Alright, this is something I've thought about for a while with respect to comparisons between the German and British or Australian and Estonian electoral systems. Some of these are fairly simple to understand (say the French or British double or single FPTP) while others -- such as the German double list representatives which also get rebalanced in the end (I may have misunderstood this, but that's not the point) -- are less so. The Dutch and Estonian D'Hondt formula options go under this as well in my mind, because I don't think that it is easily understandable for the voting person to know who is actually likely to end up in the parliament even if the final composition of the parliament is more in line with the national voting tendencies.

And as it also seems that the German/Dutch systems are more representative of the people (if the criteria of representativeness is the number of votes cast to the number of seats in the parliament) than the generic Westminster systems, I would like to know if you can think of any examples which are contrary to this where a simple and easily understandable system provides a country with a representative government (based on the criterion above of seats in the parliament being roughly equivalent to the proportion of votes they received).

I'll add to the end that the German system feels the fairest to me based on this criterion, but I still don't understand it though I've done some in depth reading on the principle of re-allocation of seats. Also, their majority parties do get at times a considerably higher proportion of seats than their overall vote share (if I've read it right) so this is probably not objectively correct when compared with all the possible examples (which I have not done).

As a second addendum, I would note that such a system would not necessarily have to be effective. I think it is understandable that with an increasing number of parties in a parliament, the ability to govern with less parties decreases as has been illustrated in history (several European countries in the 1920's). However, the effectiveness of the resultant government is not a part of this question though be interesting to consider additionally.

1 Answer 1


Does representativeness have to come at the cost of inherent complexity?

Not necessarily. Direct democracy, where people vote directly on issues, is simple and perfectly representative. It comes at the cost of time though. People have to take the time to vote, and people really should take the time to familiarize themselves with the issues. The issues of course can be complex, but then so is voting for representatives.

Proxy democracy, where you give a representative your proxy or vote, is representative and not much more complex than first-past-the-post or direct democracy. You choose from a list of potential representatives and your choice gets as many votes in the legislature as voted for her. So if the choices are Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Gary Johnson, Clinton would have almost three million more votes than Trump and Johnson would often be able to be the tiebreaking vote.

Sampled democracy, where a random sample of people vote directly on issues, is at least as representative as something like party list proportional representation. It's pretty simple. Pick names out of a (really big) hat. Or just let a computer do the picking. As representatives, the sample can take more time to understand the issues than someone who is also working full time. And it doesn't require the intermediate complexity of determining which representatives will best match your views.

The problem that arises is that there are always things that are unfair or inconvenient about any system. So there is a tendency to try to fix those things. Fixing an existing system makes it more complicated. To get simplicity, you have to switch to another system. For example, a truly random sample might not be demographically representative. So they might fix it by picking from three hats instead of one, which is of course more complicated.

This sounds like what you're seeing with the German system. Someone pointed out that it would be better if you could ... and so they added more to the system to allow that. But that makes the system more complex.

  • I suppose I should have clarified that I was only thinking of representative ones; as I didn't, you are right in that a direct democracy is obviously both simple and straightforward. Although other than Switzerland (and even there they have representatives), is there any place which actually uses direct democracy in a considerable degree? I like your answer though - clear and succinct in the fact that there are a lot of methods for what I asked, just possibly less considered in daily lives.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 10:05

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