Two types of local representation
The election system of a given city is determined by the nature of the council members' constituency and by the presence or absence of party labels on the ballot (see Partisan vs. Non-partisan Elections). With regard to the first feature, there are two types of constituencies for city council members -- at-large and district.
All at-large members are elected to serve the same constituency, which is the population of the city as a whole. At-large election proponents favor having council members elected by the entire city because:
• Council members in an at-large system can be more impartial, rise above the limited perspective of a single district and concern themselves with the problems of the whole community.
• Vote trading between councilmembers is minimized.
• Better-qualified individuals are elected to the council because the candidate pool is larger.
• However, at-large elections can weaken the representation of particular groups, especially if the group does not have a citywide base of operations or is an ethnic or racial group concentrated in a specific ward.
• Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all municipalities use at-large elections in some way. At-large elections tend to be more popular in small cities and more affluent areas.
Next week: by-district elections.
Source: The National League of Cities.