Fair Voting/Proportional Representation


Fair representation voting (sometimes called "proportional representation" and "proportional voting") describes a range of voting methods in which like-minded voters elect candidates in proportion to their share of the vote. That is, in a five-seat district, like-minded voters with 20% of votes will win one out of five seats and like-minded voters with 51% of the vote will win three of five seats. When described as proportional representation, fair voting is most well-known for its use in many European countries with party-based systems and a parliamentary form of government. But forms of fair voting can be used in nonpartisan elections and "parliamentary system" describes the structure of government rather than how that government is elected. Fair voting is used in nearly all major, well-established democracies.

As applied to the United States, fair representation voting typically describes candidate-based systems currently used in the U.S.: choice voting, cumulative voting and the one vote form of limited voting. Of these methods, choice voting (known internationally as the single transferable vote) is the method most likely to provide fair representation to voters.  In the United States, choice voting is used in local elections in Cambridge (MA) and some local offices in Minneapolis (MN). Cumulative voting and limited voting are used for some local elections in Peoria (IL), Amarillo (TX), Hartford (CT) and many other smaller localities

Fair Voting in the United States

us fair voting

Fair voting has a long history in U.S. elections and is currently used in local jurisdictions throughout the nation. Because fair voting helps to ensure fair representation of racial minorities, it has been used to resolve many cases brought under the Voting Rights Act. Illinois elected its house of representatives by fair voting from 1870 to 1980. At-large ranked choice voting in particular has been used in some two dozen cities, including Cincinatti, Cleveland, and New York City.

Proportional Representation Around the World


Proportional representation is the most popular method for electing national legislatures in democracies around the world. For information on international use of proportional representation, see:


Fair Representation Spotlight: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge, Massachusetts has used the at-large form of ranked choice voting, a form of fair representation voting, to elect its City Council and School Committee since 1941. This system allows groups of like-minded voters to elect representatives in proportion to their share of the population, and has ensured fair representation of the city's political and ethnic minority groups. In February 2014, FairVote published a report on the effects this system had on the city's elections in 2013, and an op-ed in the Cambridge Chronicle discussing the use of fair representation voting in the city. See the links below for more information on fair representation voting in Cambridge.

  • See FairVote's overview of elections in Cambridge.
  • Fair representation voting has ensured consistent representation of minority groups in Cambridge.
  • Data on voter satisfaction in Cambridge shows that on average, over 90% of the city's voters elect a first or second choice candidate.
  • Analysis of the once controversial issue of rent control in Cambridge illustrates how the city's electoral system has ensured fair representation of political minority groups on the City Council.

Choice Voting

Choice voting is a proportional voting system where voters maximize the effectiveness of their vote by ranking candidates in multi-seat constituencies, and is FairVote's preferred system for use in the United States.

Districts Plus

For those who like local, geographic-based representation, Districts Plus (known internationally as Mixed Member Proportional Representation) is a particularly attractive fair voting system. It makes every vote in every district meaningful in every election and ensures that the party that receives the most votes wins the most seats.