Electoral district
An electoral district is a distinct territorial subdivision for holding a separate election
An election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy operates since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the...

 for one or more seats in a legislative body. Generally, only voters who reside within the geographical bounds of an electoral district (constituents) 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; it can also refer to the body of eligible voters within the represented area. Similarly, in Australia and New Zealand, electoral districts are called electorates, however elsewhere the term electorate generally refers specifically to the body of 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 subdivisions of a municipality. In local government in the Republic of Ireland
Local government in the Republic of Ireland
Local government functions in the Republic of Ireland are mostly exercised by thirty-four local authorities, termed county or city councils, which cover the entire territory of the state. The area under the jurisdiction of each of these authorities corresponds to the area of each of the 34 LAU I...

 voting districts are called electoral areas.

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 representative, while a multi-member district has more than one. Voting systems that seek proportional representation
Proportional representation
Proportional representation is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular...

 (such as the single transferable vote
Single transferable vote
The single transferable vote is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through preferential voting. Under STV, an elector's vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or...

) inherently require multi-member districts, and the larger the district magnitude the more proportional a system will tend to be (and the greater the number of distinct parties or choices that can be represented.). An exception is when a multi-member districts uses the winner-take-all method to select the representative, as is the case with Singapore
Elections in Singapore
There are currently two types of elections in Singapore: parliamentary and presidential elections.While the Constitution of Singapore does not specify exactly when elections need to be held, Parliamentary or General Elections are generally 5 years apart, while Presidential elections are generally...

's Group Representation Constituency
Group Representation Constituency
A Group Representation Constituency is a type of electoral division or constituency in Singapore, the Members of Parliament of which are voted into Parliament as a group...


Under proportional representation systems, district magnitude is an important determinant of the makeup of the elected body. With a larger number of winners candidates are able to represent proportionately smaller minorities
Minority group
A minority is a sociological group within a demographic. The demographic could be based on many factors from ethnicity, gender, wealth, power, etc. The term extends to numerous situations, and civilizations within history, despite the misnomer of minorities associated with a numerical statistic...

; a 10% minority in a given district may secure no seats in a 5 member election but would be guaranteed a seat in a 9 member one because they fulfill a Droop quota
Droop Quota
The Droop quota is the quota most commonly used in elections held under the Single Transferable Vote system. It is also sometimes used in elections held under the largest remainder method of party-list proportional representation . In an STV election the quota is the minimum number of votes a...


The geographic distribution of minorities also affects their representation - an unpopular nationwide minority can still secure a seat if they are concentrated in a particular district. District magnitude can sometimes vary within the same system during an election. In the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, for instance, national elections to Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

 are held using a combination of 3, 4, and 5 member districts.

Apportionment and redistricting

Main articles: Apportionment
Apportionment (politics)
Apportionment is the process of allocating political power among a set of principles . In most representative governments, political power has most recently been apportioned among constituencies based on population, but there is a long history of different approaches.The United States Constitution,...

 and Redistricting
Redistricting is the process of drawing United States electoral district boundaries, often in response to population changes determined by the results of the decennial census. In 36 states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for creating a redistricting plan, in many cases subject to...

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 after every census while Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 uses its existing state boundaries for electoral districts and instead increases the number of representatives alloted to each.

Apportionment is generally done on the basis of population
A population is all the organisms that both belong to the same group or species and live in the same geographical area. The area that is used to define a sexual population is such that inter-breeding is possible between any pair within the area and more probable than cross-breeding with individuals...

. Seats in the United States House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

, for instance, are reapportioned to individual states every 10 years following a census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

, with some states that have grown in population gaining seats. The United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

, by contrast, is apportioned without regard to population; every state gets exactly two senators. Malapportionment occurs when voters are under or over-represented due to variation in district population.

Given the complexity of this process, software is increasingly used to simplify the task, while better supporting reproducible and more justifiable results.


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 much more difficult, gerrymandering can also be done under proportional voting systems when districts elect very few seats. By making three-member districts in regions where a particular group has a slight majority, for instance, gerrymandering politicians can effectively 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.

However, any possible gerrymandering that theoretically could occur would be much less effective because minority groups can still elect at least one representative if they make up a significant percentage of the population (e.g. 20-25%). Compare this to single-member districts where 40-49% of the voters can be essentially shut out from any representation.

Swing seats and safe seats

Main articles: Marginal seat
Marginal seat
A marginal seat, or swing seat, is a constituency held with a particularly small majority in a legislative election, generally conducted under a single-winner voting system. In Canada they may be known as target ridings. The opposite is a safe seat....

 and Safe seat
Safe seat
A safe seat is a seat in a legislative body which is regarded as fully secured, either by a certain political party, the incumbent representative personally or a combination of both...

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.

Constituency work

Elected representatives may spend much of the time serving the needs or demands of constituents, meaning either voters or residents of their district. This is more common in assemblies with many single-member or small districts than those with fewer, larger districts. In a looser sense, corporations and other such organizations can be referred to as constituents, if they have a significant presence in an area.

Many assemblies allow free postage (through franking privilege or prepaid envelopes) from a representative to a constituent, and often free telecommunications. Caseworkers
Caseworker (politics)
In politics, a caseworker is a type of legislative staffer responsible for dealing with constituent services - services provided to the constituents of a legislator...

 may be employed by representatives to assist constituents with problems. Members of the U.S. Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 (both Representatives and Senators) working in Washington, D.C. have a governmentally-staffed district office to aid in "constituent services". Many state legislatures have followed suit. Likewise, British MPs use their Parliamentary staffing allowance to appoint staff for "constituency casework". Client politics
Client politics
Client politics is the type of politics when an organized minority or interest group benefits at the expense of the public. Client politics may have a strong interaction with the dynamics of identity politics....

 and pork barrel
Pork barrel
Pork barrel is a derogatory term referring to appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district...

 politics are associated with constituency work.

Special constituencies with additional membership requirements

In some elected assemblies, some or all constituencies may group voters based on some criterion other than, or in addition to, the location they live. Examples include:
  • By ethnic groups: Communal constituencies
    Communal constituencies (Fiji)
    Communal constituencies have been the most durable feature of the Fijian electoral system. In communal constituencies, electors enrolled as ethnic Fijians, Indo-Fijians, Rotuman Islanders, or General Electors vote for a candidate of their own respective ethnic groups, in constituencies that have...

     in Fiji; reserved seats in India
    Reserved political positions in India
    In India, a certain number of political positions and university posts are held for specific groups of the population, including scheduled castes, backward castes, and women.- Definition :...

     for Anglo-Indian
    Anglo-Indians are people who have mixed Indian and British ancestry, or people of British descent born or living in India, now mainly historical in the latter sense. British residents in India used the term "Eurasians" for people of mixed European and Indian descent...

    s and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; Māori electorates in New Zealand.
  • By qualification: University constituency
    University constituency
    A university constituency is a constituency, used in elections to a legislature, that represents a university rather than a geographical area. University constituencies may involve plural voting, in which eligible voters are permitted to vote in both a university constituency and a geographical...

     in Britain and Ireland, functional constituency
    Functional constituency
    In the political systems of Hong Kong and Macau, a functional constituency is a professional or special interest group involved in the electoral process...

     in Hong Kong

Non-geographic democratic systems

Not all democratic political systems use separate districts to conduct elections; Israel
Politics of Israel
The Israeli system of government is based on parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government and leader of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Knesset. The Judiciary is independent of the executive...

 and the Netherlands
Politics of the Netherlands
The politics of the Netherlands take place within the framework of a parliamentary representative democracy, a constitutional monarchy and a decentralised unitary state. The Netherlands is described as a consociational state...

, for instance, conduct parliamentary elections as a single, nationwide entity.
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