The Parliamentary Library has decided to republish the paper on electoral systems written in 1989 by Gerard Newman. The paper is concerned with the mechanics of translating votes into seats as well as the consequences of using particular systems. It does not cover other aspects of the electoral process such as electoral administration, franchise arrangements, candidate selection, the role of parties, electoral funding or manipulation of the electoral process.
The purpose of an electoral system is to translate the will of the electorate, as expressed through the ballot box, into members of a legislative body. The ways this can be achieved are many and varied. Electoral systems throughout the world range from very simple First-past-the-post systems to quite complex arrangements using parts of different systems.
Broadly speaking, the function of converting votes into legislative seats can be achieved by a plurality of votes, a majority of votes or proportionally. Thus there are three main categories of electoral systems: plurality, majoritarian and proportional representation. There are also systems that are a mix of features of two or more systems.
Some writers use the term ‘electoral system’ to mean all the structures and operations that are used to run an election. The means for drawing up of electoral boundaries, the qualification of voters and candidates, the method of voting and the means of settling disputes would thus all be included, as would the administrative structure used to oversee the entire electoral process. Many others, however, use the term quite specifically to describe the voting method itself. This is the way in which the term is used in this Parliamentary Library Research Brief.