The US Electoral College is getting a fair bit of criticism for letting the US Presidency be decided, recurrently, with less than 50% for the winner.

However, it seems to me that at least some other countries have arrangements that are expressly put in place, rightly or wrongly, to stop really "big parts of the country" from deciding politics on behalf of "little parts of the country".

For example, wiki on the Japanese parliament has this to say:

For example, the Liberal Democratic Party had controlled Japan for most of its post-war history, and it gained much of its support from rural areas. During the post-war era, large numbers of people were relocating to the urban centers in the seeking of wealth; though some re-apportionments have been made to the number of each prefecture's assigned seats in the Diet, rural areas generally have more representation than do urban areas.[6]

Canada's Senate has this to say:

Like most other upper houses worldwide, the Canadian formula does not use representation by population as a primary criterion for member selection, since this is already done for the House of Commons. Rather, the intent when the formula was struck was to achieve a balance of regional interests and to provide a house of "sober second thought" to check the power of the lower house when necessary.

Now, I totally realize that the intent of the Electoral College as a sober 2nd thought, well removed from flighty and emotional citizens is dated. And also that the pure logistics of a country-wide count are not an issue, as they may have been at first. I also realize that a senate/parliament seat is not the same thing as choosing a powerful Presidency.

But it seems to me that measures expressly put in place to favor smaller constituencies are not totally unusual and that, in a federal system, smaller states (in the US sense of the term)/provinces may sometimes insist on, and get, outsized representation.

Do any countries have similar arrangements in place for positions equivalent to POTUS?

(To clarify: similar to POTUS means powerful head of state in this case, with real powers, whether a PM or President. Doesn't have to be a direct vote or even a really federal system - systems like Canada's, UK, etc are fine - results ridings still determine who gets the top job. If those ridings are not roughly allotted by population, then that gives some more voting power )

p.s. Obviously, past arrangements like slaves counting for 3/5th of a free person are obscene. Neither am I expressing support for, or criticism against, the Electoral College, I am mostly wondering if it is an uniquely American phenomenon to adjust pure numerical vote counts.

The intent here is very much to examine whether frequent concerns that the POTUS can get elected with significantly less than a majority of votes is a uniquely American phenomenon. It is not to debate the nuances of parliamentary systems compares to republics, PMs vs Presidents, or the like, merely to see if there is something unique to the disenfranchisement concerns voiced by some US voters.

p.p.s. I had a, now deleted, comment about ruling out arrangements like Lebanon's because those arrangements, while they can be useful, do not really correspond to normal vote counting systems because the outcome is predetermined. (Please don't delete comments that pertain to the actual intent of a question even if I really should have put it back in here).

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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: Any system that uses multi-level representation is going to have imbalances; no system is ever perfectly representative. I imagine the appointment of the President of the European Commission shows similar imbalances, due to vagaries of population density and voter turnout across the EU, though that wouldn't be by design. Aug 25, 2020 at 1:58
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    @BrianZ The Canadian Senate, though given as an example, is out of scope here, because they don't choose the head of government. Not so sure your distinction matters so much in Japan, if they end up choosing the PM. If you have 201 members of parliament, and majority gets PM, but ridings aren't reasonably close to 1 per 201th of population, and have some kind of special predetermined allotment going on, yes, that's in the scope of this question. Aug 25, 2020 at 2:12
  • @TedWrigley good point. I've added intentionally to the title to make it clear that I am looking for cases designed from the get go to give more say per head to some. And... voter turnout? Totally, totally out of scope. Can't complain about your representation if you don't bother to vote, though you certainly can if you are blocked from voting, but that's a different question entirely. Also, Presidency of the EU or the like isn't voting for the head of government of one country. Aug 25, 2020 at 2:16
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: That last is kind of what I was pointing out with the 'multi-level representation' line. The Electoral College is designed to represent the interests of both citizens and states; the PEC elections also have to represent both popular interests of EU citizens and the separate interests of EU member states. Trying to represent both levels at once creates overlap headaches. I don't know enough about the EU to know how they thought through that issue, but they assuredly did. Aug 25, 2020 at 2:25
  • Not many countries have a position equivalent to POTUS to begin with (elected president/head of state with real powers and no connection to the parliament) so that limits the pool of potential candidates. Maybe in South America?
    – Relaxed
    Aug 25, 2020 at 10:12

3 Answers 3


Only a few countries allocate power territorially, although some of those examples are important ones, and there is no equivalent to the Electoral College anywhere in the world (although some countries have a President elected by Parliament).

This said, not every country has terribly up to date reapportionment and redistricting (the U.K. for example, did this on an ad hoc basis for most of its history rather than with any fixed and regular scheduled or process, with Japan constituting another example) and apportionment is often a matter of rough justice.

Generically, the idea to represent territory rather than population is an idea that primarily makes sense in a bicameral federal system which is fairly rare, although there are important examples of it. And, it only matters in bicameral federal systems in which both houses of the legislature share significant legislative power.

There are eleven countries besides the U.S. that allocate significant political power on a territorial basis, all but three of which did so to emulate the U.S. Constitution and/or out of historical ties to the U.K.

Argentina, Brazil, South Sudan, Nigeria and Russia have an upper house similar to the U.S., but a directly elected President (although South Sudan has additional members in the lower house appointed to represent former armed factions and addition members in the upper house appointed by the President, and Russia's constitution provides for similar seats but doesn't have anyone actually appointed to those posts).

There are also federal parliamentary systems that allocate seats based upon territory.

Australia allocated its seats in its upper house on a territorial basis (although not strict equality between different units), although strong political parties and proportional representation (and a fairly politically homogeneous electorate) mitigate this feature.

India's Rajya Sabha upper house is elected and functions in a manner similar to the upper house of Australia, but like the German Bundesrat its seats are allotted in digressive proportion to the population of each state or union territory, meaning that smaller states have a slight advantage over more populous states, and certain states even have more representatives than states more populous than them, in addition to twelve seats (out of 250) appointed by the President.

Pakistan has four states with equal representation in its mostly co-equal Senate with less reputation for two areas outside any state, and is indirectly elected like the German Budesrat and the U.S. Senate prior to direct elections to it, with several subcategory quotas that must be observed by each appointing body.

Switzerland has a weak federal government including a territorially elected upper house that delegates most of its power to a Federal Council with powers similar to a typical parliamentary cabinet formed by a coalition of political parties. Bosnia's 50-50 division in its legislatively appointed upper house in its weak federal government is loosely based on a Swiss model.

Somalia has a 54 member upper house allocated by state and selected for the first time in 2012 by a select group of 13,000 tribal elders with certain quota requirements (formal for gender, and informal for qualifications and tribal affiliation) and an election progress that more resembles civil service appointment by blue ribbon committees than a conventional electoral process.

There are parliamentary systems with an upper house that is only a house of revision which can delay but not block lower house bills or otherwise play a secondary legislative role. These include the Austrian Bundesrat, the Belgian Senate, the Canadian Senate, the French Senate, the Malaysian Senate, and the House of Lords in the U.K. These often have seats not allocated by population, but it doesn't really matter since they can't block legislation. Germany's Bundesrat, whose members are appointed by state government and serve at their pleasure with a number of seats for each of the sixteen states that is not proportional to population but considers population, has more power than a pure chamber of revision but largely limited to extraordinary matters like proposing constitutional amendments. Iraq's Federation Council was established on a partially territorial basis in its 2005 Constitution but as of 2018 had never been convened, so its has to be reckoned among the impotent upper houses as well.

Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that it is an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment right to equal protection to allow any unit of state or local government to have a system of allocating representation analogous to the federal system, in Baker v. Carr (1962), which many states did until the 1960s when this decision was made.

It is also worth observing that South Sudan, Nigeria, Russia, Bosnia and Somalia (five out of eleven) all adopted their systems in the post-Cold War era of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Pakistan's constitution was adopted in 1973, but the first time there was a peaceful transition of power pursuant to it was in 2013. The basic outline of Swiss government was established in 1848 although its constitution was amended and restated in 1999. India's constitution dates to 1950. Australia's dates to 1901. Argentina's dates to 1853. While the outlines of Brazil's system of government are older, it has had continuous civilian rule only since 1985.

To the extent that the European Union is viewed as a weak federal state, rather than merely as an international organization, it could be counted among the states allocating power, in part, based upon territory, rather than population.

  • OK, but what I am missing here is which ones of these systems end up choosing a PM/President based on their underlying preferential geographical allotments. Just to take an example, I now have no idea if Australia's voters are liable to end up with "but PM Dundee won with 48% of the vote, mate!" Aug 25, 2020 at 17:57
  • I have a vague memory of reading somewhere that the supreme court ruled that a senate-like allocation of representatives at the state level (say by setting a fixed number per county) was unconstitutional so states with bicameral legislatures have to have both allocated by population and not geography.
    – Don Hosek
    Aug 25, 2020 at 18:28
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    @DonHosek I mentioned the case already in the answer but added a citation to it for convenience (there are actually several cases in the string of relevant ones but Baker v. Carr is usually seen as the privotal one).
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:10
  • @ohwilleke D'oh, I missed that somehow.
    – Don Hosek
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:12
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Argentina, Brazil, South Sudan, Nigeria and Russia have directly elected Presidents. In India, Pakistan and Bosnia, the PM reports to the lower house as I understand it. Australia and Switzerland is similar but not exactly the same. The situation in Somalia is developing and is still not entirely clear to me. A PM isn't directly elected and usually needs majority backing in parliament although some parliamentary systems recognize the possibility of a minority government in which some legislators passively allow a PM to be appointed without voting for them.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:19


The President of Lebanon is elected by the Parlement.

The 128 members of Parliament, however, are elected by universal direct suffrage but seats are constitutionally allocated to ensure that half the seats are reserved for Christians. In other words, 64 of the current deputies are Christians, with 56 Muslims and 8 Druzes filling out the remainder.

Each seat is pre-assigned to a given religion, with only members of the relevant community being allowed to candidate.

Since Christians represents circa one third of Lebanon's population, this system is granting them a higher representation (50%) in Parliament.

  • odd. I had a comment specifically scoping out Lebanon, because this type of arrangement, while useful under certain conditions, really isn't what I'd call a normal impartial system if someone is already earmarked. Guess the eager beaver Se.PO comment police took it out. Aug 25, 2020 at 17:48
  • At one point my draft had referred to ethnic based allocation of seats in Lebanon and also in New Zealand, Bosnia and Iraq. But as it wasn't territorially based and not really analogous to the U.S. Senate or Electoral College, I removed it as non-germane.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:35

Japan, after a bit more investigation, fits that perfectly, as the Diet ends up choosing the PM (whose role is not ceremonial) and the Diet's electoral system is disproportionally favorable to rural constituencies.

Freedom House:

Malapportionment in favor of the rural districts from which the LDP draws significant support has been a persistent problem.

Vote-value disparity ensures rural few maintain clout over urban masses

Lawyers who filed the suit demanded the election, won by the LDP, be rendered void because one vote in the least- populated constituency carried weight equal to 4.77 ballots in the most heavily populated district.

Japan's rural voters cling to the principle of power to the countryside

Japan's parliament:

In addition to passing laws, the Diet is formally responsible for selecting the Prime Minister.

rural areas generally have more representation than do urban areas.

Actually, The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (PDF) makes it seem the effects are anything but trivial:

Generations of Japanese have grown up knowing no governing party other than the LDP. The only interruption to the party’s rule was a brief ten-month period in 1993–94,

(this was written in 2010, after they lost, for a while, in 2009)

the electoral playing field was not exactly equal: malapportioned districts allowed rural voters, who were generally strong supporters of the LDP, to give the party more seats than it otherwise might have received.

Competing LDP representatives in each district developed patron–client relationships with local assembly politicians and served as “pipelines” to bring pork-barrel benefits to local voters, especially to conservative bastions in rural areas. The LDP also developed relationships with powerful support groups that generated votes for the party: postmasters (influential in rural communities), farmers, and construction workers.

Finally, LDP@wiki

The LDP has almost continuously been in power since its foundation in 1955—a period called the 1955 System—with the exception of a period between 1993 and 1994, and again from 2009 to 2012.

Now, I am not claiming it's only due to rural overrepresentation. But given how uncompetitive Japanese elections seem to be in practice, one certainly wonders at its effects.

  • I would consider the malapportionment to be largely a function of inertia as urban areas have grown and rural areas have depopulated in a system without a rigid U.S. style reapportionment process rather than a systemic inequality as a matter of principle. Also the disparity pales in comparison say, to that of the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 25, 2020 at 19:33
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    @ohwilleke we'll agree to disagree on that assessment. that "inertia" has been in place for decades. the numbers cited makes it seem as if it could well be within the 47-53% bounds of what's the Electoral College tolerance for "adjusting" elections. And it is not trivial in nature at all: during the 80-90s, Japan levied up to 1000% tariffs on rice and it was a major point of contention with US administrations pushing against car imports. Basically, a small part of the population was instrumental in maintaining a trade policy detrimental to the rest. Aug 25, 2020 at 21:05

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