Bullet voting or single-shot voting is a tactic in which the voter only selects one candidate, despite the option to indicate a preference for other candidates. They might do this either because it is easier than evaluating all the candidates, or (depending on the electoral system in use) as a form of tactical voting.
If enough voters bullet vote, almost any electoral system functions like a plurality voting system. This is generally considered a poor result, as many electoral systems are intended as reforms or improvements that avoid or minimize some argued disadvantages of plurality (aka first-past-the-post voting). However, if voters bullet vote as a conscious strategy to express their meta-preference that candidates with strong support are preferable to "compromise" candidates with broad support, it may not be a problem.
This tactic is possible in any electoral system that does not require ranking all candidates. In practice, this is the majority of electoral systems as actually implemented (as opposed to in theory), since to reject ballots that do not rank all candidates risk an excessive number of spoiled ballots. However, it is mainly an issue in electoral systems that reward this tactic—primarily approval voting, and to a lesser extent range voting—and in those that do not significantly penalize it—primarily instant-runoff voting and a non-standard form of Borda count.
Candidates may seek to encourage bullet voting in certain situations. One example is where there is a Bloc voting election for two seats of the same office, and there are several candidates (say A, B, and C). Voters in such a situation typically have two votes. Candidate A encourages his voters to vote only for him and not use their second vote. If the second vote is cast for B or C, it helps A's opponents. The situation is most pronounced where A is of one party and B and C are of another party. If voters from B and C's party vote for them, while A's partisans cast one vote for A and split their second vote between B and C, A is significantly disadvantaged.
- "Bullet Voting". The Center for Election Science. 2015-05-20. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
Bullet voting is the practice of choosing just one candidate despite the ability to choose or rank more.
- "Does "Bullet Voting" Really Work? - Philadelphia Magazine". Philadelphia Magazine. 2015-10-27. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
- "Ocean City Maryland News | OC MD Newspapers | Maryland Coast Dispatch » Merits Of Single-Shot Voting Questioned". mdcoastdispatch.com. Retrieved 2017-07-13.
Single-shot voting is essentially a tactic used by voters ... choosing only one candidate or a lesser amount of candidates than open seats.
- Beard, Charles Austin; Gross, Murray; Sait, Edward M. (1913-04-01). "Notes and events". National Municipal Review. 2 (2): 284–326. doi:10.1002/ncr.4110020217. ISSN 1931-0250.
An amendment to the city charter of Haverhill is being sought to eliminate the “bullet” voting that has prevailed since the change was made from a bicameral system to a commission form in 1908. ... it has been possible for friends of a candidate to vote for him alone by casting a bullet vote, where they are allowed to vote for two or four candidates.
- "Drawing the Line". Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on 2017-02-21. Retrieved 2017-07-13.
4. Anti-single-shot provisions: These provisions compel voters to cast a vote for every open seat, even if voters do not want to support more than one candidate. A voter who casts a vote for less than the entire number of seats open (a “full slate”) will not have his or her ballot counted. Requiring minority voters to vote for a full slate dilutes their voting strength by preventing them from concentrating their support behind one candidate.