An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral area, circumscription, or electorate, is a subdivision of a larger State (polity), state (a country, administrative region, or other polity) created to provide its population with representation in the larger state's legislative body. That body, or the state's constitution or a body established for that purpose, determines each district's boundaries and whether each will be represented by a Single-member district, single member or multiple members. Generally, only voters (''constituents'') who Residency (domicile), reside within the district are permitted to vote in an election held there. District representatives may be elected by a first past the post, first-past-the-post system, a Proportional representation, proportional representative system, or another voting system, voting method. They may be selected by a direct election under universal suffrage, an indirect election, or another form of suffrage.


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, especially in British English, but it can also refer to the body of eligible voters or all the residents of the represented area or only those who voted for a certain candidate. The terms ''(election) precinct'' and ''election district'' are more common in American English. In Australia and New Zealand, electoral districts are called ''electorates'', however elsewhere the term ''electorate'' generally refers specifically to the body of voters. In India electoral districts are referred to as "''Nirvācan Kṣetra''" ( hi, निर्वाचन क्षेत्र) in Hindi, which can be literally translated to English as "electoral area" though the official English translation for the term is "constituency". The term "Nirvācan Kṣetra" is used while referring to an electoral district in general irrespective of the legislature. When referring to a particular legislative constituency, it is simply referred to as "Kṣetra" along with the name of the legislature, in Hindi (e.g. 'Lok Sabha Kshetra' for a Lok Sabha constituency). Electoral districts for municipal or other local bodies are called "wards". In Canada, districts are colloquially called in English ''riding (country subdivision), ridings'' (stemming from an earlier British geographical subdivision). In some parts of Canada, "constituencies" is used for provincial districts and "ridings" for federal districts. In colloquial French Canadian, French, they are called ''comtés'', "counties" (''circonscriptions'' is the legal term). Local electoral districts are sometimes called ''ward (electoral subdivision), wards'', a term also used for administrative subdivisions of a municipality. However, in local government in the Republic of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, voting districts are called "Local electoral area, electoral areas".

District magnitude

''District magnitude'' is a term invented by the American political scientist Douglas W. Rae in his 1967 PhD dissertation, dissertation ''The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws''. It refers to the number of seats assigned to each district, and thus the easiness to be elected, as the threshold ''de facto'' decreases in proportion. The concept of magnitude explains Duverger's Law, Duverger's observation that Plurality voting tends to produce two-party systems, and PR methods tend to produce multi-party systems. District magnitude is minimal (exactly 1): * in Plurality voting in ''single-member districts'' (as in most cases) * general ticket, plurality block voting (in plural districts) and certain pro-landslide party-list systems in ''multi-member districts'' (rarely used nationwide nowadays) District magnitude is maximized: * for jurisdictions with a single electoral district for the whole elected body. This includes the legislatures of: Elections in South Africa, South Africa (1 district for 26.7 million registered people and 400 seats), Elections in the Netherlands, the Netherlands (1 district for 13 million and 150 seats), Elections in Mozambique, Mozambique (13 million, 250 seats), Elections in Serbia, Serbia (6.584 million, 250 seats), Elections in Israel, Israel (6.578 million, 120 seats), Elections in Slovakia, Slovakia (4.4 million, 150 seats), Elections in Moldova, Moldova (3 million, 101 seats). In each of these cases, it only takes these fractions of the nation's electorate to capture one more seat. * for jurisdictions using both local multi-member constituencies (of various district magnitudes, and seat-to-vote disproportions), and national leveling seats, when the nationwide results have priority. That is the case in Scandinavia: Elections in Sweden, Sweden (6.53 million, 349 seats, ''see National apportionment of MP seats in the Riksdag, apportionment article''), Elections in Denmark, Denmark (4.2 million, 179 seats), Elections in Norway, Norway (3.7 million, 169 seats), Elections in Iceland, Iceland (0.2 million, 63 seats). Since 2017, Germany's Bundestag is also made up of additional member system, additional members meant to make up for imbalances in the number of MPs by state (due to the overhang seats) District magnitude may be set at an equal number of seats. Examples: all districts of the Northern Irish Assembly elect 6 members, all those of the Parliament of Malta send 5 MPs, whereas Chile, between 1989 and 2013, used a method called binomial voting which assigned 2 MPs to each district. In many cases, however, multi-member constituencies correspond to already existing jurisdictions (region, district, ward), which creates differences in district magnitude: *Republic of Ireland for the Dáil Éireann: 3-, 4-, and 5- member districts. *Elections in Hong Kong#Legislative Elections, Hong Kong for half of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region's Legislature, the LegCo: 5- to 9- member districts. *The New Hampshire House of Representatives: 1- to 11-member districts. The concept of district magnitude helps explains why Duverger's speculated correlation between Proportional Representation and party system fragmentation has many counter-examples, as PR methods combined with small-sized multi-member constituencies may produce a low effective number of parties. The inverse of the district magnitude plus one is the Droop quota which provides the mathematical threshold to ensure election (probabilistic threshold should include the likely number of votes wasted to minor lists). For instance, a 10%-polling party will not win a seat in a 5-member district (Droop quota of 1/6=16.67%) but will do so in a 9-member district as this is the minimum to exceed a Droop quota (1/10=10%). Larger district magnitudes annihilate the need and practice of gerrymandering, which is the practice of partisan redistricting by means of creating imbalances in the make-up of the district map. A higher magnitude means less wasted votes, and less room for such maneuvers.


Magnitude is a major factor in the inclusion of minorities. Plurality (and other elections with lower district magnitudes) are known to limit the representation of minorities. John Stuart Mill had first proposed proportional representation (PR) in the mid-19th century precisely to respond to this shortcoming. With lower district magnitudes, the only way to include demographic minorities scattered across the country is to force parties to include them: * women: some women in government#Quotas, gender quotas may compel registered parties to a certain sex ratio between the candidates they put forward in single-seat districts. This can also be an internal policy, as the one used by the Labour Party (UK), Labour Party since 1995 (see All-women shortlist). * ethnic groups: ** such a system is in use in Elections in Singapore, Singapore which requires one team member (at least) to be of a different race from the others. This is the system of the numerically dominant Group Representation Constituency, Group Representation Constituencies. ** in the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that districts should be drawn so as to create a number of minority-majority districts proportional to the minority population of the area (see Majority minority in the United States). This is an implicit, not explicit requirement, based on zoning. ** in New Zealand, the Maori electorates have been in use for over a century so that voters of Maori extraction can elect their own MPs ; contrary to the US' solution, the Maori electorates overlap the generic electorates. And unlike the US, the distinction between ethnies is explicit. Greater magnitudes increase the chance for diverse walks of life and minority groups to be elected. However, it is not synonymous with proportional representation. A closed list PR method, for instance, gives the party machine the power to rank the candidates on the party list. In this case, greater magnitudes help minorities only if the party machines choose to include them.

Apportionment and redistricting

''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§5: Establishment of Constituency Commission; Electoral Act, 1997
Irish Statute Book while Belgium uses its existing administrative boundaries for electoral districts and instead modifies the number of representatives allotted to each. Israel and the Netherlands are among the few countries that avoid the need for apportionment entirely by electing legislators at-large. Apportionment is generally done on the basis of population. Seats in the United States House of Representatives, for instance, are reapportioned to individual states every 10 years following a census, with some states that have grown in population gaining seats. By contrast, seats in the Cantonal Council of Zürich are reapportioned in every election biproportional apportionment, based on the number of votes cast in each district, which is only made possible by use of multi-member districts, and the House of Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by contrast, is apportioned without regard to population; the three major ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats - each get exactly five members. ''Malapportionment'' occurs when voters are under- or over-represented due to variation in district population. In some places, geographical area is allowed to affect apportionment, with rural areas with sparse populations allocated more seats per elector: for example in Iceland, the Falkland Islands, Scottish islands, and (partly) in US Senate elections.


''Gerrymandering'' is the manipulation of electoral district boundaries for political gain. By creating a few "forfeit" districts where opposing candidates win overwhelmingly, gerrymandering politicians can manufacture more, but narrower, wins for themselves and their party. Gerrymandering relies on the wasted vote, 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 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%), compared to single-member districts where 40-49% of the voters can be essentially shut out from any representation

Swing seats and safe seats

Sometimes, particularly under non-proportional winner-take-all voting systems, electoral districts can be prone to landslide election, 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 Elections in the United Kingdom#General elections, United Kingdom general elections and United States presidential and congressional 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. In large multi-party systems like India, swing seats can lead to a hung assembly like situation if a significant number of seats go for regional parties instead of the larger national parties who are the main competitors at the national or state level, as was the situation in the Lok Sabha (Lower house of the Parliament of India) during the 1990s.

Constituency work

Elected representatives may spend much of the time serving the needs or demands of individual ''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. Caseworker (politics), Caseworkers may be employed by representatives to assist constituents with problems. Members of the United States Congress, U.S. Congress (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, House of Commons of the United Kingdom, British MPs use their Parliamentary staffing allowance to appoint staff for constituency casework. Client politics and pork barrel 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 in Fiji; Reserved political positions in India, reserved seats in India for Anglo-Indians and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; Māori electorates in New Zealand. * By qualification: University constituency in Ireland and formerly the United Kingdom, Functional constituency (Hong Kong), functional constituency in Hong Kong * By residence outside the country: Overseas constituencies in Constituencies for French residents overseas, France and Overseas constituencies of the Italian Parliament, Italy

Voting without constituencies

Not all democratic political systems use separate districts or other electoral subdivisions to conduct elections. Politics of Israel, Israel, for instance, conducts parliamentary elections as a single district. While the 26 electoral districts in Politics of Italy, Italy and the 20 in the Politics of the Netherlands, Netherlands have a role in the actual election, but no role whatsoever in the division of the seats. Ukraine elected half of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) in this way in the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary election, elections in October 2012."Parliament Passes Law on Parliamentary Elections"
''Kyiv Post'', 17 November 2011.


{{Authority control Constituencies, Elections Electoral systems Types of administrative division