Voting methods in deliberative assemblies

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Deliberative assemblies – bodies that use parliamentary procedure to arrive at decisions – use several methods of voting on motions (formal proposal by a member or members of a deliberative assembly that the assembly take certain action).

Voice votes, rising votes (divisions) and shows of hands[edit]

Robert's Rules of Order states that a voice vote (viva voce) is the regular method of voting on any motion that does not require more than a majority vote for its adoption.[1]

A simple rising vote (in which the number of members voting on each side are counted) is used principally in cases in which the chair believes a voice vote has been taken with an inconclusive result, or upon a motion to divide the assembly. A rising vote is also the normal method of voting on motions requiring a two-thirds vote for adoption. It can also be used as the first method of voting only a majority vote is required, if the chair believes in advance that a voice vote will be inconclusive.[1] The chair can also order the vote to be counted.[2]

A show of hands is an alternate to voice voting and can be used as the basic voting method in small boards or committees, and it is so used in some assemblies.[2]


Preferential voting[edit]

Robert's Rules of Order recommends the use of repeated balloting to obtain a majority vote for the winning candidate in elections for officers in which the assembly is physically gathered together. Robert's Rules of Order characterize preferential voting as a "more complicated" system that "affords less freedom of choice than repeated balloting, because it denies voters the opportunity of basing their second or lesser choices on the results of earlier ballots, and because the candidate or proposition in last place is automatically eliminated and may thus be prevented from becoming a compromise choice.".[3]

However, in cases in when the assembly cannot be gathered physically together, Robert's Rules of Order views preferential voting as superior to plurality voting, noting, "In an international or national society where the election is conducted by mail ballot, a plurality is sometimes allowed to elect officers, with a view to avoiding the delay and extra expense that would result from additional balloting under these conditions. A better method in such cases is for the bylaws to prescribe some form of preferential voting"[4] and that "in such cases it makes possible a more representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall elect."[5] Other alternative voting systems can only be used if the bylaws specifically authorize it.[5]

Riddick's Rules of Procedure states that preferential voting is "a complicated, time-consuming system susceptible to miscalculation–actually, a mathematical game. Tellers should be fully instructed in the selected voting method. There is no reason to use preferential voting except in a mail ballot, where it is expensive and impractical to reballot. Preferential voting may only be used if authorized in the bylaws, accompanied with detailed instructions for the method to be used."[6]

Cumulative voting discouraged[edit]

RONR states, "A minority group, by coordinating its effort in voting for only one candidate who is a member of the group, may be able to secure the election of that candidate as a minority member of the board. However, this method of voting, which permits a member to transfer votes,[clarification needed] must be viewed with reservation since it violates a fundamental principle of parliamentary law".[7] An assembly cannot suspend the rules to authorize cumulative voting.[8] TSC similarly states, "Cumulative voting is not permitted unless specifically authorized in the bylaws," but has nothing else to say on it, beyond a brief description of how it works.[9]

Runoffs discouraged[edit]

RONR repeatedly discourages runoffs because they may prevent a compromise candidate from emerging. The book states, "The nominee receiving the lowest number of votes is never removed from the ballot unless the bylaws so require, or unless he withdraws – which, in the absence of such a bylaw, he is not obligated to do. The nominee in lowest place may turn out to be a 'dark horse' on whom all factions may prefer to agree".[10]

Impropriety of Limiting Voting in the Election to the Two Leading Candidates. In some organizations using the nominating ballot, an attempt is made to limit the voting on the electing ballot to the two nominees for each office receiving the highest number of votes on the nominating ballot. This – or any attempt to limit the number of candidates for an office to two, by whatever method they are nominated – is an unfortunate practice and should be avoided. Often the two leading candidates for a position will represent two different factions, and division within the organization may be deepened by limiting the election to them. On the other hand, it may be possible to unite the members if the assembly has the choice of a compromise candidate".[11]

Electing multiple candidates[edit]

Candidates with the lowest vote count are eliminated until the number of candidates remaining is reduced to the number needed to fill the open positions.

Repeated balloting[edit]

Repeated balloting is a voting system in which a candidate who achieves the voting basis (usually a majority of votes cast) is elected; otherwise, voting is repeated, with no candidates involuntarily eliminated. In legislative and parliamentary procedure, this is usually the default system of voting. For instance, Mason's Manual notes, "In the absence of a special rule, a majority vote is necessary to elect officers and a plurality is not sufficient. A vote for the election of officers, when no candidate receives a majority vote, is of no effect, and the situation remains exactly as though no vote had been taken."[12] And Robert's Rules of Order states that neither alternate voting systems such as plurality,[4] preferential,[5] and cumulative voting[13] nor elimination of last-place candidates[14] is allowable unless stated in the bylaws; thus, if the bylaws say nothing, the assembly must use majority voting with repeated balloting. But even a plurality election can sometimes require repeated balloting; Demeter's Manual notes, "The fact that a majority (or a plurality) of the votes are cast for an ineligible candidate does not entitle the candidate receiving 'the next highest number of votes' to be declared elected. In such case, the voters have failed to make a choice, and they proceed to vote again."[15]

An advantage of this system is that it allows a dark horse or compromise candidate, who received few votes in the first round, to become the candidate that opposing factions agree to settle on.[14] Moreover, it can prevent a candidate who is opposed by the majority of the electorate from being elected, as might happen under plurality.[16] A disadvantage is that if no one drops out of the race, and the voters are unwilling to switch sides, balloting can theoretically go on forever. The U.S. Presidential election of 1800 used repeated balloting and took 36 ballots to decide.

Between rounds of balloting, members can make motions to help the assembly complete the election within a reasonable time. For instance, the assembly may vote to drop the candidate having the lowest vote after each successive vote, or reopen nominations for the office in order to secure a candidate on whom the majority can agree. This can help break a deadlock.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Robert, Henry M. (2000). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th ed., p. 44
  2. ^ a b RONR, p. 45
  3. ^ RONR, p. 414, l. 3–13
  4. ^ a b RONR, p. 392
  5. ^ a b c RONR, p. 411
  6. ^ Riddick & Butcher (1985). Riddick's Rules of Procedure, p. 145
  7. ^ RONR, p. 429, l. 23–29
  8. ^ RONR, p. 255
  9. ^ Sturgis, Alice (2001). The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, 4th ed., p. 246
  10. ^ RONR, p. 426–427
  11. ^ RONR, p. 423, l. 11–24
  12. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, p. 391
  13. ^ RONR, p. 429, 556
  14. ^ a b RONR, p. 426–427
  15. ^ Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book, p. 213
  16. ^ TSC, p. 135
  17. ^ TSC, p. 211

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