Overhang seat

Overhang seats can arise in elections under the traditional (i.e. as it originated in Germany) mixed member proportional (MMP) system, when a party is entitled to fewer seats as a result of party votes than it has won constituencies, or vice versa.

How overhang seats arise

Under MMP, a party is entitled to a number of seats based on its share of the total vote. If a party is entitled to ten seats, but wins only seven constituencies, it will be awarded three list seats, bringing it up to its required number. This only works, however, if the party's seat entitlement is not less than the number of constituencies it has won. If, for example, a party is entitled to five seats, but wins six constituencies, the sixth constituency seat is referred to as an overhang seat.

Two mechanisms to earn many overhang seats

The two mechanisms that together increase the number of overhang seats are

  1. winning many constituencies
  2. decreasing the number of party votes and therefore the number of seats to which the party is proportionally entitled

In many countries, overhang seats are rare a party that is able to win constituency seats is generally able to win a significant portion of the party vote as well. There are, however, some circumstances in which overhang seats may arise relatively easily:

Dealing with overhang seats

Overhang seats are dealt with in different ways by different systems. The three main methods are:

  1. Allow the overhang A party is allowed to keep any overhang seats it wins, but other parties are still awarded the same number of seats that they are entitled to. This means that a party with overhang seats has more seats than its entitlement. Other parties may be given additional list seats (sometimes called "balance seats" or leveling seats) in order that they are not disadvantaged. This preserves the same ratio between parties as was established in the election. It also increases the size of the legislature, as overhang seats are added, and there may also be extra list seats added to counteract them. This system results is less proportional than full compensation, as the party with the overhang is still receiving a "bonus" above its proportional entitlement. The number of extra seats that may be created is sometimes limited to avoid an excessive increase in the size of the assembly, which approaches the second option. The Parliament of New Zealand uses this system (without "balance seats"); one extra seat was added in the 2005 election and 2011 election, and two extra seats in the 2008 election. This system was also used in the German Bundestag (also without "balance seats") until 2013.
  2. Take the number of additional list seats off from the other parties' proportional entitlement A party is allowed to keep any overhang seats it wins, and the corresponding number of list seats allocated to other parties is eliminated to maintain the number of assembly seats. This means that a party with overhang seats has more seats than its entitlement, and other parties have fewer. This approach is used in the Chamber of Deputies of Bolivia and the National Assembly of Lesotho. It was recently recommended by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform for adoption by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. While for the first additional list seats are simply denied to parties, in the latter two cases a fairer procedure was proposed of subtracting the constituency seats won by parties with overhang seats from the total number of seats and recalculating the quota (the largest remainder method was also recommended) to proportionally redistribute the list seats to the other parties.
  3. Non-awarding of overhang seats A party is not allowed to keep any overhang seats it wins, with its number of seats actually being reduced until it fits the party's entitlement. This method raises the question of which constituency seats the party is not allowed to keep. After that is determined, it would then have to be decided who, if any, will represent these constituencies.
  4. Fully compensatory Similar to Option 1. However, in this model other non-overhang parties will be compensated by receiving additional seats above their initial allocation to ensure full proportionality for all parties including the party with overhang seats which after additional list seats are created no longer has more of the total of assembly seats than it is proportionally entitled to. These bonus seats therefore serve to offset the "overhang bonus" described in Option 1. After the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled in 2008 that the established implementation of Option 1 was unconstitutional (because in rare instances, it allowed votes to negatively affect the number of seats for a given party, contradicting the voter's will), full compensation of overhang seats is applied as of 2013 in the German Bundestag by providing for the first time for the creation of national leveling seats.

Examples of overhang seats

In New Zealand the Māori Party won one overhang seat in 2005 and 2011, and two overhang seats in 2008. In 2005 their share of the party vote was under 2% on the initial election night count, but was 2.12% in the final count which included special votes cast outside the electorate. On election night it appeared that the party which had won four electorate seats would get two overhang seats in Parliament. However with their party vote above 2% the party got an extra seat and hence needed only one overhang seat. National got one less list seat in the final count, so then conceded defeat (the result was close between the two largest parties, National and Labour).

In Germany - where a party needs 5% to win any seats - every overhang seat is granted. If a party wins more than three overhang seats it is completely excluded from the election threshold. This happened in 1994 to PDS.

See also


    External links

    Look up Overhang in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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