POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy


Selecting the right vote counting method and how seats are allocated is decisive for a successful election. In comparison to majority vote, seats in proportional representation elections are allocated and calculated according to the d’Hondt methodHare-Niemeyer method or the Webster method.

The Webster-method has been used in German federal, European and municipal elections since 2009.
Hans Schepers proposed a reform of the allocation of seats procedure in Germany. The end results under the method developed by Schepers are identical with the method developed by French mathematician André Sainte-Laguë, so the European name is for this method is known as the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method. In the United States, however, it's called the Webster-method, after statesman and senator Daniel Webster. 

How to allocate seats based on the Webster-method

The Webster-method works in a similar way to the d'Hondt method but with a different divisor. Once all votes have been counted, a quotient is then calculated for each party as follows:

Quotient = Total no. of votes received by the party / [(2 x no. of seats already won by the party) + 1] 

Seats are then allocated in rounds (just like in the d'Hondt method) with the first seat going to the party with the higher number of votes. To illustrate, the above example in which 8 seats need to be filled yielded the following results for each list:

  • List 1 - 85
  • List 2 - 35
  • List 3 - 44
  • List 4 - 12

List 1 is automatically awarded the first seat because they have the highest number of votes. Now we calculate the second round quotient for list 1 as follows:

Quotient = 85 / [(2 x 1) +1] = 28.33

Now the second seat is awarded to list 3, which received 44 votes overall, because this number is now the highest of each list when the quotient of 28.33 is substituted in for list 1. This process is then repeated until all remaining seats have been allocated.

Another way to end up at the same result is illustrated in the above chart. Here, a divisor of 22 is calculated by dividing the total number of votes by the number of seats to be filled (176 / 8). By dividing each individual list's number of votes by 22, then rounding each figure up, we end up with the following allocation of seats:

  • List 1 - 4
  • List 2 - 2 
  • List 3 - 2 
  • List 4 - 1

However, since this calculation has ended up with a total of 9 seats being allocated, even though we only need to fill 8 seats, the divisor is then altered in order to allocate the correct number of seats. In this example, list 2 is reduced to 1 seat which brings the total to 8. Both methods of calculation yield the exact same result.

If we compare the result in this example to that of the d'Hondt or Hare-Niemeyer methods, we can see how smaller parties are favoured under the Webster-method (list 4 doesn't win a seat under the other methods). Therefore, selecting the right vote counting method may prove decisive in your election and should be clearly stated in the electoral code or byelaws

See also: D'Hondt method, Hare-Niemeyer method, Proportional Vote, Majority Vote, Online voting

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