Understanding the d'Hondt method: Allocation of parliamentary seats and leadership positions

Briefing 05-07-2024

To allocate seats in collegiate bodies, such as parliaments, a method is needed to translate votes proportionally into whole seats. The d'Hondt method is a mathematical formula that is used widely in proportional representation systems, although it leads to less proportional results than other seat allocation systems, such as the Hare-Niemeyer or Sainte-Laguë/Schepers methods. Moreover, the d'Hondt method tends to favour the electoral lists that win the most votes, to the detriment of those with fewer votes. However, it is effective in facilitating majority formation and therefore in securing parliamentary operability. The d'Hondt method is used by 15 EU Member States for elections to the European Parliament. It is also used within Parliament as the formula for distributing the chairs of the parliamentary committees and delegations among the political groups, and among the national delegations within some political groups. This proportional distribution of leadership positions within Parliament prevents the dominance of political life by just one or two large political groups, ensuring that smaller political groups also have a say in setting the political agenda. Some argue, however, that this approach limits the impact of election results on the political direction of decision-making within Parliament; they would call instead for a 'winner-takes-all' strategy. Many national parliaments in the EU also distribute committee chairs and other posts proportionally among political groups, either using the d'Hondt method or through more informal means. Others apply a 'winner-takes-more' approach, reserving only certain committee chair posts with particular relevance to government scrutiny for opposition groups. In the US House of Representatives, all committee chairs are selected from the majority party. This updates a 2019 briefing, which itself updated a 2016 briefing by Eva-Maria Poptcheva.