the examples on their list use PR).

Closed-List PR: Norway

Norway uses a closed-list system to elect its 169-member Storting, or parliament. The 169 seats are apportioned to Norway’s 19 counties as a function of their population and land area (the latter is somewhat controversial, but doesn’t affect the way the rest of the system works). 19 seats, one from each county’s allocation, are chosen at large.

In each county, each party presents a list of candidates, and is allocated a number of seats proportional to its county-wide vote (setting aside the reserved at-large seat), and the allocated seats are filled by the top candidates on the party’s list. Lists may be submitted by non-party groups, if they are signed by at least 500 eligible voters in a given county.

After the 150 county-based seats are filled, the remaining 19 at-large seats are allocated to lists based on their national share of the vote and the number of seats they have already filled, so that the entire 169 seats are eventually allocated as proportionately as possible to the lists’ national vote totals.

A list must receive at least 4% of the total vote to be eligible for one of the at-large seats. It’s possible that a small party with at least 4% could win no county-based seats at all, but be allocated an at-large seat. It’s also possible for a small local list to win a county-based seat with less than 4% of the national vote.

See The main features of the Norwegian electoral system for a more detailed description.

Open-List PR: Finland

The parliament of Finland (Eduskunta) has 200 members. Members are elected for a four-year term from 15 electoral districts. Each district gets representatives in proportion to its number of citizens. The size of the districts varies from 6 to 32 representatives, except that the autonomous region of Åland has only one representative.

The election method is an open-list PR system. Each district elects its representatives independently. Voters vote for one of the candidates by writing the number of one of the candidates on the ballot sheet. The number of seats that each party will get is determined using the D’Hondt method. Within each party those candidates with highest number of votes will be elected.

Each party may nominate up to 14 candidates, or the number of representatives from the district if that number is higher. In the 2007 election, the largest district had 340 candidates. Parties may form alliances whose results will be counted as if the alliance were one party. It is possible to nominate additional candidates with the support of 100 voters, and these groups may team up to form lists of candidates.

In the 2007 parliament election, the level of participation was 67.9%. 29.7% of the voters voted in advance, and 38.2% at the actual election day. One can cast an advance vote in any of the numerous voting locations anywhere within the country and abroad. On election day, one must vote at one’s nominated polling station in one’s home town. The results (in practice final) are counted in few hours after the polling stations close.

There is no threshold number of votes that a party must get in order to get representatives, but there is a practical limit, since the seats are allocated separately in each districts, and the number of seats per district sets some limits; in the smallest districts this threshold becomes higher than in the largest ones. In the 2007 parliament election, eight parties got representatives (plus one from Åland). The number of elected representatives per party were 51, 50, 45, 17, 15, 7, 9 and 5.

See the Finland Ministry of Justice site for more details. The ACE Project also has an article on the Finnish system.

Mixed-Member PR: Germany

Germany has used a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system since 1949. Quoting the ACE Project’s article:

The German electoral system is classified as a personalised proportional system (“Personalisierte Verhältniswahl”) or, as it is known in New Zealand as a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. Its essence is the way in which it combines a personal vote in single-member districts with the principle of proportional representation.

Currently, the German parliament (Bundestag) has 656 seats, not including possible surplus seats (see below). Each voter has two votes. The first vote (Erststimme) is a personal vote, given to a particular (party) candidate in one of the 328 single-member constituencies. The second vote (Zweitstimme) is a party vote, given to a party list at the federal state level (Landesliste). Candidates are allowed to compete in single-member districts as well as simultaneously for the party list. The candidates who achieve a plurality in the single-member districts are elected (Direktmandate). However, the second vote determines how many representatives will be sent from each party to the Bundestag.

On the national level, all the second votes (Zweitstimmen) for the parties are totalled. Only parties obtaining more than five percent of the votes at the national level or, alternatively, having three members elected directly in the single-member constituencies, are considered in the national allocation of list PR seats. The number of representatives from each party that has passed the legal threshold is calculated according to the Hare formula. Seats are then allocated within the 16 federal states (Länder).

The number of seats won directly by a party in the single-member districts of a particular federal state are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party’s list. The remaining seats are assigned to the closed party list. Should a party win more Direktmandate seats in a particular federal state than the number of seats allocated to it by the second votes, these surplus seats (Überhangmandate) are kept by that party. In such a case, the total number of seats in the Bundestag temporarily increases.

The general idea behind MMP systems like Germany’s is to start with single-member districts, and then add representatives from party lists to achieve proportionality (the term “additional-member system” is also used). Each voter has a local (and locally elected) representative, but the overall legislature is proportional, due to the additional list seats.


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