Regional systems are systems where members of parliament represent regional districts and are elected by voters in that district. These can be Single Member Districts or Multi-Member Districts. Regional systems are contrasted by Partisan systems where votes are cast for centralized parties instead of local representatives. There are also Mixed System where voters can vote for both a party and a regional representative.
From a historical perspective, regional boundaries were the default way to divide the electorate. The difference is that historically the “voting” would be done with force and the lord who could rally the most force from their populace would have the most power. One can even see such dominance hierarchies forming ineluctably in primates. Human evolution under regional hierarchies has caused us to care more about people who are in close proximity. Regional systems seem an intuitive underpinning for a system and mirrors how nations formed historically. Diverse coalitions such as the European Union and the United States have a regional approach at all levels. Joe Clark often described Canada as a “community of communities.”
Adolf Gasser compared stable representative democracies versus unstable ones in his book “Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas” (1943). In the wake of both Hitler and Mussolini coming to power partially because of their countries’ Partisan systems, he argues that for stability the societal power must be built from the bottom up based on local communities and therefore must be Regional Systems. Many studies since have shown that grand narratives tend to fail where complex emergent systems do not. The local and the individual is where an emergent system of governing must be based.
One of the groups that is guaranteed to have many common interests is that defined by region. This could be because of the unique conditions of that area, the environment or any of many regional issues. In contrast to Partisan Systems where not all citizens have a party, all citizens have a region. From an economics perspective, all implementations are by nature local. The effects of policies and legislature are on individuals or specific objects. Tip O’Neal is often quoted for the expression he coined “all politics is local”. His motivation for this statement was that politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elect them into office. Those personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care most about, according to this principle. This is not explicitly true because there are many high-profile ideas that can get people very motivated to vote. However, the non-local issues tend to be more divisive because they are based on ideological narratives. These are so called 'wedge issues'. They are the basis which drive populist movements and leads to the tyranny of the majority. The O’Neal quote is really more of a wish than an actuality. If one is to design such a system then one can fulfill this wish.
The only common complaint against regional systems is that they tend to produce only a moderate level of Proportional Representation. Systems with Single Member Districts do not ensure any level of Proportional Representation but systems with Multi-Member Districts can ensure specific proportionality criteria by design. There are two specific cases where this really matters. The first is when the popular vote and the seat count imply that a different party should form the government. This is really a failing stemming from the existence of parties and how a government is formed from the assembly. As such it is not really an issue with the members which are elected but how they form a government. Reform to Government formation is then a better solution to this complaint than to blame regional systems. The second issue is with small partisan groups who lack representation. It is unclear that if these groups are adequately represented in a Partisan System either and clearly not in Partisan Systems which block small parties by design. It is however important to note that Proportional Representation is a measure of fairness so if it could be improved without costs then the system would be improved. One cannot ensure optimal Proportional Representation without partisan voting so there will always be some costs in a system which is design for such a goal. Modern electoral system design is often about trying to balance all the costs against one another in an elegant way. Multi-member systems and Mixed electoral systems are the two branches of theory under-which this is attempted.