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The Vermont Legislative Research Shop

 

Multimember Districts

As of 1998, thirteen states still had multimember districts (MMD) in at least one of their legislative bodies. In the past, changes in the use of MMDs have been focused not on, "population-based apportionment but on the quality of representation," especially that of women and minorities (NCSL, 1999). What follows is a concise report of MMD advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

Matland and Studlar (1996), Darcy et al (1994), Moncrief and Thompson (1992) agree that MMD electoral systems have substantially higher percentages of female legislators than single-member district (SMD) systems. According to Darcy et al (1994), "overall, the proportion of women running (13.5%) and winning (13.4%) in the MMD was about double the proportion of those running (6.2%) and winning (7.4%) in the SMDs." By extension, Welch and Studlar (1990) hypothesized that the greater the magnitude of MMDs (number of members per district), then an increased proportion of women elected will result. However, their findings fail to support this hypothesis.

"Parties under MMDs will be more ideologically diverse, which may undermine the ability of party leaders to build coalitions and enforce bargains. If one’s greatest concern in a local legislature is partisan gridlock, MMDs could potentially ease the partisan feuding by making each party more ideologically diverse. If, on the other hand, one sees party cohesion as an asset that can be used to build lasting coalitions on complicated, multi-faceted pieces of legislation, then perhaps MMDs are less desirable" (Adams, 1996).

Disadvantages

Studies find that representation of geographically concentrated minorities could suffer from MMD electoral systems (Moncrief and Thompson, 1992; Gerber et al, 1998). Minority votes are less diluted in SMDs than in MMDs (Gerber et al, 1998).

In terms of campaign finance, multimember districts "should not only have more expensive races than single-member districts but should also be districts in which campaign spending is a more important factor for winning" (Gierzynski 1998 p. 25, see also Hogan and Hamm 1998).

 

References

Adams, G.D. "Legislative effects of single-member vs. multimember districts," American Journal of Political Science 40:1 February 1996, pp129-44.

Darcy, R., S. Welch, and J. Clark. Women, Election, and Representation, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1994.

Gerber, E.R., R.B. Morton, and T.A. Rietz. "Minority representation in multimember districts," American Political Science Review 92:1 March 1998, pp.127-44.

Gierzynski, Anthony. "A Framework for the Study of Campaign Finance," in Joel Thompson and Gary Moncrief (editors) Campaign Finance in State Legislative Elections (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1998).

Hogan, Robert and Keith Hamm. "Variations in District-Level Campaign Spending in State Legislatures," in Joel Thompson and Gary Moncrief (editors) Campaign Finance in State Legislative Elections (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1998).

Matland, R.E. and D.T. Studlar. "The contagion of women candidates in single-member district and proportional representation electoral systems : Canada and Norway," Journal of Politics, 58:3 August 1996, pp.707-33.

Moncrief, G.F., and J.A. Thompson. "Electoral structure and state legislative representation : a research note," Journal of Politics 54:1, February 1992, pp246-56.

Redistricting Task Force for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Multimember districts," last updated January 22, 1999, http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/departments/scr/redist/red2000/ch4multi.htm.

Welch, S., and D.T. Studlar. "Multimember districts and the representation of women : evidence from Britain and the United  States," Journal of Politics 52:2 May 1990 pp391-412.

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Completed by Molly Hooker, Lucinda Neuman, and Jennifer Symmes on 1 March, 1999