At-large Election Systems

With at-large systems, all voters can vote for all seats up for election (i.e. when electing five representatives, voters can vote for five candidates). Depending on the system, all candidates may run against one another, with the highest vote getters winning election, or candidates may run for individual, designated seats. In some cases, runoffs will be used to ensure that all winners have majority support, while in others it is possible to win with a simple plurality. At-large systems are used to elect city councils in Cincinnati, Detroit and Seattle, as well as many other municipal and county governments. Other bodies, including the Maryland Statehouse, divide land up into multi-member districts, from which representatives are elected at large.

At-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, and in consequence typically result in racially and politically homogenous elected bodies. From this perspective, they are even worse than district systems, where it is possible to draw individual districts where political, racial or ethnic minority groups can control individual seats. At-large systems have frequently been struck down under the Voting Rights Act for not providing communities of color with fair representation.