Party List Proportional Representation

In Party List systems, seats in parliament closely match how many votes each party receives, but there is often a weaker constituency link.

Party List PR

Party Lists are the most popular way to elect representatives in the world, with more than 80 countries using a variation of this system to elect their parliament.

"Party list systems can be very proportional, but if voters can't pick their representatives, the politicians don't have a strong link with their voters"

Electoral Reform Society

How to vote

Rather than electing one person per area, in Party List systems each area is bigger and elects a group of MPs that closely reflect the way the area voted. At the moment we have 650 constituencies, each electing 1 Member of Parliament (MP); under a Party List system we might have 26 constituencies each electing 25 MPs.

There are three main ways to vote in Party List elections in use around the world.

Closed List: Each party publishes a list of candidates for each area. On polling day the ballot paper just has a list of parties. Voters mark the party they support. This is the system used in Great Britain to elect members of the European Parliament.

In this system, a party gets seats roughly in proportion to its vote, and seats are filled by the party depending on an order they choose.

"While closed party-list PR is very proportional, they empower parties rather than voters by giving them control over who is elected"

Electoral Reform Society

Open List: On the ballot paper, each party has a list of candidates. In some open-list systems voters must vote for an individual candidate. In others, voters can choose between voting for a party or their choice of candidate.

Votes for a candidate make that candidate more likely to be in the party’s group of MPs that get elected. A vote for a candidate is counted as a vote for their party when it is decided how many seats each party should receive. This means it is possible for a vote for a candidate to help a candidate a voter dislikes, if that candidate is popular with the supporters of the rest of their party.

Semi-Open List: In a semi-open list voters are presented with a ballot like that of an open-list system.

The difference comes at the counting stage. Generally speaking voting for a party is taken as an endorsement of the party’s order and candidates are then elected in an order chosen by the party.

However with enough votes candidates can be elected out of order, though this is rare.

Counting the votes

There are two main methods of allocating seats in party-list elections. The D’Hondt method, which slightly favours larger parties and the Sainte-Laguë method which doesn’t.

Features and Effects

Countries with party-list PR tend to have lots of parties as list systems are highly proportionate. This means that coalition is often the norm. Many countries use legal thresholds, generally 4 or 5% to stop parties with very low support winning seats. With a lower barrier to entry, new parties can start and be successful if the larger parties do not understand new social issues.

It is possible to have party-lists with either very large or smaller constituencies. For instance, in the Netherlands and Israel the entire country is one big constituency. In other countries smaller constituencies are used. For instance in Finland and Spain provinces are used.

The advantage of smaller constituencies is that MPs are closer to local issues, as different areas will have different problems. But constituencies with fewer MPs are also less proportionate. A constituency with 5 MPs provides fewer opportunities for a smaller party than one with 20.

Closed-lists, in particular, tend to provide excellent opportunities for the election of more diverse candidates because parties can balance their candidates over larger areas.

Independents tend to do poorly under party-lists, who often have to create a list of one. If they win more votes than they need to get elected these votes are wasted.