Mixed Member Systems

Mixed member voting systems are growing in popularity around the world as a method of proportional voting for determining the makeup of a legislative chamber. Under mixed member proportional systems (MMP), individuals cast two votes: one for their local district representative and one for their party of choice. This system ensures that people have representatives of their specific district or neighborhood in the legislature who should be primarily concerned with local issues and concerns. In addition to this local representation, MMP makes sure the party that has the most support nation- or region-wide also has a majority of seats in the legislature.

With MMP, a certain number of seats in the legislature are set aside for district representatives. Another set of seats is held reserved for individual parties. These seats are used as “accountability seats” to compensate for unfair and unbalanced partisan results in the district elections. Under the MMP system, voters first cast a vote for their favored local district representative. These representatives are elected under a winner-take-all system, where the candidate with a plurality of votes, regardless of party, is elected to the district’s single seat. This is the same as the current system used in the majority of elections throughout the United States. The difference emerges with the second vote, the vote for the party list. This vote is on a national or regional level with multi-seat districts. Voters cast ballots for a specific party, usually with a list of candidates, rather than for individual candidates as in the district elections. This party vote is then used to allocate the accountability seats among the various parties. In some cases, a party must win a minimum threshold of the list vote in order to be allocated seats in addition to whatever district seats it may have won. If the threshold is met, seats are divided among the parties so that the total number of seats a party holds in the legislature (the seats gained from districts won as well as the party list seats) is proportional to the percentage of the party vote won.

For many years, West Germany was the only nation to employ the use of MMP in its elections, having adopted the system after World War II. Today, however, MMP is currently in use in several countries and locations worldwide, including Scotland, Wales, and New Zealand. It has been recommended for elections in Ontario, Canada, and a modified form of MMP has also been proposed as a method for electing Britain’s House of Commons.

MMP systems have often been chosen or recommended in these locations because they allow for greater accountability and more fair representation in a legislature, particularly in a two-party electoral system. The district vote ensures that people have local representatives they can take their concerns to, representatives that are supposed to be focusing on the issues of their local constituencies. The party list vote ensures that parties are represented in the legislature proportional to the degree of support they enjoy in the broader community. Another advantage of MMP is that it encourages increased political participation among voters and candidates, including increased voter turnout and more widespread campaigning. For example, a voter may live in a district that leans heavily to a political party that he or she may not agree with, but due to the party list vote, that voter still has an opportunity to bolster his or her preferred party’s standing in the legislature. Because of this, parties and campaigns will spend more time in a greater variety of locations, rather than concentrating their time in a handful of “battleground” competitive areas and ignoring the locations that are considered to have a majority made up of any one party.

FairVote advocates that independent redistricting commissions be empowered to consider mixed member systems, also known as "districts plus" and the "Michigan Plan," as a reform to enhance non-partisan redistricting.

[ More on "districts plus" from FairVote's redistricting pages ]

Mixed Member News
September 23rd 2005
Female 'ninjas' steal Koizumi's limelight
Asia Times Online

Article discussing record number of women elected to the Japanese parliament, after recent proportional representation elections.

September 21st 2005
New Zealand election stalemate exposes deep social divisions
Asian Tribune

Analysis of New Zealand's recent parliamentary elections using the Mixed Member form of proportional voting, as well as the political polarization revealed in the results.

September 21st 2005
The German Elections as a Victory for Democracy
Political Affairs

Commentary on fair representation and voter choice aspects of Germany's 2005 parliamentary elections.

September 19th 2005
Mixed Fortunes for Conservatives in Weekend Cliffhanger Elections
Cybercast News Service

New Zealand's recent elections using the Mixed Member form of Proportional Voting yielded a divided result with neither of the major parties obtaining a majority.

September 18th 2005
Official results from Germany elections
Seattle Post Intelligencer

Results of Germany's 2005 parliamentary elections, using the Additional Member form of proportional voting.

June 1st 1996
The Progressive Case for Proportional Representation
Social Policy

Extended commentary from FairVote's Rob Richie and New America Foundation's Steven Hill discusses the implications of proportional representation for progressives.

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