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Unit 4

4.1 Electoral Systems and Rules 🗞️

6 min readnovember 15, 2020

Harrison Burnside


In the United States 🇺🇸, we have a Presidential election every 4 Novembers, so perhaps you have heard the word election or electoral system. In AP Comparative Government, you need to be able to describe electoral systems and election rules across all of the course countries. There is some key vocabulary 🔑 that we need to cover before we delve into electoral systems and election rules.

4.1: Key Terms: Electoral Systems Vocabulary

Single-member district—an electoral system in which an electoral district returns one officeholder to a body with multiple members, such as a legislature. This is also sometimes called single-winner voting or winner takes all. Ex. In the United States, a senator is elected from a single-member district.
Multimember district—an electoral district or constituency having two or more representatives in a legislative body rather than one. Ex. If one representative received 60% of the vote and the other 40%, both would be sent to the legislative body. In a single-member district, the representative with 60% would be the only individual elected.
Proportional representation—an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. A party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes it receives.
Quotas—a fixed minimum or maximum number of a particular group of people allowed to do something. Ex. A legislature leaving a fixed number of seats for an underrepresented group or region.
First-past-the-post—a “plurality” voting system. In other words, the candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is elected. This is typically used in single-member districts.
Electoral system—a set of rules that determine how elections and referendums are conducted and how their results are determined.
Now that we have covered some key terms that are necessary to describe electoral systems 📑, it is time to look at what type of electoral systems and rules each of our course countries possesses. Please understand that some of the information for the electoral system/electoral rules comes directly from the CED (Course and Exam Description) as it is important to note that examples specifically mentioned in the CED have a high probability of being assessed on the exam.

Electoral Systems by Country

CountryElectoral System/Electoral RulesExamples/Explanations
UKThe United Kingdom’s House of Commons members are directly elected under single member district, first-past-the-post rulesThis system is most similar to the US electoral system. In other words only 1 representative per district and whomever wins the most votes in that district is the one that is elected.House of Commons: So let us take Kent. In that constituency they will send 1 member to parliament. If candidate A gets 45% of the votes and candidate B gets 23% of the votes, candidate A wins and is sent to parliament to represent Kent in the House of Commons.
MexicoMexico’s Congress of the Union has two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies, which has 300 members directly elected in single-member districts by plurality and an additional 200 members elected by a proportional representation, party list system; and the Chamber of Senators, which has 96 members elected in three seat constituencies and 32 by proportional representation; gender quotas in the party list system have helped increase female participation.Chamber of Deputies:Just like the UK for 300 members if candidate A gets more votes than candidate B, candidate A represents the district in Congress. For the 200 members elected by proportional vote Party A, gets 56% of the vote, and Party B gets 44% of the vote, then party A gets 56% of the 200 sets and the candidates come from the party list based on number of votes they each received.Chamber of Senators breaks down in the following wayTwo for each of the 32 states  elected under the principle of relative majority;One for each of the 32 states assigned under the principle of first minority (i.e. awarded to the party who had won the second highest number of votes within the state)Thirty-two national senators-at-large, divided among the parties in proportion to their share of the national vote.
NigeriaMembers of the Nigerian House of Representatives are directly elected in single-member districts with representatives from each of Nigeria’s states; the number of representatives elected from each state is based on population size, whereas the Senate has three members directly elected from each of Nigeria’s 36 states; two major parties have alternated control of the National Assembly.House of Representatives is like the UK’s House of Commons single-member districts from each of Nigeria’s states, the number of representatives for each state is dependent on population. So again if candidate A gets more votes than candidate B, candidate A represents the district in Congress. SenateIs a fixed number, 3 from each state and each of the 36 states has 3 districts and 1 senator is elected from each district directly by the people. The voting is first-past-the-post, which means the candidate with the most votes wins.
RussiaChanges to state Duma elections in Russia have returned it to a system in which half of the representatives are directly elected from single-member districts and the other half are chosen through elections that use proportional representation with a threshold.Is split so that one half of the representatives are directly elected from single-member districts, like our discussion with the UK. So again if candidate A gets more votes than candidate B, candidate A represents the district in the Duma.The other half are elected in a fashion similar to Mexico’s Chamber of Senators, except there is a threshold, which is 7.0% that must be gained in order to be eligible for a seat. Remember that in proportional representation it is the party that you are voting for and then the list of party candidates that will be seated based on the number of votes the party secures.
ChinaThe National People’s Congress of China selects members indirectly through a series of local and regional elections.Elections are are based on a hierarchical electoral system, whereby local People's Congresses are directly elected, and all higher levels of People's Congresses up to the National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislature, are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.
IranIran’s Majles members are directly elected in single-member and multi-member districts, which sometimes requires a second round of voting; candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council, and the legislative body lacks formal political party structures; a small number of the 290 seats in the Majles are reserved for non-Muslim minorities, such as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.Majles are elected in single-member and multi-member districts, so let us remind ourselves what that looks like.Single-member is winner takes all or first past the post, candidate A wins more votes than candidate B, they  represent that single-member district, but only if they receive at least 1/4th of the total vote.Multi-member districts also have a 1/4th of the total vote threshold and if not all the seats are filled in the first round of voting, a second round is held with twice the number of candidates as there are seats to be filled (or all the original candidates if there are fewer than double the number of seats)
Understand that with Topic 4.1 you need to be able to describe the electoral system and rules in each of our course countries. The chart above helps you to do this with ease. As you can see, most of our countries rely on either single-member or multi-member districts for their legislative branches.
Proportional representation requires multi-member districts and multiple parties 👯 We will talk more about how regime type influences the amount of democratization and party control in future topics, but you can see from the chart above that authoritarian systems tend to have party control of the electoral process much more than the people, which is less likely in more democratic regimes.

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