Proportional Representation Library

The Proportional Representation Library is a source of information on proportional representation elections -- including beginning readings, in-depth articles by scholars and activists, and an extensive bibliography. This library has been created by Professor Douglas J. Amy, Department of Politics, Mount Holyoke College.

This library is for citizens, activists, politicians, students and anyone else who wants to learn more about proportional representation elections (PR).  PR is probably the best political reform that most Americans have never heard of.  It is the voting system used in the vast majority of advanced Western democracies and it is widely considered to be fairer, more inclusive, and more democratic than the winner-take-all voting system we currently use in the United States.  Adopting PR would help to solve many of the problems currently afflicting American elections, including low turnout, gerrymandering, the two-party monopoly, and the underrepresentation of women and minorities.

Beginning Readings: Those of you who are new to the issue of proportional representation might want to start with the beginning readings, which provide an overview of how proportional representation voting works,  why it is superior to our current voting system, a general guide to voting systems, and a glossary of terms used in the discussion of voting systems.

Books: Several excellent books on proportional representation have been published, and they are essential reading for those who want an in-depth understanding of the issues involved in this electoral reform.  Descriptions of these books and ordering information can be found in this section of the site.

Online Resources: Those who already have some knowledge of the basics of PR might want to read these online articles by various scholars, political commentators, and activists. These pieces not only discuss the issues surrounding this election reform, but also explore some of the history of PR in the U.S., its effects on gerrymandering, the representation of women and racial minorities, its policy implications, etc. There is also a list of websites of organizations working to promote this reform.  

Bibliography: Many of the most useful articles written about PR, especially those written by scholars, are not readily available on the Web.  However, these can be found by consulting the extensive bibliography on this site. It contains citations to dozens of articles and books that can be found at any good library or ordered through inter-library loan.

 

Click on a topic to begin.

Beginning Readings

If you are relatively new to the issue of proportional representation and the workings of voting systems, you will want to start your readings here. These articles contain basic information about what voting systems are, what proportional representation is, what the many advantages of proportional representation voting are, and how various proportional representation voting systems work. There is also some useful background material, including a glossary of terms and a survey on the basic kinds of voting systems.

"Should I Be Interested in Proportional Representation?" 
A brief survey to see if proportional representation addresses some of your own political concerns about elections in the United States.

"What is Proportional Representation and Why Do We Need this Reform?" 
Essential reading explaining how proportional representation would cure some of the serious shortcoming of American elections, and exactly why it is superior to our current voting system.

"How Does Proportional Representation Work?" 
A brief explanation of how various forms of proportional representation work, illustrated with ballots.

"How Can I Help Promote Proportional Representation?"
Ideas for how you can get involved in encouraging this political reform.

"Types of Voting Systems" 
A brief survey of the full range of available voting systems, including plurality-majority systems, proportional systems, and semi-proportional systems.

Glossary of Terms 
Specific terminology is used in the discussion of and analysis of voting systems. If you come across in your readings a term you don't understand, look it up here.

Books on Proportional Representation

If you are interested in a more complete and extended analysis of the issues surrounding PR, you may want to order some of the following books. Click on these entries to see more information on these books and how to order them.

  • Douglas J. Amy, Real Choices/New Voices: How Proportional Representation Elections Could Revitalize American Democracy (Second Edition) This remains the definitive book on the subject.  This newly revised edition explains how PR would ensure fair representation for all voters, eradicate gerrymandering, encourage issue-oriented campaigns, break the two-party monopoly, give fairer representation for women and minorities, and encourage higher voter turnout. From Columbia University Press. 

  • Steven Hill, Fixing Elections:  The Failure of America's Winner-Take-All Politics.  An incisive, provocative, and very readable critique of single-member plurality elections.  Hill chronicles all the various ways that this winner-take-all approach undermines democracy in the U.S. and identifies proportional representation as the most effective solution to these problems.

  • Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan, and David Brockington, Electoral Reform and Minority Representation: Local Experiments with Alternative Elections. A very useful and well-done study published by Ohio State University Press.  The authors examine the results of a semi-proportional form of elections -- cumulative voting -- which is now used in several dozen cities and counties in the U.S.   Not surprisingly, they find that this alternative is a better way to ensure fair representation for racial and ethnic minorities than our current winner-take-all system.

  • Kathleen Barber, A Right to Representation: Proportional Election Systems for the Twenty-first Century.  In this book, an outgrowth of her earlier Proportional Representation and Electoral Reform in Ohio, Barber explores the origins of PR systems, explains their use and adaptability, and supplies empirical evidence of how they actually work in practice.

  • Douglas J. Amy, Behind the Ballot Box:  A Citizen's Guide to Voting Systems. A comprehensive and objective guide to all voting systems, this books includes not only information about proportional representation voting systems, but also semi-proportional systems, and the plurality/majority voting systems that are currently used in the U.S.  The book also includes a set of  criteria for evaluating voting systems, an explanation of the workings of each system, and a discussion of their various political advantages and disadvantages.

  • Robert Richie and Steven Hill,  Whose Vote Counts?  The authors, both from the Center for Voting and Democracy, argue that  we need a new way of electing our representatives to combat voter apathy and the leveling of political views.  That new way is proportional representation.  Leading activists and scholars, including Cynthia McKinney, John Ferejohn, and Daniel Cantor, respond. Harvard law professor Lani Guinier writes the foreword. 

  • Mark E. Rush and Richard L. Engstrom , Fair and Effective Representation?  Debating Electoral Reform and Minority Rights.  While the primary focus of this book is on the use of electoral reform to better represent racial and ethnic minorities, it turns into a wider debate about the whether proportional representation is preferable to single-member district plurality elections in the United States.

  • Henry Milner (editor), Making Every Vote Count: Reassessing Canada's Electoral System.   A collection of articles critically examining Canada's current first-past-the-post electoral system and the case made for switching to proportional representation.  

  • Nick Loenen, Citizenship and Democracy:  A Case for Proportional Representation.Canada is another country burdened with the winner-take-all approach to elections. This book argues persuasively for the adoption of PR and considers the effect it might have on Canadian politics.

 

Online Resources on Proportional Representation

For those familiar with the basics of PR, here is a selection of online pieces written by scholars, political commentators, and activists that address some of the various political issues surrounding this electoral reform. The articles are divided into the topic areas listed below.

References to additional articles and books on each of these topics can be found in the Bibliography.

 

Bibliography on Proportional Representation

This bibliography contains references to published materials on the issue of proportional representation elections -- focusing primarily on the United States. Many of these articles and books are by scholars in the field of electoral systems, and contain more reliable information and deeper analysis than is often found in readily available on-line sources.  If you are really serious about learning about PR, you need to delve into these sources.  Do not be put off by what might appear to be dated materials.  The evidence and arguments in these sources are still valid today.

The bibliography is divided into the sections listed below. Individual entries may appear in more than one section.

Contents:

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