Weighted vote systems are systems of decision making by taking a vote in which the principle of equality of the vote (i.e., the principle of “one man, one vote, one value”) is not observed. Instead, electors are divided into groups that are differentiated in the voting process. This can be the case with regard to the raw number of votes electors from different groups can cast (narrower definition of weighted voting) or the seat-elector ratio for the respective group (wider definition). The weight differentiation can be implemented according to certain prespecified criteria characterizing electors, such as region, property, tax burden, religion, sex, social status, or education. As a consequence, in weighted or asymmetric voting systems, electors from the different subsets by definition will have a differential impact on electoral outcomes simply by virtue of their belonging to one or the other of the groups into which they are divided. Depending on their design (i.e., whether individual citizens or whether representatives are endowed with different weights), such systems can be designed to implement or undermine the equality of citizens in the voting process.
Historically, several of the constitutional monarchies in the nineteenth century, as well as the United States before 1865, employed some form of weighted voting system. Prussia employed a three-class electoral system from 1849 to 1918 that divided voters into classes according to their annual tax burden. Although voters of different classes had the same raw number of votes, each class de facto elected the same number of representatives to the Prussian state assembly, thus giving each voter in the highest class (4.7 percent of the electorate) considerably higher representation than voters of the lowest class (82.7 percent of the electorate).
In the United States before 1865, voters in those states that allowed slavery indirectly had a higher influence over the presidential and House of Representatives elections than voters in states that had outlawed slavery. Due to the Threefifths Compromise of 1787, the composition of the House of Representatives and the electoral college provided for representation of the states on the basis of proportionality to the total population of the United States. This was done without a simultaneous enfranchisement of slaves themselves. Indirectly this had the effect of voters in the southern states electing more representatives per voter, giving them a higher weight in the process, without an increase of the electorate in the South.
In the modern era, examples of political bodies providing for a different raw number of votes include the European Union’s Council of Ministers (each country’s representative has a different absolute number of votes), the German Bundesrat (Länder governments have votes weighted by population size in combination with bloc voting), the electoral college in the election of the president of India (in order to ensure parity between the electors from the national parliament and those from the state assemblies, national representatives’ votes are weighted, and in another step all electors votes are weighted by a factor on the basis of the size of the respective districts’ electorate that they represent), as well as the U.S. electoral college (electors from all but two states currently voteen bloc and states have different numbers of electors based on their share in the total U.S. population). Despite these comparatively prominent cases, in more recent times, examples of weighted voting systems being used in national or subnational legislative or other political bodies have become increasingly rare.
- Banzhaf, John. “Weighted Voting Doesn’t Work: A Mathematical Analysis.” Rutgers Law Review 19 (1965): 317–343.
- “Equal Representation and the Weighted Voting Alternative.” The Yale Law Journal 79 (December 1969): 311–321.
- Grofman, Bernard, and Howard Scarrow. “Weighted Voting in New York.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 6 (May 1981): 287–304.
- Nohlen, Dieter. Wahlrecht und Parteiensystem. 4th ed. Opladen, Germany: Leske + Budrich, 2004.
- Rae, Douglas. The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004.
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