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What is Proportional Representation anyway?

When it comes to politics, some people love to talk about this thing called Proportional Representation. And my gosh, some never stop talking about it - so what is it anyway and why should you care?

Proportional representation, often shortened to PR, is a different way of electing people to run the country. Currently we use a system with the silly name of First-Past-The-Post. Proportional representation is just a different system of electing people. The best way of explaining PR is to first look at what First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) is.

FPTP is a very simple voting system. Everyone gets one vote each, and they can choose one person. Whoever gets the most votes wins. I have no idea why its called First-Past-The-Post, because often you can have a person win without 50% of the vote - if you want to know someone has won, then 50% would be 'the post' no? Not only that, but the votes are just counted once after they're all cast, it's not like there's multiple rounds and someone can get 'past the post' and end it early. But hey, its a simple voting system - let it be right?

Well, that's the problem with FPTP. It's an attempt at a simple solution to a complex problem - and it doesn't work well.

Now you know what FPTP is, it's easier to explain what Proportional Representation is... kind of. You see, PR is more of an umbrella term - there's many different ways of doing it - but what they have in common is that they try to make votes and seats be similar percentages. Let's explain that more with an example:

In a FPTP election with 4 candidates for best pet (Cat, Dog, Hamster, Rat) the results could be as follows:

Cat 40%

Dog 35%

Hamster 15%

Rat 10%

In this election Cat wins. Congrats.

But is that the best winner here? Is that truly representative of the people's wishes? I think you'll find that yes 40% wanted Cat to win, but also 60% didn't - and very much didn't considering the other peoples favourite pets (Dog lovers almost always despise Cats). It's very possible that those 25% that voted for Hamster and Rat would prefer Dog over Cat - and that would be a significant majority then of 60% Dog to 40% Cat.

This is one of the systems that PR often uses - it gives people the opportunity to express more than one preference, and not just one vote for their one favourite. It let's you have a few backup options in case your favourite doesn't win.

That's not all there is to PR however, there are other possibilities like a top-up list where you have some of the seats set aside to be selected based on vote share across the entire area (not just in each constituency). That's what they use in the London Assembly elections to give it some PR-ness.

PR is not one thing. Instead its a collection of systems that can try to get vote percentage closer and closer to seats percentage.

Lastly, I need to tell you why you should care - and then my job here is done: you should care because it makes our politics better. It gives people more of a say in who they want to represent them, what kind of politics they want to see, and what kind of policies they support. After all, that is both the right and the job of everyone in our society - to decide how they want to be governed.

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