Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method

For Allocation of Seats in the EU Parliament

On Monday I had a talk over Discord with Boris Biba, who himself runs a blog. We wanted to do a cooperation for some time. The focus of his blog are philosophy and politics. And as I told him, that I’m interested in crunching numbers, the comming EU elections are the perfect opportunity for a cooperation.
First we talked about doing something regarding the Wahl-O-Mat. Now in hindsight it was probably good that we decided for something else, as the Wahl-O-Mat was taken offline just today.
Then Boris brought up that he wanted to a post about the seat allocation method, which is called Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method, for German votes in the EU election. And I thought to myself, that this is wonderful, as voting is basically a paradigm for statistics. So I would be able to implement a small algorithm.

So be also sure to check out the post, which you can find here, from Boris, if you’re able to read German!

More otter selfies means more creative common selfies! Like this one.

What I’ll be doing in this post, is explain you the seat allocation method called Sainte-Laguë/Schepers and then give you a demonstrative example for it. And as an easteregg I throw in some election posters for the imaginary parties, I’ll use in the example. I created those posters with Adobe Spark.

As a main source for my post, I took the corresponding article from the German Wahl-Lexikon.

Description of the Method

So there are basically three variants of this method, which all deliver the same result.
Two of them work by ranking the voting result. The other one by simple division, which is the one used for the German part of the EU election. It is either called iterative or divisor method.

The simple idea behind this divisor method is to find a divisor for the voting result, which delivers you the right amount of total seats, if you divide the voting results by it and then round them by standard rounding.

To find the right divisor, first the total amount of votes is divided by the number of seats to be assigned.

divisor = \frac{\#votesTotal}{\#seats}

The for each party the number of votes is divided by this divisor.

seatsParty_{i} = \frac{\#votesParty_{i}}{divisor}

And if the sum of the seats of all parties matches up with the amount to be assigned, we’re already done!
If not, we have to either increment or decrement the divisor depending on, if we have to few or to many seats.

Just think about that… If you increase the divisor, the amount of seats shrinks. And vice versa if you decrease the divisor, the amount of seats increases.

And so the divisor is adjusted and the final seats per party are obtained.

Who wouldn’t be proud of such a beautiful plumage?

Implementation of the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method

And of course it wouldn’t be me, if I wouldn’t also implement the method.
Here we go…

seatAllocation <- function(votes, seats){
    ## calculate the initial divisor
    divisor <- round(sum(votes) / seats)

    ## get the initial seats per party
    seatsPerParty <- round(votes / divisor)

    ## if they already satisfy the seats to be assigned, return the seat allocation
    if(sum(seatsPerParty) == seats){
        return(list(divisor = divisor, seatsPerParty = seatsPerParty))

    ## otherwise increment or decrement the divisor until 
    ## the result fits and then return it
    if(sum(seatsPerParty) < seats){
        while(sum(seatsPerParty) < seats){
            divisor = divisor - 1
            seatsPerParty <- round(votes / divisor)
        return(list(divisor = divisor, seatsPerParty = seatsPerParty))
         while(sum(seatsPerParty) > seats){
            divisor = divisor + 1
            seatsPerParty <- round(votes / divisor)
        return(list(divisor = divisor, seatsPerParty = seatsPerParty))


The function is basically the same as what I described under the last point in plain text. As always, if you have some questions or remarks regarding my implementation feel free to write me a comment!

Poor agenda or marketing gag? Hmmmm….

Example with the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers method

Now to test the method, let’s just come up with some arbitrary voting result for our imaginary parties introduced earlier. And of course plot them as a pie chart!

votes <- c(AP = 11345, CVP = 563342, EP = 618713, OSP = 305952, PDP = 95001)
votesSorted <- sort(votes, decreasing = TRUE)
names(votesSorted) <- paste0(names(votesSorted), " (", 
                               format(votesSorted/sum(votesSorted) * 100, digits = 2), "%)")
Pie chart of the voting result

Subsequently, let’s test what result the method delivers and if the percentages match up approximately.

result <- seatAllocation(votes, 310)

OK, first let’s visualize the result. But let’s not use a pie chart again. Because to be honest they can be misleading. This time we will use a waffle chart, which displays the actual seats.
Of course we also need to do some preprocessing. We want the parties ordered after their size and we won’t their percentage of seats in the legend.

seatsPerParty <- result$seatsPerParty
seatsPerParty <- sort(seatsPerParty, decreasing = TRUE)
names(seatsPerParty) <- paste0(names(seatsPerParty), " (", 
                               format(seatsPerParty/sum(seatsPerParty) * 100, digits = 2), "%)")
Waffle diagram for the seat allocation

Well, there’s some difference in the percentage, but that’s to be expected as you can’t distribute fractions of seats between the parties.


Of course there are many other methods for allocating seats in an election. Some that are equivalent to this one and others that are not. And if you’re interesting in them, I would encourage you to write me.
If you like, we can look at a bunch of them an then compare them. And we could also take a look at things like overhang seat or different kinds of voting. I think it’s a nice topic for making plots.

By the way if you also wanna read this post in German, check the following link out!

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