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MMP 102: Glossary (aka Lazy Entry)

Here are some definitions for the terms I have been throwing around in this boring series of posts:


 AV stands for "Alternative Vote", a non-proportional system. In AV, an area is divided into single-member ridings, and voters rank the riding candidates in order of preference. The most unpopular candidates get dropped from consideration and their votes are distributed to the remaining candidates until one candidate gets over 50% of the votes. Liberal opponents of MMP love alternative vote because it eliminates small parties and favours centrist ones (who are almost everybody's second choice). AV is used in Australia's lower house, and is sometimes known as "preferential ballot". The STV system resembles AV because both require voters to rank candidates, but the two systems differ in some important ways. 

Closed List

 A closed list system is a party-list system in which voters do not get to influence the ordering of candidates on the party list. Contrast this to "open list" systems. Ontario's proposed MMP system uses closed lists. 


 Stands for "First Past the Post". In this system, a territory is divided into single-member ridings. Each riding runs some candidates. Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins the riding. Whichever party wins the most ridings forms the government. Other people abbreviate this system as "FPP". It is also known as "Winner Take All". The technical abbreviation for FPTP is "SMP", which stands for Single Member Plurality. 

List Free MMP

 This variation of MMP (or parallel systems) uses the local candidate vote to create an implicit ordering of candidates to fill list seats. Candidates from the same party are ranked according to their performance in the local vote; those that do best in their ridings but fail to win a seat are first in line to get list seats. This system is also called "best loser" or "next past the post". It is used in the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg, in Japan (maybe optionally?) and apparently in the Italian senate. I have noticed that list-free MMP seems to have a lot of traction in Ontario, but Ontario's proposed MMP system is not a list-free system (the change to a list free system is [not large](, however). 

List PR

 Sometimes referred to as "Pure PR" or just "PR", List Proportional Representation systems allow voters to select parties in some way, and then award seats proportionally to each party's share of the popular vote. In list PR systems there is no concept of ridings which associate MPs to geographic areas on a 1-1 basis; rather several MPs are all responsible for some geographic area. List PR systems may be "open list" or "closed list"; in either case, the voter ultimately selects a party. List PR is one of the older forms of PR. It is used in many western European countries. 


 Majority means "above 50%". Contrast this with plurality, which means "more than the competition." 


 AV and FPTP are considered majoritarian systems because they are non-proportional. The name is somewhat misleading: in FPTP candidates need not have a majority of votes in order to win ridings, and in neither system do parties need a majority of the votes in order to form government. 


 Yet another acronym that starts with "M", MMD stands for "Multi-member district". Unlike a riding (known as "single member district" or SMD by academics) a MMD assigns several MPs all to the same geographical area. In Ontario's MMP proposal, we can think of the 39 list members as being selected to a very large MMD -- the entire province. Scotland and Wales, on the other hand, divide their areas into smaller regions. Each region is then an MMD that houses 4-8 list MPs. 


 Stands for "Mixed-Member Proportional". The system is "mixed" because there are both riding MPs and list MPs. The system is proportional because the party vote percentage determines the total percentage of seats a party gets in parliament. (Contrast this to a Parallel System). MMP is known as AMS (Additional Member System) in Scotland and Wales, and is sometimes referred to as "Personalized Proportional Representation" in Germany. 


 Stands for "Member of Parliament". I use this term to refer to the people who hold seats in an electoral system. In Ontario MPs are called "MPPs" for "Member of Provincial Parliament". In Scotland they are called "MSPs" for "Member of Scottish Parliament". I try to normalize the terms for clarity. 

Open List

 Open list systems refer to party list systems where voters have some influence over the ordering of candidates on their ballots. Many European countries use some kind of open list. FPTP defenders love to criticise Ontario's proposed MMP system because it uses closed lists and not open ones; the disadvantage to open lists is that they make the ballot very long and somewhat complicated. For this reason, most countries that use open lists give their voters a closed-list option of voting only for the party (which, it appears, most voters take advantage of). This is called a "flexible list" system. 

Parallel System

 A parallel voting system is one in which there are riding MPs and list MPs, and the party vote is used to determine the total percentage of _list_ MPs only. Contrast this to MMP, where the party vote is used to determine the total percentage of MPs overall. This seems like a small difference but it has big implications; see [this overly long entry]( for details. The academic name for parallel systems is "MMM", which stands for "Mixed-Member Majoritarian". Parallel systems are mostly used in formerly communist Eastern European countries, as well as Japan. I have also heard this system referred to as a "supplementary system", which should not be confused with "supplementary vote". 


 Plurality means "more than the competition". In an election race with many contenders, the contender that got the greatest share of the vote is said to have a _plurality_ of votes. Contrast this with majority, which means "over 50%". 


 PR stands for "proportional representation". It refers to a voting system in which the total power each party gets is proportional to its share of the popular vote. There are many different families of proportional voting systems; MMP is just one of them. The phrase "PR" alone or "Pure PR" is sometimes used to indicate the "List PR" system. 


 When I use the word "riding" I am referring to a (single member) electoral district. I use this term because I grew up using it and I believe most Canadians understand what it means better than "electoral district" or "constituency". The proper term in Canada is in fact "electoral district". In academic literature ridings are referred to as "SMD"s -- single member districts. 


 STV is a proportional system that stands for "Single Transferable Vote". The basic idea is that instead of single-member ridings an area is divided into MMDs. Voters then rank candidates in order of preference. Each spot in the MMD requires a "quota" of votes in order to be filled. If no candidate reaches quota, the most unpopular candidate is dropped and his or her votes are redistributed (sometimes with less weight) to other candidates according to voter rankings. Interestingly, once a winning candidate reaches quota his or her extra votes are also redistributed, so votes for very popular candidates can help elect somebody else. STV is used in Malta, Ireland, some municipal elections (for example in Scotland) and Australia's Upper house (although in the latter most voters treat it as a list system, voting for a party instead of ranking candidates). It is the system proposed by the British Columbia Citizen's Assembly. It used to be used in Alberta and Manitoba for some municipal elections from the 1920s to the 1950s, but apparently was dropped because it was electing too many Communists. 

Supplementary Vote

 This system occasionally comes up as an alternative to proportionality. This system uses single-member ridings where voters rank their candidates preferentially. If one candidate gets a majority of the votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, all but the top two candidates are dropped, and the votes for "loser" candidates are given to the top two people according to the ranking. Contrast this with alternative vote, where "loser" candidates are dropped one at a time and their votes redistributed. (I have also seen the term "supplementary system" being used to refer to parallel systems in New Zealand.) 

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