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Single-Member Districts: Advantages and Disadvantages


The debate about the advantages and disadvantages of single-member and multimember districts overlaps, to a large extent, with the debate over plurality or majority systems and proportional representation systems. This is because plurality and majority systems usually employ single-member districts and proportional representation systems employ multimember districts. This discussion will focus solely on the strengths and weaknesses of single-member districts.

Advantages of Single-Member Districts

Supporters of single-member districts cite several advantages:

  • Single-member districts provide voters with strong constituency representation because each voter has a single, easily identifiable, district representative.
  • Single-member districts encourage constituency service by providing voters with an easily identifiable "ombudsman."
  • Single-member districts maximise accountability because a single representative can be held responsible and can be re-elected or defeated in the next election.
  • Single-member districts ensure geographic representation.

Disadvantages of Single-Member Districts

Critics of single-member districts cite these disadvantages:

  • Single-member districts must be redrawn on a regular basis to maintain populations of relatively equal size.
  • Single-member districts are usually artificial geographic entities whose boundaries do not delineate clearly identifiable communities; hence, the entities have no particular relevance to citizens.
  • Single-member districts, because of their tendency to over-represent the majority party and under-represent other parties, cannot produce proportional representation for political parties.

Conclusion

The strengths of single-member districts rest in the close ties between representatives and constituents, the accountability of representatives to the voters, and constituency service. Because single-member districts are used in conjunction with plurality or majority voting rules, they are also said to foster strong and stable government.

bda02a01
author Handley, Lisa

created 1997/12/03

modified 1998/04/22

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Copyright 1998


IDEA,UNDESA,IFES