As the term "semi-proportional" implies, these voting systems occupy a space somewhere between plurality-majority systems and proportional representation systems. They were originally invented to try to solve some of the problems of plurality-majority voting, particularly the misrepresentation of parties and the lack of representation for political and ethnic minorities. In general, these voting systems tend to produce somewhat fairer representation that plurality-majority systems, but less fair representation than fully proportional systems like mixed-member PR and choice voting.
Two kinds of semiproportional systems are described below: limited voting and cumulative voting. Both of these are variations of the at-large voting system described in the section on plurality-majority voting. Like at-large voting, these two systems use multi-member districts and voters have multiple votes. But some modifications are made that dampen the winner-take-all characteristics of at-large voting and that usually result in a more proportional allocation of seats among parties.
Because semiproportional systems are often considered inferior to fully proportional systems, they find little use worldwide. No country uses the cumulative vote to elect their national legislature, and the limited vote is only used in Spain to elects its senate. However, these two systems have been used occasionally on the local level in this country. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a resurgence of interest in the cumulative vote, primarily among those interested in finding new ways to ensure fair representation for racial and ethnic minorities. Several towns and counties have now adopted cumulative voting in a response to these voting rights concerns.
In the United States, cumulative voting (CV) is the most talked about form of semiproportional voting. This is largely because voting rights advocates have expressed a growing interest in this form of voting. And in response to voting rights suits, several local areas have abandoned plurality-majority systems and adopted cumulative voting. CV is now used in several cities and counties in Alabama to elect their legislative bodies. It is also used in Amarillo and several other cities and towns in Texas to elect either their local school boards or city councils.
Interestingly, the most common use of cumulative voting in the United States is not in the public sector, but in the private sector. It is used for the election of boards of directors in hundreds of corporations. In fact, six state constitutions mandate this form of voting for corporate boards, and many other states allow its use for this purpose. The aim is to allow minority stockholders to elect some representatives to these governing bodies.
How It Works. The cumulative vote is really just a variation of at-large voting. Candidates run in multi-member districts. Voters have as many votes as there are seats. Voters cast their votes for individual candidates and the winners are the ones with the most votes. The major difference is that voters may "cumulate" or combine their votes on one or more candidates instead of having to cast one vote for each candidate. In other words, voters may distribute their votes among the candidates in any way they prefer. For example, in elections for the county commission in Chilton County, Alabama, voters have seven votes to use to elect the seven commissioners. Voters can cast all seven for one candidate, one vote for each of seven candidates, four for one and three for another, or any other combination they desire.
As illustrated in the ballot below, the ballot for the cumulative vote resembles somewhat the one used for at-large voting. However, it has spaces for voters to cast multiple votes for each candidate. This example shows a computer readable ballot for the election of three officeholders to a city council. Voters fill in a square for each vote that they want to give to a candidate--up to a total of three for all the candidates. Computing the results in cumulative voting is straightforward: the candidates with the most votes win.
Cumulative Vote Ballot
Political attributes. Cumulative voting tends to yield more proportional representation of parties than plurality-majority systems. Political and racial minorities also have a better chance of fair representation under this system. On the other hand, cumulative voting is usually less proportional than fully proportional systems like choice voting and mixed-member PR. And at times, political and racial minorities may be denied representation entirely -- especially if these groups nominate too many candidates. The main problem is that this system is inconsistent in its results: sometimes producing proportional results and wasting few votes, and other times producing grossly disproportional results and wasting many votes. Proponents of PR believe that their system is a more reliable way to maximize effective votes and produce fair representation for all political groups.
The limited vote (LV) is another variation of at-large voting. Worldwide it is rarely used, with only Spain employing it to elect its Senate. In the United States, several cities and towns, mostly in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have used the limited vote for many years--again primarily to ensure some representation for political minorities. More recently, 21 towns in Alabama adopted limited voting to settle voting rights suits.
How It Works. The limited vote works almost exactly the same way as at-large voting. Candidates run in a multi-member district. People have multiple votes and vote for individual candidates. The winners are the candidates with the most votes. The crucial difference is that voters have fewer votes than the number of seats to be elected. The number of votes can vary, the only rule being that they must be fewer than the seats. For example, in a seven-seat district, voters might have five votes, or three, or even one, though the most usual arrangement is for voters to have one or two fewer votes than seats.
The limited vote ballot is virtually identical to those used in at-large voting, as illustrated in the example below. In this example, voters are electing three members of the legislature and they are given two votes. Counting the ballots and determining the winner is very straightforward: the winners are the candidates with the most votes.
Limited Vote Ballot
Political attributes. Limited voting has the same general advantages and disadvantages of cumulative voting. It tends to yield more proportional representation of parties than plurality-majority systems. Political and racial minorities also have a better chance of fair representation under this system. On the other hand, limited voting is usually less proportional than fully proportional systems like choice voting and mixed-member PR. And at times, political and racial minorities may be denied representation entirely -- especially if these groups nominate too many candidates. The main problem is that this system is inconsistent in its results: sometimes producing proportional results and wasting few votes, and other times producing grossly disproportional results and wasting many votes. Proponents of PR believe that their system is a more reliable way to maximize effective votes and produce fair representation for all political groups.