On Tuesday, Israelis will elect a new national parliament. Millions of voters will choose between competing "lists" -- slates of candidates who represent a political party or an alliance of parties that will be allocated seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, based on their share of the votes they garner.
In Israel's history, no single party has ever won an outright majority in the 120-seat chamber, meaning governments have always been formed through coalitions of parties. The question of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lead the next government hinges on a complex set of calculations based on the seats won by his Likud party, trailing in the polls behind his main challengers, and what parties will join his coalition.
Like other parliamentary democracies, Israel gets criticized for its gridlock and political instability. Moreover, when Israel votes on Tuesday, more than 4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza will look on as strangers to a process that dictates much about their future, yet allows them no say in it.
But aspects of Israel's system of proportional representation -- very different from the geography-based constituencies one sees in the United States or Britain -- would strike Americans as refreshing. Here's why.
1. It's a more direct form of democracy: Proportional representation -- as well as parliamentary politics -- privileges ideological votes over geographic ones. Israelis will choose between more than two dozen lists of candidates, some of whom stand on very specific platforms or represent narrow interests, such as those of a particular ultra-Orthodox religious community.
Sure, there will be plenty of political cynicism and compromise on display after the election, when the leading parties are compelled to form a coalition government. But the Knesset itself is a more genuine reflection of Israel's political spectrum than a system such as that in the United States, with two iron-clad, dominant parties battling it out in winner-takes-all contests.
In democracies built on proportional representation, each vote counts, in so far as it contributes to a party's overall national share of the electorate. It also means that citizens in theory have fewer inhibitions voting their true beliefs -- though, as seen in the current Israeli context, there will always be pragmatic concerns.
2. Geography doesn't matter: Because of the electoral college system in the United States, the simple fact of where you live could mean your vote just doesn't matter in a presidential election. Some of the country's most important urban centers get completely bypassed by national campaigns because they happen to not sit in swing states. The practice of gerrymandering districts shapes congressional politics and creates entrenched power bases for the parties.
In a system with proportional representation, none of these artificial checks on a more direct form of democracy would exist.
3. Increases voter turnout: Studies suggest that voter turnout is higher in countries that use proportional representation. That makes sense: when your vote has more direct impact on proceedings, you would be more inclined to go to the ballot box. Israeli voter turnout for its elections have until the past decade or so been consistently above 70 percent. of eligible voters. The numbers dipped following the second Intifada, when many eligible Palestinian voters in Israel (also know as Israeli Arabs), who make up some 20 percent of the population, chose to boycott elections.
Compare that to the apathy of American voters during the 2014 midterm elections (a depressing 36 percent) and even during the last presidential election (57.5 percent).
4. Raises representation of women: Women are half the population, but that's not reflected in the world's legislatures. Douglas J. Amy, a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College and an expert of voting systems, notes that systems using proportional representation (PR) often lead to more female candidates being nominated. It may be a cynical tactic, but its outcome is positive, he writes:
If a party were to put only men on their slate, that would immediately be noticed. The party would be inviting charges of sexism and would risk alienating the feminist vote. So with PR voting there is some inherent pressure on the parties to nominate more women for office. The adoption of PR in the U.S. would be one of the most effective ways to quickly increase the number of women in elected office.
Israel's last Knesset counted a record 26 women members out of 120. It's a ratio that's nowhere near as impressive as other countries with forms of proportional representation, including Germany and New Zealand, but still better than that found in the U.S. Congress.