Italy changed its electoral law in 2017, with a simple majority vote in the parliament. It strikes me as peculiar and dangerous that it is relatively easy for the ruling party to change "the rules of the game" in a fundamental matter. It looks like this possibility can easily be abused, for instance by altering thresholds to enforce a two-party system and effectively remove many competitors from the race.

How easy it is to change fundamentally the basic electoral laws in other countries? Let us refer to the major Western democracies, for instance, to keep the question more focused. For instance, to turn a proportional system into a majority first-past-the-post system? Is the electoral system usually defined in the constitution? Does the change require a popular vote?

I know about gerrymandering, but I am more interested in the possibility of altering the rules on a more basic level, not merely redesigning districts.

  • 1
    I'm not sure if the question is too broad by asking about many different countries at once. As for the actual question, are you asking about referendums (instead of reference)?
    – JJJ
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 15:46
  • @JJJ I have reworded that sentence; I didn't mean to ask about referendums. I realize that the question is broad, but my goal is precisely understanding if this approach is common in many other countries, so I cannot make it more specific --- I hope it is still deemed on topic. Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


There is no general answer.

In the USA the constitution only requires elections to the House and the Senate. It doesn't give details on the method of elections, though federal law requires that states don't use a proportional system.

The UK has no written constitution, and the electoral system could be changed by Parliament, but (recent) convention would require a referendum to change. A referendum was held in 2013, and the population voted against changing to an "alternative vote" system.

The Dutch constitution requires that "The members of both Houses shall be elected by proportional representation within the limits to be laid down by Act of Parliament." There are several systems of PR, it seems that any of these could be chosen.

Doubtless, there are other possible ways of writing a constitution. However, the language in most constitutions only requires some form of democracy; it leaves the details to the duly elected government.

  • 2
    "though federal law requires that states don't use a proportional system." That may be true in effect, but what it actually prohibits is multimember districts. It might be difficult to have a proportional system without multimember districts, but if they found a way, that wouldn't be prohibited. Also, the point wasn't to ban proportional systems but to ban systems where all the representatives were elected by the whole state, as that could be used to restrict minority participation. It's just that the law as written would block STV, party list, etc. as an incidental result.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 20:31
  • 2
    Absolutly correct. I don't know of any way of having single member constituencies and proportional representation, so it comes to the same thing. You are right that the reason was not to ban PR, but that is the effect. AV would be permitted, but AV isn't PR.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 21:54
  • It is also important to notes that very few countries have constitutions that are as difficult to amend as the U.S. Constitution. Many national constitutions are almost as easy to amend as the constitution of a typical U.S. state, something that is only modestly more difficult than passing ordinary legislation.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 0:54
  • @JamesK New Zealand had (and perhaps still does have) MPs predominantly elected from singe member constituencies and then awards bonus seats to get PR, might not work for Congress. Multimember districts for Congress were possible and were regularly used in the U.S. prior to 1967 (they certainly aren't unconstitutional) and federal law does not prohibit STV or AV and indeed Maine held a STV vote for Congress in 2018, and STV or AV has the same incentives for voters as PR (which differs from first past the post). U.S. federal law also doesn't prohibit PR in state and local elections.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 1:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .