Electoral System Reform in Advanced Democracies

Matthew Shugart and Justin Reeves

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online November 2011 | | DOI:
Electoral System Reform in Advanced Democracies

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The electoral system is the set of rules and procedures used to translate votes cast for specific candidates or political parties into seats in a legislative body; some scholars also include presidential or other executive elections under the rubric of electoral systems. Electoral system reform, often called simply electoral reform, is the adoption of some fundamental changes in these rules and procedures. Although no clear agreement exists on how much change is required in order to qualify as electoral system reform, the term is generally understood to mean more than incremental changes in specific features of an electoral system. Thus, electoral system reform typically means a shift in the main principle by which allocation of seats takes place, such as a move from majority allocation to proportional representation or from candidate-based to party-list allocation (or vice versa). By this standard, electoral system reform is a relatively rare event. Major reforms of electoral systems have taken place in the late 20th and early 21st centuries in several key countries, including France (twice), Italy (twice), Japan, and New Zealand. In addition, in the latter part of the 20th century, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have adopted for their own parliaments new electoral systems that are fundamentally different from those used for the UK House of Commons. Serious discussions of reform, in the sense of wholesale change in the principle of representation, have occurred in Canada (including some its provinces) and the United Kingdom. However, as of the early 21st century, reforms of the electoral system for the UK and Canadian House of Commons and Canadian provincial legislatures have not occurred. Some researchers increase the number of relevant cases by including more-incremental modifications to electoral systems rather than only wholesale changes. Within the family of proportional representation, incremental changes include alterations of the threshold (the minimum vote share needed to win a seat) or in the rules applying to the role of preference votes for individual candidates in the ordering of party lists. Such changes are much more common than wholesale changes between proportional and majority principles of representation. Most researchers do not consider changes in district boundaries (or the criteria to be used in such boundary drawing) in plurality/majority systems to be reform, since they are more-routine procedures periodically required by the laws of most countries using such systems.

Article.  5407 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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