At-large is a designation for members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body (for example, a city, state or province, nation, club or association), rather than a subset of that membership. At-large voting is in contrast to voting by electoral districts.
If an at-large election is called to choose a single candidate, a single-winner voting system must necessarily be used. If a group of seats must be covered, many electoral systems can be possible, from proportional representation methods (such as party-list proportional representation, or PR-STV) to block voting.
A number of municipalities in Canada elect part or all of their city councils at-large. Although this form of municipal election is most common in small towns due to the difficulty of dividing the municipality into wards, several larger cities use an at-large system as well:
- North Bay, Ontario (all councillors at-large)
- Portage la Prairie, Manitoba (all councillors at-large)
- St. Albert, Alberta (all councillors at-large)
- Thunder Bay, Ontario (seven councillors elected to wards, five councillors elected at-large)
- Timmins, Ontario (four rural wards with one councillor each, one urban ward with four at-large councillors)
- Most of British Columbia’s major cities, including Vancouver, Victoria, Surrey and Richmond use this system (all councillors at-large).
At the federal level, Canada’s three territories, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are each represented in the Parliament of Canada by one at-large Member of Parliament and one at-large Senator. However, all Canadian provinces, regardless of size, are divided into multiple electoral districts.
In Israel, elections for the Knesset (the national parliament) are conducted on an at-large basis by proportional representation from party lists. Election of municipal and town (but not regional) councils is also done on an at-large basis by proportional representation from party lists.
In the Netherlands, elections for the House of Representatives (the lower house of the States-General, the national parliament) are conducted on an at-large basis by proportional representation from party lists.
In Philippine politics, “at-large” usually refers to the manner of election of the Senate: the voters have twelve votes, with the country acting as one at-large “district”, the twelve candidates with the most votes are elected (plurality-at-large voting).
Provinces that send only one representative to the House of Representatives are called “lone districts”. All local legislatures elect member via at-large districts via plurality-at-large voting. Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), Sangguniang Barangay (Barangay) (village) Council, Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Councils) and some Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Councils) all elect members with each local government unit acting as one at-large district. Some City Councils and all Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) members are elected with the city or province being split into as much as seven districts, then each district elects at least two members, at-large.
Article One of the United States Constitution provides for direct election of members of the House of Representatives. A congressional act passed in 1967, 2 U.S.C. § 2c, dictates that representatives must be elected from geographical districts and that these must be single-member districts, except when the state has a single representative, in which case one at-large representative is elected from the entire state.
States with at-large congressional districts
Former at-large congressional districts
Non-voting at-large congressional districts
- American Samoa
- American Virgin Islands
- District of Columbia
- Puerto Rico
- Northern Mariana Islands
Former non-voting at-large congressional districts
States with both at-large seats and geographically defined districts
This is a table of every instance of at-large representation in the United States Congress when the same state had geographically defined districts as well.
|Congress||State & Number of at-large seats|
|43rd||AL (2), AR (1), IN (2), LA (1), NY (1), PA (3), SC (1), TN (1), TX (2)|
|48th||AR (1), CA (2), GA (1), KS (4), NY (1), NC (1), PA (1), VA (1)|
|53rd||IL (2), KS (1), PA (2)|
|54th||KS (1), PA (2)|
|55th||KS (1), PA (2)|
|56th||KS (1), PA (2)|
|57th||KS (1), PA (2)|
|58th||CO (1), CT (1), KS (1)|
|59th||CO (1), CT (1), KS (1)|
|60th||CO (1), CT (1)|
|61st||CO (1), CT (1)|
|62nd||CO (1), CT (1)|
|63rd||AL (1), CO (2), FL (1), IL (2), MI (1), MN (1), OH (1), OK (3), PA (4), TX (2), WA (2), WV (1)|
|64th||AL (1), IL (2), PA (4), TX (2), WV (1)|
|65th||IL (2), PA (4), TX (2)|
|66th||IL (2), PA (4)|
|67th||IL (2), PA (4)|
|73rd||CT (1), FL (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1), TX (3)|
|74th||CT (1), FL (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)|
|75th||CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)|
|76th||CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)|
|77th||CT (1), IL (2), NY (2), OH (2), OK (1)|
|78th||CT (1), FL (1), IL (1), NY (2), OH (1), PA (1)|
|79th||CT (1), IL (1), OH (1)|
|80th||CT (1), IL (1), OH (1)|
|81st||CT (1), OH (1)|
|82nd||CT (1), OH (1)|
|83rd||CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)|
|84th||CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)|
|85th||CT (1), TX (1), WA (1)|
|88th||CT (1), MD (1), MI (1), OH (1), TX (1)|
|89th||MD (1), OH (1), TX (1)|
Since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and lessening of some historic barriers to voter registration and voting, legal challenges have been made based on at-large election schemes at the county or city level, including in school board elections, in numerous jurisdictions where minorities had been effectively excluded from representation on local councils or boards. An example is Charleston County, South Carolina, which was sued in 2001 and reached a settlement in 2004. Its county commission changed to nine members elected from single-member districts; in 2015 they included six white Republicans and three African-American Democrats, where the black minority makes up more than one-third of the population.
In another instance, in 2013 Fayette County, Georgia, which had an estimated 70% white majority and 20% black minority, was ordered by a federal district court to develop single-member districts for election of members to its county council and its school board. Due to at-large voting, African Americans had been unable to elect any candidate of their choice to either of these boards for decades. Such local election systems have become subject to litigation, since enabling more representative elections can create entry points for minorities and women into the political system, as well as providing more representative government. In the late 1980s, several major cities in Tennessee reached settlement in court cases to adopt single-member districts in order to enable minorities to elect candidates of their choice to city councils; they had previously been excluded by at-large voting favoring the majority population. By 2015, voters in two of these cities had elected women mayors who had gotten their start in being elected to the city council from single-member districts.
Some states have laws which further discourage the use of at-large districts. For example, the California Voting Rights Act removes one of the criteria required for a successful federal Voting Rights Act challenge, thus resulting in hundreds of cities, school districts, and special districts to move to single member area-based elections.
- ABS Staff, “Fayette County at-large election process violates the Voting Rights Act”, Atlanta Black Star, 22 May 2013, accessed 11 April 2015
- BUCHANAN v. CITY OF JACKSON, 683 F. Supp. 1515 (W.D. Tenn. 1988), Case Text website
- Martis, Kenneth C. (1982). The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.