Cambridge, MA proportional representation

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Cambridge, MA, US

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Type: Ballot Initiative

Status: Adopted in 1940

Source File:

Voter Explanation:


Proportional Representation (PR) is the method by which voters in Cambridge elect members of the City Council and School Committee. It ensures minority representation with majority control. Any group of voters that number more than one-tenth of the total population can be sure of electing at least one member of a nine-member Council, but a majority group of voters can be sure of electing a majority of the Council.

In PR election you may vote for as many of the candidates listed on the ballot as you wish. You must, however, indicate the order of your preference among the various candidates for whom you vote.

Mark your choices by filling in the numbered ovals only. Fill in the number one (1) oval next to your first choice; Fill in the number two (2) oval next to your second choice; Fill in the number three (3) oval next to your third choice, and so on. You may fill in as many choices as you please.

If you fill in more than one oval for any candidate, your vote for that candidate will be invalid and will not be counted.

Be careful not to fill in the same numbered oval more than once. This also will make your votes for those candidates invalid and they will not be counted.

Under PR a candidate needs to win a certain proportion of the votes to be elected. This winning fraction of the votes is referred to as "quota".

The quota is determined by dividing the total number of valid ballots cast by the number of positions to be elected plus one and then adding one to the resulting dividend.

Thus, to elect 9 City Councilors, the total number of valid ballots cast is divided by 10; to elect 6 School Committee members, the total is divided by seven. And in both cases 1 is added to the result of the division.

For example, if 25,000 ballots are cast for City Councilors, the quota will be 2,501 (25,000 divided by ten, plus 1).


The count begins with the sorting of ballots by the first preference shown on each valid ballot. That is the NUMBER 1 vote on each ballot. This is generally known as the "First Count".

Any candidates who reach the necessary quota with Number 1 votes are declared elected. Any extra ballots they receive beyond the quota are redistributed to the candidates marked next in preference (the number 2 preference) on those excess ballots.

The count continues with the elimination of those candidates receiving fewer than fifty votes in the first count. Their ballots are redistributed to the other candidates according to the next preference marked.

After each distribution, the candidate now having the lowest number of votes is eliminated and his/her ballots redistributed to the next indicated preference (number 2,3,4 etc.)

As candidates reach the quota through the addition of redistributed ballots to their totals, they are declared elected and no further ballots are transferred to them.

This process continues until all candidates have been eliminated except the nine winners.