Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 September 2013
The ideal electoral system in a representative democracy is one allowing all eligible citizens to cast an equally weighted vote, and for united groups of voters, except very small ones, to elect one or more of their candidates to a governing body. Approximate proportional representation on governing bodies would be a happenstance and not deliberate. Majority/plurality electoral systems, however, favor the dominant group and often leave women and minority groups with no direct representation.
Designers of electoral systems historically have employed various devices to reduce the influence of opposition political parties or groups and to make it difficult for them to elect their candidates to a governing body. Growing concern that numerous black citizens were prevented from voting in southern states resulted in the U.S. Congress using the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (79 Stat. 437, 42 U.S.C. § 1973), a statute applying to a state or local government meeting two criteria. The Congress in 1975 employed the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the Act's (89 Stat. 438, 42 U.S.C. § 1973) protection to language minorities defined as “persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives, or of Spanish heritage.”
The Act has eliminated invidious discrimination against protected groups, yet many law-making bodies are still unrepresentative of their respective constituencies.