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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. Multiple winners are elected simultaneously to serve the district. Block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead the usual result is that where the candidates divide into definitive parties (especially for example where those parties have party lines which are whipped) the most popular party in the district sees its full slate of candidates elected, resulting in a landslide.
The term "plurality at-large" is in common usage in elections for representative members of a body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body (for example, a city, state or province, nation, club or association). Where the system is used in a territory divided into multi-member electoral districts the system is commonly referred to as "block voting" or the "bloc vote". Block voting as described in this article is "unlimited voting", unlike "limited voting", where a voter has fewer votes than the number of seats contested.
This system is usually based on a single round of voting, 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. In these cases, it is more accurately called "majority-at-large voting".
The term "block voting" sometimes means simple plurality election of slates in multi-member districts. In such a system, each party puts forward a slate of candidates, a voter casts just one vote, and the party winning a plurality of votes sees its whole slate elected, winning all the seats.
Casting and counting ballots
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In a block voting election, all candidates run against each other for m number of positions, where m is commonly called the district magnitude. Each voter selects up to m candidates on the ballot (voters are sometimes said to have m votes; however, they are unable to vote for the same candidate more than once as is permitted in cumulative voting). Voters are most commonly permitted to cast their votes across more than one party list. The m 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 these seats. There are 1,500 voters, and the voters each select a maximum of three candidates.
Since Flo, Mr. Big, and Bernie received the most votes, they will comprise the Dinertown City Council. Flo and Mr. Big each obtained a majority of the maximum 1,500 votes available per candidate; Bernie obtained only a plurality.
The Central Strelsau constituency in the Ruritanian Assembly of the Republic elects six members, and sixteen candidates are vying for its seats. There are 6,750 voters, and each voter votes for a maximum of six candidates.
|David "D-Dog" Ng||4,195|
Alice Brown, Bob Jones, Sam Miller, David "D-Dog" Ng, Sylvia Ambrosetti, Matt Wright and Allison Cook obtained at least 3,376 votes (a majority of the maximum 6,750 available per candidate) each. However, while seven candidates won a majority, there are only six seats to be filled, so only Brown, Jones, Miller, and Ng are elected. As a result, because there are still two seats yet to be filled, a second round would be held, and at least four candidates would proceed to it.
Since Sylvia Ambrosetti, Matt Wright and Allison Cook received the single highest number of votes (3,901) among the unelected candidates, they will proceed to the second round — but, since the number of advancing candidates is three, there are insufficient candidates to stand for election in the second round. Therefore, the candidates who received the single next-highest number of votes (3,213) — Judy Bogart, Thomas McLeish and Pranav Kapoor — would also proceed to the second round, and all other candidates would be eliminated.
Note that the second round is held between six candidates — there is no need to limit to four candidates only, since the second round itself serves as a tiebreaker; nor is permitting the third- and fourth-placed candidates to stand needed, since the first two places already provide six candidates in total.
In the second round, Sylvia Ambrosetti, Matt Wright and Pranav Kapoor received the most votes, but once again, the number winners exceeds the number of seats to be filled. Only Ambrosetti is elected on the basis of pure second-round results, while Wright and Kapoor proceed to a tie-breaker. Because Wright received 7,665 votes in both rounds combined, while Kapoor only received 6,977, the tie is broken in Wright's favor.
The overall results of the election can be summed out as follows:
|Candidate||Status||First round||Second round||Tie-breaker|
|Alice Brown||Elected in first round||5,407||N/A||N/A|
|Bob Jones||Elected in first round||4,662|
|Sam Miller||Elected in first round||4,662|
|David "D-Dog" Ng||Elected in first round||4,195|
|Sylvia Ambrosetti||Elected in second round||3,901||4,154|
|Matt Wright||Elected in tiebreaker||3,901||3,764||7,665|
|Allison Cook||Lost second round||3,901||3,355||N/A|
|Pranav Kapoor||Lost tiebreaker||3,213||3,764||6,977|
|Judy Bogart||Lost second round||3,213||2,943||N/A|
|Thomas McLeish||Lost second round||3,213||1,223|
|Maurice Vuong||Lost first round||2,725||N/A|
|Pat Malkiewicz||Lost first round||2,214|
|Sean Stephens||Lost first round||1,867|
|Megan Vargas||Lost first round||1,455|
|Raymond Sullivan||Lost first round||905|
|Duncan Bradshaw||Lost first round||329|
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 a 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 vote-splitting will occur. Similarly, a coalition has a 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 in which a voter only votes for a single candidate in an attempt to stop them being beaten by additional choices. Because the voter is essentially wasting a portion of their vote, bullet voting is only a good strategy when the voter has a strong preference for their 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 which 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 may win every available seat. A voter does have the option to select candidates of different political stripes if they wish, though. But if the largest group of voters have strong party loyalty there is nothing the other voters or parties can do to prevent a landslide.
Additionally, like first past the post methods, if there are many parties running and voters do not engage in tactical voting, a small cohesive group of voters, making up only a minority of the voters, can elect all the open seats by merely constituting a plurality.
This system sometimes fosters 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 seven seats and forms the opposition. Partial block voting is also used in the Spanish Senate, where there are four seats per constituency and each voter receives three 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 their party-list, which is voted by the electors producing a landslide, and any minority representation is excluded. So, the full at-large PBV is considered completely anti-democratic, and it is used only to elect portions of assembly.
The majority-at-large voting is the plurality-at-large voting, but candidates who do not receive an absolute majority must compete in a second round.
Usage of block voting
- Brazil, for Federal Senate elections (for 2/3 of seats every 8 years)
- Canada, in many local government elections, and in Senate recommendation elections in Alberta
- Ecuador in 1998
- Iran for Islamic Consultative Assembly, Assembly of Experts and City and Village Councils of Iran
- Philippines, for Senate elections
- Russia, in some local elections, e.g. in Moscow district councils elections
- Singapore in group representation constituencies (GRCs)
- United Kingdom, in some local elections.
- United States, in some state and local elections.
- In the first round, candidates are elected if they receive an absolute majority of votes cast and the vote of a quorum of at least a quarter of registered voters;
- In the second round, a simple majority suffices. If multiple candidates receive the same number of votes, the election is won by the older of the candidates when no one can be elected based on the number of seats
Block voting was used in the Australian Senate from 1901 to 1948 (from 1918, this was preferential block voting). Block voting was also once used in South Australia. 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 (until 2013, FPTP since 2017), 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. A similar system to elect part of the Mongolian parliament. 48 Representatives are elected from districts with 1-3 members, the representatives are required to achieve at least 28% of the vote in a district to be elected, if there are unfilled seats after the first round of voting, a second round similar to the Belgian system is held to fill the remaining seat. The remaining representatives are elected separately using party list proportional representation on the national level.
In British Columbia, Canada, all local governments are elected using bloc voting for city councils and for other multi-member bodies (there called "at-large" voting). In other Canadian provinces, smaller cities are generally elected under plurality-at-large, while larger cities are generally elected under the "ward system" which is a municipal adaptation of single member plurality. The sole exception is London, Ontario which has recently changed to the Alternative Vote. When Toronto was amalgamated in 1997, the new entity's first election used a similar rule. From 1871 to 1988, British Columbia had some multi-member ridings using plurality-at-large, and others elected under single member plurality, with the number of each varying from one election to the next. Other Canadian provincial legislatures have in the past used plurality-at-large or single transferable vote, but now all members of provincial legislatures are exclusively elected under single member plurality.
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.
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 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.
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