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An electoral district is a distinct territorial subdivision for holding a separate election for one or more seats representing the voters in that subdivision in a legislative body. Not all political systems use separate districts to conduct elections; Israel and The Netherlands, for instance, conduct parliamentary elections as a single, nationwide entity. In contrast, the United Kingdom, Francemarker and many other nations elect each member of the legislature from their own individual district.

Generally, only voters who reside within the georgraphical bounds of an electoral district are permitted to vote in an election held there.

The names for electoral districts vary across countries and, occasionally, for the office being elected. The term constituency is commonly used to refer to an electoral district, however constituency can also refer to the people within the represented area. In Australia and New Zealand, electoral districts are called electorates, however elsewhere the term electorate generally refers specifically to the body of eligible voters. In Canada, districts are colloquially called ridings (stemming from an earlier British geographical subdivision). Local electoral districts are sometimes called wards, a term which also designates administrative subsidivisions of a municipality.

District magnitude

District magnitude is the number of representatives elected from a given district to the same legislative body. A single-member district has one member, while a multi-member district has more than one. Voting systems that seek proportional representation inherently require multi-member districts, and the larger the district magnitude the more proportional a system will tend to be (i.e., the greater the number of distinct parties or choices that can be represented).

Under proportional representation systems, district magnitude is an important determinant of the makeup of the elected body. Larger numbers of winners are able to represent proportionately smaller minorities; a 10% minority, for instance, may secure no seats in a 5 member district, but would be guaranteed a seat in a 9 member election because they fulfill a Droop quota. An exception are the ethnic minorities: if a linguistic minority is concentrated in a limited and defined region, smaller districts or even single-member districts can emphatize their representation, the distribution of seats being calculated on a area where the minority (under a national perspective) is a local majority. For exemple, Sinn Féin obtained a percentage of seats major than its percentage of votes during last British elections.

District magnitude can sometimes vary within the same system during an election. In Irelandmarker, for instance, national elections to the Dáil Éireann are held using a combination of 3, 4, and 5 member districts.

Apportionment and redistricting

Main articles: Apportionment and Redistricting
Apportionment is the process of allocating a number of representatives to different regions, such as states or provinces. Apportionment changes are often accompanied by redistricting, the redrawing of electoral district boundaries to accommodate the new number of representatives. This redrawing is necessary under single-member district systems, as each new representative requires their own district. Multi-member systems, however, vary depending on other rules. Ireland, for example, redraws its electoral districts every election while Belgiummarker uses its existing state boundaries for electoral districts and instead increases the number of representatives alloted to each.

Apportionment is often done on the basis of population. Seats in the United States House of Representatives, for instance, are reapportioned to individual states every 10 years following a census, with some states that have grown in population gaining seats. The United States Senate, by contrast, is apportioned without regard to population; every state gets exactly two senators.


Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral district boundaries for political gain. By creating a few "forfeit" districts where voters vote overwhelmingly for rival candidates, gerrymandering politicians can manufacture more narrow wins among the districts they do seek to win. Gerrymandering relies on the wasted vote effect, effectively concentrating wasted votes among opponents while minimizing wasted votes among supporters. Consequently, gerrymandering is typically done under voting systems using single-member districts, which have more wasted votes.

While more difficult, gerrymandering can also be done by modifying the district magnitude under proportional voting systems. By making three-member districts in regions where a particular group has a slight majority, for instance, gerrymandering politicians can effectively take advantage of rounding error and obtain 2/3 of that district's seats. Similarly, by making four-member districts in regions where the same group has slightly less than a majority, gerrymandering politicians can still secure exactly half of the seats.

Swing seats and safe seats

Main articles: Marginal seat and Safe seat
Sometimes, particularly under non-proportional winner-take-all voting systems, electoral districts can be prone to landslide victories. A "safe" seat is one that is very unlikely to be won by a rival politician due to the makeup of its constituency. Conversely, a swing seat is one that could easily swing either way. In United Kingdom general elections, the voting in a relatively small number of swing seats usually determines the outcome of the entire election.

Many politicians aspire to have safe seats.

See also

Notes and references

  1. In United Kingdom terminology, parliamentary electoral districts are usually called constituencies, and electoral district is more likely to refer to an area used in the election of local government councillors.

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