PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA
Tel +613 9589 1802
Proportional Representation: Its Definition
and the Superiority of
Dictionary Definition: Proportional representation is a generic term, and it does not refer to a precise method of implementing the philosophy it denotes. The Macquarie Dictionary definition (... a system of electing representatives to a legislative assembly in which there are a number of members representing any one electorate. The number of successful candidates from each party is directly proportional to the percentage of the total vote won by the party. Compare first-past-the-post, preferential voting.) is useful, although it confuses the matter by contrasting proportional representation with preferential voting, despite the fact that all the PR systems in Australia are preferential voting systems, as explained below.
The Compact Oxford Dictionary definition of
representation is "... an electoral system in
which parties gain seats in proportion to the
number of votes cast for them". That definition refers to "parties" but,
like that of the Macquarie Dictionary, not
specifically to "political parties", and it is
important to note that certain types of proportional
representation system operate on the basis of party
groupings, yet others are as free from that basis as
any other electoral system can be.
representation even is ultimately approximate: The wasted near-quota in single-member STV
systems is just under an enormous 50% of all votes
cast, but with PR-STV, and a district
magnitude as large as 9 seats, the wasted
near-quota is below 10%. The size of the wasted
near-quota is inversely proportional to one
more than the number of positions to be
filled, so that wasted near-quota
rapidly diminishes as the number of seats
increases. District magnitudes above 9 are not
normally recommended, as they produce
excessively large ballot papers, with little
reduction in the wasted near-quota. The
only way that the percentage of persons elected to
an elected body can be guaranteed to correspond
EXACTLY with the percentage of votes of those
electing them is if the elected body is identical to
the entire body of voters, which is obviously
There is necessarily a wasted near-quota of
votes that elects nobody when the Droop
quota is used, but use of the earlier, and now
quota simply concealed
that reality. Party
List systems impose an arbitrary exclusionary threshold
of votes below which parties are artificially
prevented from winning any seats. Numerous small
parties can be in that position, and with no
provision for voters to indicate other candidates or
parties that they want their votes transferred to if
they are initially insufficient to elect a
candidate, those parties' collective percentage of
votes - which can easily be larger than PR-STV's
wasted near-quota - is simply wasted.
Definition of PR using the Single Transferable Vote: Proportional Representation using the Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV) is an electoral system that has multi-member electorates in which the percentage of the total votes in each electorate that is required to elect each successful candidate (after any distribution of preferences of surplus votes or votes of candidates excluded during the count) is as close as practicable to the percentage that each member is of the total number of members representing that electorate. That percentage, the quota, is set such that the residue of votes after all quotas have been used to elect the prescribed number of candidates is just below a quota.
The Proportional Representation Society of Australia advocates using Single Transferable Vote PR systems, which is the broad basis of the system that Victoria's Local Government Act 1989 prescribes for elections in multi-councillor electoral districts. It opposes the use of party list systems, or even quasi party list systems, such as those now used for the City of Melbourne and for NSW local government, which employ the above-the-line and below-the-line device imposed on the Senate electoral system until 2016. The PRSA seeks to have direct election of all councillors prescribed, without any Group Voting Tickets or other party-based device, as applies for all Tasmanian and South Australian local government elections.
Party list systems were originally implemented when the South Australian Legislative Council and the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly first used PR, but in both cases public opinion rejected them and their inescapable character of placing the real power of deciding the people to be elected in the hands of political parties, which alone decide who will be on the lists, and the order they will appear on them, so they were replaced by PR-STV (quota-preferential) systems.
Need for Countback and Robson Rotation: Our letter to Victoria's municipal councils of 21st August 2003 urged them to call on the State Government to introduce the important additional features of countback and Robson Rotation, which greatly enhance the Hare-Clark PR-STV systems used in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory for the elections of their legislatures and municipal councillors, but are absent in New South Wales and South Australia.
A good background to the use of PR-STV (quota-preferential PR) is the history page on the PRSA website. The local government aspects are distinguished by being displayed in green text there.