Electoral system

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Queueing to vote at a polling station for the Australian 2016 federal election

An electoral system or electoral method consists of the set of rules which must be followed for a vote to be considered valid, and which set out how votes are cast, counted and aggregated to yield a final result of an election or a referendum. Common electoral systems are majority rule, proportional representation and plurality voting, with a number of variations and methods such as first-past-the-post and preferential voting. The study of formally defined voting methods is called social choice theory or voting theory, a subfield of political science, economics, or mathematics.

Those who are unfamiliar with voting theory are often surprised to learn that electoral systems other than majority rule exist, or that disagreements exist over what it means to be supported by a majority. Depending on the meaning chosen, the common "majority rule" systems can produce results that the majority does not support. If every election had only two choices, the winner would be determined using majority rule alone. However, when there are more than two options, there may not be a single option that is most liked or most disliked by a majority. A simple choice does not allow voters to express the ordering or the intensity of their feeling. Different voting systems may give very different results, particularly in cases where there is no clear majority preference.


An electoral system specifies the form of the ballot, the set of allowable votes; and the tallying method, an algorithm for determining the outcome. This outcome may be a single winner, as in the case of a presidential election, or may result in multiple winners, such as in the election of a legislative body. The electoral system may also specify how voting power is distributed among the voters, and how voters are divided into subgroups (constituencies) whose votes are counted independently.

The real-world implementation of an election is generally not considered part of the electoral system. For example, though an electoral system specifies the ballot abstractly, it does not specify whether the actual physical ballot takes the form of a piece of paper, a punch card, or a computer display. An electoral system also does not specify whether or how votes are kept secret, how to verify that votes are counted accurately, or who is allowed to vote. These are aspects of the broader topic of elections and election systems.


In a simple plurality ballot, the voter is expected to mark only one selection.

Different electoral systems have different ways of allowing individuals to express their votes. In ranked ballot or "preference" electoral systems, such as Instant-runoff voting, the Borda count, or a Condorcet method, each voter orders the list of options from most to least preferred. In range voting, voters rate each option separately on a scale. In plurality voting (also known as "first-past-the-post"), voters select only one option, while in approval voting, they can select as many as they want. In electoral systems that allow "plumping", like cumulative voting, voters may vote for the same candidate multiple times.

Some electoral systems include additional choices on the ballot, such as write-in candidates, a none of the above option, or a no confidence in that candidate option.


Some systems call for a primary election first to determine which candidates will be on the ballot.

Weight of votes[edit]

Main article: Weighted voting

Many elections are based on the principle of "one person, one vote", meaning that every voter's votes are counted with equal weight. This is not true of all elections, however. Corporate elections, for instance, usually weight votes according to the amount of stock each voter holds in the company, changing the mechanism to "one share, one vote". Votes can also be weighted unequally for other reasons, such as increasing the voting weight of higher-ranked members of an organization.

Voting weight is not the same thing as voting power. In situations where certain groups of voters will all cast the same vote (for example, political parties in a parliament), voting power measures the ability of a group to change the outcome of a vote. Groups may form coalitions to maximize voting power.

In some German states, most notably the kingdoms of Prussia (German: Preußen) and Saxony (German: Sachsen), before 1918 there was a weighted vote system known as the Prussian three-class franchise, where the electorate would be divided into three categories based on the amount of income tax paid. Each category would have equal voting power in choosing the electors.[1]

Status quo[edit]

Some voting systems are weighted in themselves, for example if a super majority is required to change the status quo. An extreme case of this is unanimous consent, where changing the status quo requires the support of every voting member. If the decision is whether to accept a new member into an organization, failure of this procedure to admit the new member is called blackballing.

A different mechanism that favors the status quo is the requirement for a quorum, which ensures that the status quo remains if voter participation does not reach the specified threshold. Quorum requirements often depend only on the total number of votes cast, rather than the number of votes cast for the winning option. This can sometimes encourage dissenting voters to refrain from voting, in order to prevent a quorum.


Main article: Constituency

Often the purpose of an election is to choose a legislative body made of multiple winners. This can be done by running a single election and choosing the winners from the same pool of votes, or by dividing up the voters into constituencies that have different options and elect different winners.

Some countries, like Israel, fill their entire parliament using a single multiple-winner district (constituency), while others, like the Republic of Ireland and Belgium, break up their national elections into smaller multiple-winner districts, and yet others, like the United States and the United Kingdom, hold only single-winner elections. The Australian bicameral Parliament has single-member electorates for the lower house and multi-member electorates for its Senate (upper house). Some systems, like the additional member system, embed smaller districts (constituencies) within larger ones.

The way constituencies are created and assigned seats can dramatically affect the results. Apportionment is the process by which states, regions, or larger districts are awarded seats, usually according to population counted in a census. Redistricting is the process by which the borders of constituencies are redrawn once apportioned. Both procedures can become highly politically contentious, due to the possibilities of both malapportionment, i.e. unequal ratios of representatives to population ratios between districts, and gerrymandering, where electoral districts are manipulated for political gain. An extreme example of malapportionment was the UK rotten and pocket boroughs, parliamentary constituencies that had a very small electorate (e.g. an abandoned town) and could thus be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within parliament, particularly as many people were not entitled to vote at all. This was a feature of the unreformed House of Commons before the Great Reform Act of 1832.

Multiple-winner systems[edit]

Seats won by each party in the 2005 German federal election, an example of a proportional voting system

Most modern democracies use some form of multiple-winner electoral system, with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and India being notable exceptions.

The results of a vote with multiple winners, such as the election of a legislature, are usually different from a set of single-winner votes. Often, voters in a multiple-winner election are more concerned with the overall composition of the legislature than with exactly which candidates get elected. For this reason, many multiple-winner systems aim for proportional representation, which means that if a given party (or other political grouping) gets X% of the total vote, it should also get approximately X% of the seats in the legislature. However, not all multiple-winner voting systems are proportional.[2]

Proportional systems[edit]

Truly proportional systems make some guarantee of proportionality by making each winning option represent about the same number of voters. This number is called a quota. For example, if the quota is 1000 voters, then each elected candidate reflects the opinions of 1000 voters, within a margin of error. This error can be measured using the Gallagher Index.

Most proportional systems in use are based on party-list proportional representation, in which voters vote for parties instead of for individual candidates.[3] For each quota of votes a party receives, one of their candidates wins a seat in the legislature. The methods differ in how the quota is determined or, equivalently, how the proportions of votes are rounded off to match the number of seats.

The methods of seat allocation can be grouped overall into highest averages methods and largest remainder methods. Largest remainder methods set a particular quota based on the number of voters, while highest averages methods, such as the Sainte-Laguë method and the d'Hondt method, determine the quota indirectly by dividing the number of votes the parties receive by a sequence of numbers.

Independently of the method used to assign seats, party-list systems can be open list or closed list. In an open list system, voters decide which candidates within a party win the seats. In a closed list system, the seats are assigned to candidates in a fixed order that the party chooses.

In contrast to party-list systems, the single transferable vote (STV) is a proportional representation system in which voters rank individual candidates in order of preference. Unlike party-list systems, STV does not depend on the candidates being grouped into political parties. Votes are transferred between eliminated candidates in a manner similar to instant runoff voting, but in addition to transferring votes from candidates who are eliminated, excess votes are also transferred from candidates who already have a quota. If no excess votes are transferred, but instead the count stops when there are only as many candidates remaining as seats, this system can be considered to be a multi-member version of instant runoff voting; such a system has apparently been used in South Australia, where it was known as Bottoms-Up preferential voting.[4]

Different proportional representation systems use different geographic divisions. In some party-list or STV systems, all representatives are elected at large, with votes that may come from anywhere in the electorate. In others, the larger area is divided up into multimember districts, causing a trade-off between greater proportional accuracy for larger districts and more geographically-specific representatives for smaller districts. The mixed member proportional method, mentioned above, has some district-based winners and some at-large winners. And biproportional apportionment methods can achieve proportionality with districts as small as one member each, because each district result is adjusted by effectively transferring votes between same-party candidates in different districts.

Semi-proportional systems[edit]

An alternative method called cumulative voting (CV) is a semi-proportional voting system in which each voter has n votes, where n is the number of seats to be elected (or, in some potential variants, a different number, e.g. 6 votes for each voter where there are 3 seats). Voters can distribute portions of their vote between a set of candidates, fully upon one candidate, or a mixture. It is considered a proportional system in allowing a united coalition representing a m(n+1) fraction of the voters to be guaranteed to elect m seats of an n-seat election. For example, in a 3-seat election, 34 of the voters (if united on 3 candidates) can guarantee control over all three seats. (In contrast, plurality at large allows a united coalition (majority) (50%+1) to control all the seats.)

This ballot design, used in cumulative voting, allows a voter to split his vote among multiple candidates.

Cumulative voting is a common way of holding elections in which the voters have unequal voting power, such as in corporate governance under the "one share, one vote" rule. Cumulative voting is also used as a multiple-winner method, such as in elections for a corporate board.

Cumulative voting is not fully proportional because it suffers from the same spoiler effect of the plurality voting system without a run-off process. A group of like-minded voters divided among "too many" candidates may fail to elect any winners, or elect fewer than they deserve by their size. The level of proportionality depends on how well-coordinated the voters are.

Limited voting is a multi-winner system that gives voters fewer votes than the number of seats to be decided. The simplest and most common form of limited voting is single non-transferable vote (SNTV). It can be considered a special variation of cumulative voting where a full vote cannot be divided among more than one candidate. It depends on a statistical distribution of voters to smooth out preferences that CV can do by individual voters.

For example, in a 4-seat election a candidate needs 20% to guarantee election. In this case a coalition of 40% of voters can obtain 2 of the 4 seats by splitting their votes as individuals equally between 2 candidates. In comparison, SNTV tends towards collectively dividing 20% between each candidate by assuming every coalition voter flipped a coin to decide which candidate to support with their single vote. This limitation simplifies voting and counting, at the cost of more uncertainty of results.

Majoritarian systems[edit]

Main article: Election by list

Many multiple-winner electoral systems are simple extensions of single-winner systems, without an explicit goal of producing a proportional result. Bloc voting, or plurality-at-large, has each voter vote for N options and selects the top N as the winners. Because of their propensity for landslide victories won by a single winning slate of candidates, bloc voting and similar nonproportional systems are called "majoritarian".

Single-winner systems[edit]

A political cartoon about the Greek referendum, 1920, depicting a voter at the ballot box being watched by the spirit of War. Shows a 2-compartment ballot box of the kind used in 19th-early 20th century Greece for approval voting.
A political cartoon about the Greek referendum, 1920, depicting a voter at the ballot box being watched by the spirit of War. Shows a 2-compartment ballot box of the kind used in 19th-early 20th century Greece for approval voting.

Single-winner systems can be classified based on their ballot type. In one vote systems, a voter picks one choice at a time. In ranked voting systems, each voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. In rated voting systems, voters give a score to each candidate.

Single or sequential electoral systems[edit]

An example of runoff voting. Runoff voting involves two rounds of voting. Only two candidates continue to the second round.

The most prevalent single-winner electoral system, by far, is plurality (also called "first-past-the-post", "relative majority", or "winner-take-all"), where each voter votes for one choice, and the choice that receives the most votes wins, even if it receives less than a majority of votes.

Runoff systems hold multiple rounds of plurality voting to ensure that the winner is elected by a majority. Top-two runoff voting, the second most common method used in elections, holds a runoff election between the two highest polling options if there is no absolute majority (above 50%). In elimination runoff elections, the weakest candidate(s) are eliminated until there is a majority.

A primary election process is also used as a two-round runoff electoral system. The two candidates or choices with the most votes in the open primary ballot progress to the general election. The difference between a runoff and an open primary is that a winner is never chosen in the primary, while the first round of a runoff can result in a winner if one candidate has over 50% of the vote.

In the random ballot system, each voter votes for one option and a single ballot is selected at random to determine the winner. This is mostly used as a tiebreaker for other methods.

Ranked voting methods[edit]

Main article: Ranked voting system
In a typical ranked ballot, a voter is instructed to place the candidates in order of preference.

Also known as preferential voting methods, these methods allow each voter to rank the candidates in order of preference. Often it is not necessary to rank all the candidates: unranked candidates are usually considered to be tied for last place. Some ranked ballot methods also allow voters to give multiple candidates the same ranking.

The most common ranked voting method is instant-runoff voting (IRV), also known as the "alternative vote" or simply preferential voting, which uses voters' preferences to simulate an elimination runoff election without multiple voting events. As the votes are tallied, the option with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. In successive rounds of counting, the next preferred choice still available from each eliminated ballot is transferred to candidates not yet eliminated. The least preferred option is eliminated in each round of counting until there is a majority winner, with all ballots being considered in every round of counting.

The Borda count is a simple ranked voting method in which the options receive points based on their position on each ballot. A class of similar methods is called positional voting systems.

Other ranked methods include Coombs' method, supplementary voting, Bucklin voting, and Condorcet methods.

Condorcet methods, or pairwise methods, are a class of ranked voting methods that meet the Condorcet criterion. These methods compare every option pairwise with every other option, one at a time, and an option that defeats every other option is the Condorcet winner sometimes called the pairwise champion. An option defeats another option if more voters rank the first option higher on their ballot than the number of voters who rank the second option higher. This is called a pairwise defeat.

These methods are often referred to collectively as Condorcet methods because the Condorcet criterion ensures that they all give the same result in most elections, where there exists a Condorcet winner. The differences between Condorcet methods occur in situations where no option is undefeated, implying that there exists a cycle of options that defeat one another, called a Condorcet paradox or Smith set. Considering a generic Condorcet method to be an abstract method that does not resolve these cycles, specific versions of Condorcet that select winners even when no Condorcet winner exists are called Condorcet completion methods or "Condorcet extensions".

A simple version of Condorcet is minimax: if no option is undefeated, the option that is defeated by the fewest votes in its worst defeat wins. Another simple method is Copeland's method, in which the winner is the option that wins the most pairwise contests, as in many round-robin tournaments.

The Kemeny–Young method, the Schulze method (also known as Schwartz sequential dropping, cloneproof Schwartz sequential dropping, or the beatpath method), ranked pairs, and maximal lotteries are recently designed Condorcet methods that satisfy a large number of voting system criteria. These four Condorcet methods either fully rank, or can be used to fully rank, all the candidates from most popular to least popular.

Rated voting methods[edit]

On a rated ballot, the voter may rate each choice independently.
An approval voting ballot does not require ranking or exclusivity.

Rated ballots allow even more flexibility than ranked ballots. Each voter gives a score to each option; the allowable scores could be numeric (for example, from 0 to 100) or could be "grades" like A/B/C/D/F.

Rated ballots can be used for ranked voting methods, as long as the ranked method allows tied rankings. Some ranked methods assume that all the rankings on a ballot are distinct, but many voters would be likely to give multiple candidates the same rating on a rated ballot.

In range voting, voters score or rate each option on a range, and the option with the highest total or average score wins. In majority judgment, similar ballots are used, but the winner is the candidate with the highest median score.

Approval voting, where voters may vote for as many candidates as they like, can be seen as an instance of range voting (or majority judgment) where the allowable ratings are 0 and 1. It has recently been studied by, among others, Brams[5] who notes that 'The chief reason for its nonadoption in public elections, and by some societies, seems to be a lack of key "insider" support' from 'influential members.'

There are variants within cumulative voting. In the points form, each voter has as many votes as there are choices, and can distribute those votes as desired: all on one choice or spread in any other pattern. Cumulative voting is used in a number of communities as well as corporate boards. It was examined and developed perhaps most thoroughly by Lani Guinier[6]

Comparison of electoral systems[edit]

Electoral systems can be compared by different means. Attitudes towards systems are highly influenced by the systems' impact on groups that one supports or opposes, which can make the objective comparison of voting systems difficult. There are several ways to address this problem; criteria can be defined mathematically, such that any voting method either passes or fails. This gives perfectly objective results, but their practical relevance is still arguable. Another approach is to define ideal criteria that no voting method passes perfectly, and then see how often or how close to passing various methods are over a large sample of simulated elections. This gives results which are practically relevant, but the method of generating the sample of simulated elections can still be arguably biased. A final approach is to create imprecisely defined criteria, and then assign a neutral body to evaluate each method according to these criteria. This approach can look at aspects of voting methods which the other two approaches miss, but both the definitions of these criteria and the evaluations of the methods are still inevitably subjective.


Early democracy[edit]

Voting has been used as a feature of democracy since the 6th century BC, when democracy was introduced by the Athenian democracy. However, in Athenian democracy, voting was seen as the least democratic among methods used for selecting public officials, and was little used, because elections were believed to inherently favor the wealthy and well-known over average citizens. Viewed as more democratic were assemblies open to all citizens, and selection by lot (known as sortition), as well as rotation of office. One of the earliest recorded elections in Athens was a plurality vote that it was undesirable to "win": in the process called ostracism, voters chose the citizen they most wanted to exile for ten years. Most elections in the early history of democracy were held using plurality voting or some variant, but as an exception, the state of Venice in the 13th century adopted the method we now know as approval voting to elect their Great Council.[7]

The Venetians' method for electing the Doge was a particularly convoluted process, consisting of five rounds of drawing lots (sortition) and five rounds of approval voting. By drawing lots, a body of 30 electors was chosen, which was further reduced to nine electors by drawing lots again. An electoral college of nine members elected 40 people by approval voting; those 40 were reduced to form a second electoral college of 12 members by drawing lots again. The second electoral college elected 25 people by approval voting, which were reduced to form a third electoral college of nine members by drawing lots. The third electoral college elected 45 people, which were reduced to form a fourth electoral college of 11 by drawing lots. They in turn elected a final electoral body of 41 members, who ultimately elected the Doge. Despite its complexity, the method had certain desirable properties such as being hard to game and ensuring that the winner reflected the opinions of both majority and minority factions.[8] This process, with slight modifications, was central to the politics of the Republic of Venice throughout its remarkable lifespan of over 500 years, from 1268 to 1797.

Jean-Charles de Borda, an early voting theorist

Foundations of voting theory[edit]

Voting theory became an object of academic study around the time of the French Revolution.[7] Jean-Charles de Borda proposed the Borda count in 1770 as a method for electing members to the French Academy of Sciences. His method was opposed by the Marquis de Condorcet, who proposed instead the method of pairwise comparison that he had devised. Implementations of this method are known as Condorcet methods. He also wrote about the Condorcet paradox, which he called the intransitivity of majority preferences.[9]

While Condorcet and Borda are usually credited as the founders of voting theory, recent research has shown that the philosopher Ramon Llull discovered both the Borda count and a pairwise method that satisfied the Condorcet criterion in the 13th century. The manuscripts in which he described these methods had been lost to history until they were rediscovered in 2001.[10]

The Marquis de Condorcet, another early voting theorist

Later in the 18th century, the related topic of apportionment began to be studied. The impetus for research into fair apportionment methods came, in fact, from the United States Constitution, which mandated that seats in the United States House of Representatives had to be allocated among the states proportionally to their population, but did not specify how to do so.[11] A variety of methods were proposed by statesmen such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Daniel Webster. Some of the apportionment methods discovered in the United States were in a sense rediscovered in Europe in the 19th century, as seat allocation methods for the newly proposed method of party-list proportional representation. The result is that many apportionment methods have two names: for instance, Jefferson's method is equivalent to the d'Hondt method, as is Webster's method to the Sainte-Laguë method, while Hamilton's method is identical to the Hare largest remainder method.[11]

The single transferable vote method was devised by Carl Andræ in Denmark in 1855, and also in England by Thomas Hare in 1857. Their discoveries may or may not have been independent. STV elections were first held in Denmark in 1856, and in Tasmania in 1896 after its use was promoted by Andrew Inglis Clark. Party-list proportional representation was first implemented to elect European legislatures in the early 20th century, with Belgium implementing it first in 1899. Since then, proportional and semi-proportional methods have come to be used in almost all democratic countries, with most exceptions being former British colonies.[12]

Single-winner revival[edit]

Perhaps influenced by the rapid development of multiple-winner voting methods, theorists began to publish new findings about single-winner methods in the late 19th century. This began around 1870, when William Robert Ware proposed applying STV to single-winner elections, yielding instant runoff voting.[13] Soon, mathematicians began to revisit Condorcet's ideas and invent new methods for Condorcet completion. Edward J. Nanson combined the newly described instant runoff voting with the Borda count to yield a new Condorcet method called Nanson's method. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, published pamphlets on voting theory, focusing in particular on Condorcet voting. He introduced the use of matrices to analyze Condorcet elections, though this, too, had already been done in some form in the then-lost manuscripts of Ramon Llull. He also proposed the straightforward Condorcet method known as Dodgson's method as well as a proportional multiwinner method based on proxy voting.

Ranked voting methods eventually gathered enough support to be adopted for use in government elections. In Australia, IRV was first adopted in 1893, and continues to be used along with STV today. In the United States in the early-20th-century Progressive era, various municipalities began to use Bucklin voting. Bucklin is no longer used in any government elections, and has even been declared unconstitutional in Minnesota.[14]

Influence of game theory[edit]

Kenneth Arrow, a pioneer of modern voting theory

After John von Neumann and others developed the mathematical field of game theory in the 1940s, new mathematical tools were available to analyze voting methods and strategic voting. One such tool was the idea of a strong Nash equilibrium, based on the work of John Nash in the 1950s. This and similar methods led to significant new results that changed the field of voting theory.[7][need quotation to verify] The use of mathematical criteria to evaluate voting methods was introduced when Kenneth Arrow showed in Arrow's impossibility theorem that certain intuitively desirable criteria were actually mutually contradictory, demonstrating the inherent limitations of voting methods. Among the criteria Arrow considered desirable was one which requires the voting method to use ordinal (ranking) information; thus, as John Harsanyi pointed out, cardinal (rated) voting methods such as approval voting, range voting, and majority judgment can successfully meet all the other criteria. Arrow's theorem is easily the single most cited result in voting theory, and it inspired further significant results such as the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem, which showed that strategic voting is unavoidable in certain common circumstances, for any deterministic voting method, whether cardinal or ordinal.

The use of game theory to analyze voting methods also led to discoveries about the emergent strategic effects of certain methods. Duverger's law is a prominent example of such a result, showing that plurality voting often leads to a two-party system. Further research into this and other game theory aspects of voting led Steven Brams and Peter Fishburn to formally define and promote the use of approval voting in 1977. While approval voting had been used before that, it had not been named or considered as an object of academic study, particularly because it violated the assumption made by most research that single-winner methods were based on ordinal preference rankings.[15]

Public choice theory, a field which uses economic modeling tools including game theory to study the behavior of politicians and voters, began to form in the 1950s, and was both influenced by and influential on voting theory.

Post-1980 developments[edit]

Voting theory has come to focus on voting method criteria almost as much as it does on particular voting methods. Now, any description of a benefit or weakness in a voting method is expected to be backed up by a mathematically defined criterion. Recent research in voting theory has largely involved devising new criteria and new methods devised to meet certain criteria. By contrast, the factors driving voters to accept or reject particular methods in elections tend to be based on other arguments.

Political scientists of the 20th century published many studies on the effects that the voting methods have on voters' choices and political parties,[16][17][18] and on political stability.[19][20] A few scholars also studied which effects caused a nation to switch to a particular voting method.[21][22][23][24][25] One prominent current voting theorist is Nicolaus Tideman, who formalized concepts such as strategic nomination and the spoiler effect in the independence of clones criterion. Tideman also devised the ranked pairs method, a Condorcet method that is not susceptible to clones. Also, Donald G. Saari has brought renewed interest to the Borda count with the books he has published since 2001. Saari uses geometric models of positional voting methods to promote the Borda count.

The increased availability of computer processing has increased the practicality of using the Kemeny-Young, ranked pairs, and Schulze methods that fully rank all the choices from most popular to least popular.

The advent of the Internet has increased the interest in voting methods. Unlike many mathematical fields, voting theory is generally accessible enough to non-experts that new results can be discovered by amateurs, and frequently are.

The study of voting methods has influenced a new push for electoral reform beginning around the 1990s, with proposals being made to replace plurality voting in governmental elections with other methods. New Zealand adopted Mixed Member Proportional for Parliamentary elections in 1993 and Single Transferable Vote for some local elections in 2004 (see Electoral reform in New Zealand). After plurality voting was a key factor in the contested results of the 2000 US presidential election, various municipalities in the United States began to adopt instant-runoff voting, although some of them subsequently returned to their prior method. The Canadian province of British Columbia held two unsuccessful referendums (in 2005 and 2009) to adopt an STV method, and Ontario, another Canadian province, held an unsuccessful referendum on October 10, 2007 on whether to adopt a Mixed Member Proportional method. An even wider range of voting methods is now seen in non-governmental organizations.

Though theorists are divided on which particular voting method is best, many agree that several options are superior to plurality. For instance, the "Declaration of Election-Method Reform Advocates" supports single-winner reforms including approval voting, various Condorcet methods, majority judgment, and range voting.[26][27]

It has been argued that more in-depth and fine-tuned voting methods lie at the core of the development of e-democracy,[28] which consists of the digitization of democratic processes, including voting.[29] Research is ongoing into the use of homomorphic encryption for making voting methods that are transparent and voter-verifiable without compromising ballot secrecy. Tough criteria have been published for [30] and some advocates consider them to have been met for instance in Norway[31] or Estonia[32] – the latter even published its source code online, allowing independent verification at least of the voting-specific code.

However, as of November 2014, the majority of legal and political analysts stand firmly against computerized voting,[33][34][35] and argue that only paper ballots (whether machine-printed and voter-verified, or even exclusively hand-marked) give a reliable audit trail. Perhaps more importantly, they argue that important protections of electoral neutrality and perceived fairness can never be provided in an online voting context:

  • Scrutineers from each political party cannot inspect the process as it occurs in every location.
  • Polling place neutrality is impossible to guarantee, especially in the last instants before vote casting – a popup containing false information, for instance, can appear just as a ballot is cast.
  • Ordinary persons can neither understand nor be trained to participate in the counting process, which may be particularly important in recounts or disputes.
  • The complexity of underlying hardware, networks, operating systems, and incidental software is such that mass peer review is always inadequate to fend off voting disputes. For instance, the New Brunswick general election, 2014, stalled reporting of electronic vote counts cast doubt on the results and led to demands for a general recount[36] – impossible without paper ballots.

Alongside these proposed and mostly unsuccessful reforms, other types of electoral and mass decision reform succeeded. For instance the rise of disapproval voting in the form of recall elections and referendums on matters that previously would have been left to the decision of a general election or legislature. California elected Arnold Schwarzenegger in a widely contested recall election. Many US states held referenda to specifically disapprove of same-sex marriage, though some of these were later overturned by the courts. And the rise of third parties and minority governments in the British Commonwealth led to several minority governments, coalitions and "hung parliaments" and thus an increase in votes of no confidence causing early elections. Despite many mathematical, political and legal arguments against unadvertised coalitions, 130-candidate first-past-the-post elections as in California, or referenda on what some regard as basic human rights, these measures went ahead anyway, often with results that did not reflect the expectations or traditions of the electoral or party system that was challenged:

  • While UK Liberal-Democrats had campaigned largely "to the left" of the UK Labour Party, their coalition with the Conservatives forced them to support unadvertised right wing economic measures.
  • While nominally a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cabinet and advisors consisted largely of Democrats connected to his wife Maria Shriver of the notable Democrat Kennedy family, and his policy measures (notably on energy, transport, climate) differed markedly from the federal GOP.
  • Representatives recalled were often re-elected in the general election when there was less money and attention paid to their seat specifically.

Also significant since 1980 is actual experience with voting method referenda and change. As noted above, several US cities adopted instant-runoff voting, and a few discarded it after non-monotonic results. Post-facto analysis of six failed electoral referenda in Canada[37][38][39] and nationwide reform in the UK[40] yielded no consensus about voting system criteria that the public actually applied or expected to be applied to evaluate new methods. The only consensus seemed to be that change is difficult against any active "No" campaign that seeks to preserve the status quo, particularly if it can exploit distrust of political parties.

See also[edit]



  • Arrow, Kenneth J (1963) [1951], Social Choice and Individual Values (2nd ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-01364-7 .
  • Balinski, M; Laraki, R (2007), "Election by Majority Judgement: Experimental Evidence", Cahier du Laboratoire d’Econométrie de l’Ecole Polytechnique (28) 
  • Balinski, M; Laraki, R (2011) [2007], "Election by Majority Judgement: Experimental Evidence", in Dolez, Bernard; Grofman, Bernard; Laurent, Annie, In Situ and Laboratory Experiments on Electoral Law Reform: French Presidential Elections, Springer .
  • Boix, Carles (1999). "Setting the Rules of the Game: The Choice of Electoral Systems in Advanced Democracies". American Political Science Review. 93 (3): 609–24. doi:10.2307/2585577. JSTOR 2585577. SSRN 159213Freely accessible. 
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External links[edit]

Existing electoral methods and related practical considerations
Electoral method reform advocacy
Theoretical resources