Fairness and Equity: Notes 10

Prepared by:

Joseph Malkevitch
Department of Mathematics and Computer Studies
York College (CUNY)
Jamaica, New York 11451



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In considering election systems an important consideration to take into account is the "indirect" effects of the system chosen. Thus, one wants a system for conducting voting/elections/decision making which is sensible, rational, and fair. What are some of these indirect effects? One is the issue of how much diversity of opinion on issues the election system fosters. For example, the European (not including Great Britain) democracies such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, have many more national parties than does the United States, while England and many British speaking countries, like the United States have few national parties. This is because there is a fundamental difference between the way the electoral systems work in these other countries. In the Scandinavian countries, for example, the electoral system is based on a voting system that uses proportional representation in the Parliament. Thus, when people vote, say, in Sweden, they do not vote directly for particular individuals as representatives but rather for a party. This party creates a list of individuals, and when after an election it is determined how many members of this part there will be in the parliament, the number of individuals that party is entitled to is selected from the list provided by the party to serve as representations. If a party gets approximately 15 percent of the vote, the system used to assign seats is designed to give the party approximately 15 of the seats in the parliament. Some argue that the plurality system of voting that is used in America, though in many ways not a system that is sensitive to voter nuances, has the effect of limiting the number of parties in the House of Representatives. Other say just the opposite is the consequence of plurality voting. Namely, that it limits the diversity of representation that people can select.

Another indirect effect of an electoral system is the stability of the democratic institutions that it fosters. For example, if one examines the electoral politics of France, Italy, the Netherlands, etc., one finds quite dramatic differences between the number of government changes that occur in these countries. In an important book, The Political Consequences of Electoral Law (1971), Douglas Rae argues that there is a strong relationship between the electoral system a country chooses and the stability and nature of the governments that it has.