|Part of the Politics series|
Plurality-at-large voting, also known as block vote or multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV), is a non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multimember electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election. Although multiple winners are elected simultaneously, block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead, the usual result is that the largest single group wins every seat by electing a slate of candidates, resulting in a landslide.
Even if the term "at-large" describes elections for representative members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body, this system can be used by a country divided in some multi-member electoral districts, but in this last case the system is commonly referred to as block voting or the bloc vote.
This system is usually based on a single round of vote, but it can sometimes appear in a runoff (two-round) version, as in some local elections in France, where candidates who do not receive an absolute majority must compete in a second round. Here it can be better called as majority-at-large voting.
The term bloc voting sometimes means simple plurality election in multimember districts. In such a system, each party introduces a list of candidates and the party winning a plurality of votes wins all the seats. In contrast to such a system, the system described in this article can be called unlimited voting (contrary to limited voting, in which a voter has fewer votes than the number of seats contested).
Casting and counting ballots
In a block voting election, all candidates run against each other for n number of positions. Each voter selects up to n candidates on the ballot (voters are sometimes said to have n votes; however, they are unable to vote for the same candidate more than once as is permitted in cumulative voting). The n candidates with the most votes (who may or may not obtain a majority of available votes) are the winners and will fill the positions.
The Dinertown City Council consists of three seats, and seven candidates are vying for one of the seats. For purposes of this example, there are 1,500 voters participating in the election, and the voters each select the maximum three candidates.
- Flo -- 1,250
- Mr. Big -- 800
- Bernie -- 650
- Simon -- 600
- Derek -- 500
- Rosie -- 400
- Cookie -- 300
Since Flo, Mr. Big, and Bernie received the most votes, they will comprise the Dinertown City Council. Flo and Mr. Big obtained a majority of the maximum 1,500 votes available per candidate; Bernie obtained only a plurality.
Tactical voting and strategic nomination
Plurality block voting, like single-winner plurality voting, is particularly vulnerable to tactical voting. Supporters of relatively unpopular third parties have a substantial incentive to avoid wasted votes by casting all of their votes for the slate of candidates from a major party.
Parties in block voting systems can also benefit from strategic nomination. Coalitions are actively hurt when they have more candidates than there are seats to fill, as inevitable vote-splitting will occur. Similarly, a coalition has substantial incentive to nominate a full slate of candidates, as otherwise supporting voters may cast some of their remaining votes for opposing candidates.
Bullet voting is a strategy where a voter deliberately only makes a mark for a single candidate in an attempt to not accidentally cause him to be beaten by additional choices. Because the voter is essentially wasting a portion of his vote, bullet voting is only a good strategy when the voter has a strong preference for his favorite and is unsure of (and/or indifferent to) the other candidates' relative chances of winning, for example, if the voter supports an independent candidate or a minor party who has only nominated one candidate.
Effects of block voting
The block voting system has a number of features which can make it unrepresentative of the voters' intentions. Block voting regularly produces complete landslide majorities for the group of candidates with the highest level of support. Under block voting, a slate of clones of the top-place candidate is guaranteed to win every available seat.
Additionally, like first past the post methods, small cohesive groups of voters can overpower larger numbers of disorganised voters who do not engage in tactical voting, sometimes resulting in a small minority of voters electing an entire slate of candidates by merely constituting a plurality.
Some uses of this system have fostered the creation of an electoral alliance between political parties or groups as opposed to a coalition. This has been the case in the National Assembly of Mauritius, the New Hampshire House of Representatives with the election of multiple Free State Project as well as New Hampshire Liberty Alliance members and in the Vermont Senate with the elections of Vermont Progressive Party members Tim Ashe and Anthony Pollina. Historically, similar situations arose within the multi-member constituencies in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
While many criticize block voting's tendency to create landslide victories, some cite it as a strength. Since the winners of a block voting election generally represent the same slate or group of voters, there is greater agreement amongst those elected, potentially leading to a reduction in political gridlock.
Variations of block voting
Partial block voting, also called limited voting, functions similarly to plurality-at-large voting, however in partial block voting each voter receives fewer votes than the number of candidates to be elected. This in turn can enable reasonably sized minorities to achieve some representation, as it becomes impossible for a simple plurality to sweep every seat. Partial bloc voting is used for elections to the Gibraltar Parliament, where each voter has 10 votes and 17 seats are open for election; the usual result is that the most popular party wins 10 seats and forms the ruling administration, while the second most popular wins 7 seats and forms the opposition. Partial block voting is also used in the Spanish Senate, where there are 4 seats and each voter receives 3 votes. Historically, partial block voting was used in three- and four-member constituencies in the United Kingdom, where voters received two votes, until multimember constituencies were abolished.
Under partial block voting, the fewer votes each voter is granted the smaller the number of voters needed to win becomes and the more like proportional representation the results can be, provided that voters and candidates use proper strategy. At the extreme, if each voter receives only one vote, then the voting system becomes equivalent to the single non-transferable vote and the minimum proportion needed is the Droop quota.
Block voting, or plurality block voting, is often compared with preferential block voting as both systems tend to produce landslide victories for similar candidates. Instead of a series of checkboxes, preferential block voting uses a preferential ballot. A slate of clones of the top preferred candidate will win every seat under both systems, however in preferential block voting this is instead the instant-runoff winner.
The party block voting, or general ticket, is the party-list version of the bloc vote. If in the classic BV the candidates formally stand as non-partisan and some minority nominations can be theoretically successful, in the PVB each candidate are linked to his party-list, which is voted by the electors producing a landslide, and any minority representation is excluded. So, the full at-large PVB is considered completely anti-democratic, and it is used only to elect portions of assembly.
Usage of block voting
These countries use the block vote:
Block voting was used in the Australian Senate from 1901 to 1948 (from 1918, this was preferential block voting). It was used for multi-member constituencies in parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom until their abolition, and remains in use throughout England and Wales for some local elections. It is also used in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands and Saint Helena.
Plurality block voting is or was also used in the election of the Senate of Poland (until 2011), of the Parliament of Lebanon, the plurality seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and for the National Assembly of Mauritius. In some Lebanese and Palestinian constituencies, there is only one seat to be filled; in the Palestinian election of 1996 there were only plurality seats, but in 2006 half the seats were elected by plurality, half by proportional representation nationwide.
A form of plurality block voting was used for the elections of both houses of Parliament in Belgium before proportional representation was implemented in 1900. The system, however, was combined with a system similar to a runoff election; when not enough candidates had the majority of the votes in the first round, a second round was held between the highest ranked candidates of the first round (with two times as many candidates as seats to be filled). In some constituencies there was only one seat to be filled.
Plurality block voting is also in use in the United States today. Although national elections and most state elections use single-member districts, some members of the Maryland House of Delegates, New Hampshire House of Representatives, and Vermont House of Representatives are elected by block voting from multi-member districts. In local elections such as for city council, however, block voting remains the most popular system in use.
In most of British Columbia, Canada, including Vancouver, plurality (there called "at-large" block voting) is used in local elections, in place of the ward system found elsewhere in Canada. When Toronto was amalgamated in 1997, the new entity's first election used a similar rule. Block voting was also in place in a number of multimember ridings of various Canadian provincial parliaments.
In Hong Kong, block voting is used for a tiny proportion of the territory's population to elect the members of the Election Committee, which is responsible for selecting the territory's Chief Executive.
Block voting was used in some constituencies for the House of Representatives of Japan in the first six general elections between 1890 and 1898: while the majority of seats was elected by plurality in 214 single-member districts, there were 43 two-member districts that elected their representatives by block voting.
Block voting is often used in corporate elections to elect the boards of directors of corporations including housing cooperatives, with each shareholder's vote being multiplied by the number of shares they own; however, cumulative voting is also popular.
The Philippines is the country with the most extensive experience in plurality-at-large voting. Positions where there are multiple winners usually use plurality-at-large voting, the exception is the election for sectoral representatives in the House of Representatives. The members of the Senate and all local legislatures are elected via this method. The members of the Interim Batasang Pambansa (the parliament) were also elected under this method in 1978.
- "Block Vote". Electoral Reform Society, UK. Retrieved 2013-03-27.
- City of Hendersonville, NC
- Rogers v. Lodge, (1982) Supreme Court Case
- A Handbook of Electoral System Design from International IDEA
- Electoral Design Reference Materials from the ACE Project
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network Expert site providing encyclopedia on Electoral Systems and Management, country by country data, a library of electoral materials, latest election news, the opportunity to submit questions to a network of electoral experts, and a forum to discuss all of the above