Electoral system

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An electoral system or electoral procedure is a formalized method to a choice set,

  • which option is presented to the eligible voters and
  • How to deduce from the valid votes to which candidates offices are to be assigned.

Voting systems are used, for example, in politics, in clubs and when awarding prizes in sport.

Major electoral systems are majority voting and proportional representation . They are available in numerous variations. In Switzerland and in some specialist literature, the terms major and proportional are used . - A combination of both systems is the personalized proportional representation to the German Bundestag .


Electoral systems can favor or disadvantage individual parties. When it comes to discussion of electoral system issues, the parties often argue in line with their own interests: “The right to vote is also the right to power”. When the electoral system for the Bundestag was discussed in West Germany in 1948/49, the CDU / CSU was in favor of a majority electoral system, while the FDP favored a proportional representation system, because as a small party it would probably have suffered serious disadvantages in a majority electoral system. However, it must always be kept in mind that the electoral system is only one factor in the formation of party systems. Duverger's law , according to which a majority electoral system only allows two parties to exist, can at best be a well-founded assumption - which in reality has often been refuted.

An electoral system is judged according to which objective functions it meets. These objective functions can be:

  • Proportionality or representation: The electoral system should reflect the will of the voters without distortion. All votes should be the same not only in the count, but also in the success value.
  • Concentration or stability: The electoral system should ensure the formation of a stable government by forcing a majority of one party (or a fixed party alliance) (“manufactured majority”). The electorate should be able to decide directly on the formation of the government and not the parties in their negotiations after the election.
  • Simplicity: A system that is not understood by most voters can lead to votes that do not match the will of the voters.

The first two objective functions in particular contradict each other. Many political ideas live side by side in society and want to be represented by parties in parliament; the resulting diversity of parties makes it difficult to form a government. The majority vote corresponds to the objective function of stable government formation (concentration), the proportional representation to representation.

Traditionally, electoral systems are described as either majority voting, proportional representation or a mixed (or also: combined) system. When one speaks of majority voting, one generally means the relative majority election in single-electoral districts, in the case of proportional representation the so-called pure proportional representation. You can think of it as the two poles of one and the same axis: In this form of majority vote, the country is divided into as many constituencies as there should be seats in parliament. One candidate is elected per constituency. In pure proportional representation, the whole country is one constituency; since several seats have to be allocated in this one, one uses election lists of the individual parties. There are systems between the two poles in which the country is divided into several multi-person constituencies. This classification of the electoral systems does not necessarily correspond to that according to the objective function.

Typology according to Nohlen

Dieter Nohlen divides the electoral systems into five majority and five proportional representation systems, emphasizing that other systems can be found that cannot easily be assigned to these ten types.

Majority voting systems:

  • Relative majority voting in single-constituencies, for example in Great Britain
  • Absolute majority vote in single-constituencies, for example in France
  • Majority voting with minority representation, such as non-transferable individual voting , single nontransferable vote (SNTV)
  • Majority election in small multi-person constituencies
  • Majority election with proportional additional list, including a segmented voting system such as the ditch voting system

Proportional voting systems, also according to Nohlen:

Electoral process

These procedures can also be used to simultaneously elect several mandate holders with equal rights; this is the special case in which the rank remains unused. The occupation of a single office is another special case; this is applicable, for example, to majority elections and for the election of a mayor. (Even where the description of an electoral process says that the process is used to determine a single winner, the penultimate winner can be seen in second place.)

See also

supporting documents

  1. Ernst Gottfried Mahrenholz: All voters are the same, some remain the same. In: faz.net. May 18, 2011, accessed December 11, 2014 .
  2. Dieter Nohlen: Suffrage and Party System, 3rd Edition, Opladen Leske and Budrich 2000.


  • Wolfgang Ernst: Small voting primer. Guidelines for the assembly , Neue Zürcher Zeitung book publisher, Zurich, 2011, ISBN 978-3-03823-717-4
  • Dieter Nohlen: Suffrage and party system, 4th edition, Opladen Leske and Budrich 2004.
  • Dieter Nohlen : electoral systems in the world. Data and analysis. A Piper Handbook , 1978, ISBN 3-492-02277-4 .
  • Hendrik Träger: The effects of the electoral system: eleven model calculations with the results of the 2013 Bundestag election, in: Journal for Parliamentary Questions, Volume 44 (2013), no. 4, pp. 741–758.

Web links

Wiktionary: voting system  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations