A Guide to PR Voting

Proportional Representation (PR)-which Kenneth Arrow, Professor of Economics yesterday proposed using for the elections to the new Faculty Council-is perhaps the most complicated and least understood of voting systems.

The general effects of PR, however, are quite simple; it gives minority candidates a better chance of election and reduces the incentives for continuing political organizations.

Basically, PR does this by requiring a relatively small number of votes for election, and by assuring that a minority group's votes will be channeled toward its strongest candidates.

Cambridge Alone

Given these effects, it's no surprise that PR has generally been backed by political reformers and opposed by "organization" politicians in the United States. Though some 25 U. S. cities adopted the system during the earlier part of the century, Cambridge is now the only one to retain it for municipal elections. Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Chicago use PR for elections to their faculty senates.

How It Works

Under the most common form of PR, a voter ranks the candidates in order of his preference by writing 1, 2, 3, etc. next to their names on the

ballot. The number of votes needed for a candidate to be elected is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast by the number of candidates plus one, and then adding one to the quotient.


If a candidates has enough "number one" votes to be elected, his surplus ballots are redistributed according to the "number two" choices marked on them. If no one has enough "number one" votes for election, the candidate with the fewest "number ones" is eliminated and his ballots are redistributed.

This process of redistribution con-

tinues until all seats have been filled. The redistribution means that votes are not wasted when spread among several candidates with the same views; the weakest of the candidates will be eliminated and the stronger ones elected. Hence, there is generally no need for a political organization to gather beforehand, and develop a state of candidates for which all its supporters should vote.

Minorities Represented

For the most part, PR's elimination of the winner-take-all character of most systems of district or at-large voting means that a minority of any appreciable size will obtain representation.

In Cambridge. for example. it has sometimes been said that other electoral systems would produce a city council with eight or nine Irishmen on it. Under PR, one recent council had five Irishmen, one Italian, one black, one Jew, and one Yankee Republican. The system has also given the "good government" Cambridge Civic Association more representation than it would have under a ward system of elections.


The tendency of PR to give minority groups representation has however, two major drawbacks: it can produce a legislature unable to work together because its members represent small. conflicting interest groups and it has often led to successful campaigus for PR's abolition when unpopular minorities-Communists in New York City, a militant black leader in Cincinnati-get elected because of the system.

Cambridge, however, has resisted several attempts to get rid of PR in the 40 years since the City adopted the system.

There is one other disadvantage to PR: it makes ballot-counting a complicated. time-consuming job-one which in Cambridge usually takes a week or more.