Choice Voting FAQs

Where In The World Is Choice Voting Used?

Some form of choice voting is used by most of the world's established democracies, including:

  • Australia (Elections to the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament of Australia, and many state elections)
  • India (Elections to the Rajya Sabha, upper house of the Federal Parliament)
  • Malta (All elections)
  • New Zealand (Local Elections)
  • Scotland (Local Elections)
  • United Kingdom (for European Parliament elections)
  • United States (Local elections including Cambridge, Massachusetts and Minneapolis, Minnesota)

First past the post (FPTP) or "Winner-take-all" is still used in France, Great Britain, and a few of France and Britain's former colonies that inherited it: the United States, Canada, Pakistan, India and various Caribbean nations. It also is used in the least democratized former Soviet Republics.

Is Choice Voting or Proportional Representation the Same As a Parliamentary System?

No, it is not. A parliamentary system is a type of governmental system, while proportional representation is a type of voting/electoral system. One is about the structure of government, the other about how votes are counted. Many, but not all, of the countries using proportional voting systems combine it with a parliamentary governmental system. But this does not have to be the case, and a proportional electoral system could successfully be combined with the U.S. presidential system.

Have Alternative Voting Systems like Choice Voting Been Tried in the U.S.?

Various forms of proportional representation systems are used today to elect the city councils of Cambridge MA (choice voting), Peoria IL (cumulative voting), various cities and counties in Alabama, South Dakota and Texas (cumulative or limited voting), the Democratic presidential primaries, various corporate boards (cumulative voting), and the finalists for the Academy Awards (choice voting).

The choice voting form of proportional representation was first tried in the U.S. in the early twentieth century and worked very well in 24 cities like New York City, Boulder, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Cambridge, MA. Both the majority and various political and racial minorities gained representation where their voices had previously been unheard. The minorities at the time who won representation were Irish Catholics, Polish immigrants, African Americans and leftists. Although only two of the first 26 attempts to repeal choice voting were successful in cities around the country, formerly dominant political forces outlasted reformers and were successful in repealing full representation nearly everywhere. Their general tactic was targeting unpopular minorities like blacks and leftists.

Why do you believe Choice Voting is the best election method for electing a representative body?

There are other methods of proportional representation, which are contingent on the existence of political parties that is advantageous. If one's goal is to assure both majority rule and diversity, in the absence of a party system, the Choice Voting system (STV) is clearly the best option. Many political scientists who specialize in voting methods hold it to be the best and fairest voting system for creating a fully representative board.  If, however, your goal is to elect a body that excludes minority voices and is 100% aligned with the majority group, Choice Voting is not the best method of election.

What are the key elements that assure both majority rule and minority representation?

The goal of Choice Voting, in principle, is to assure that nearly every voter can elect at least one representative who genuinely represents that voter. Although the voter ranks several candidates to ensure that one preferred representative wins, the essence of Choice Voting is that each voter has one net vote. This way, the alternate rankings are contingency preferences, in case the favorite has already won or lost.  Choice voting allows groups of like-minded voters to choose the strongest candidate among a group of preferred candidates.  In effect, the rankings on the ballots allow the voters to group themselves into constituencies. It should not be the majority's right to decide who gets to have a voice on the representative body.  Representation is for everybody, not just a majority.

Do ranking alternate candidates hurt the chances of my favorite candidate?

No.  Ranking additional choices cannot hurt your favorite candidate.  These are just contingency choices, in case your favorite candidate already has enough support to win a seat or has no chance of winning.

Shouldn't a first choice count twice as much as a second choice?

Choice voting doesn't work like that at all.  Each voter has a single vote, and initially it only counts for the voter's first choice, with nothing going to any of the later preferences.  Only if that first-choice candidate has more than enough votes to win, or if that candidate has so little support that he or she gets defeated, can a ballot count towards the election of a later preference. A voter's alternate rankings are a contingency vote to make sure a member's vote isn't wasted on a sure winner who has a surplus of votes, or a sure loser, who can't possibly win.

Why not always take into account the lower preferences for each candidate when determining winners?

There could be a theoretical voting method that assigns a point value to each ranking (similar to the Borda Count Voting method proposed for single-seat elections). However, any such alternative system has a serious flaw - a voter's lower preference ranking could help to defeat that voter's most preferred candidate. For this reason, any voting system that takes into account lower preferences on a ballot at the outset leads to insincere strategic voting in order to protect the favorite choice. With Choice Voting, your vote stays with your more preferred candidate until that candidate can no longer use your vote.
Ties seem to be a big issue with Choice Voting, at least when the number of voters is small.

Actually ties are no more likely to impact the final outcome of an election under Choice Voting than under any other voting system. Using a traditional winner-take-all system, we simply don't care about candidates who are not near the top who might be tied.  But since Choice Voting allows minority voters to also win a fair share of seats, we also need to pay attention to the ties near the bottom in order to winnow the field of candidates and allow one of the candidates the chance to advance to another round of counting. Because Choice Voting is counted in rounds to maximize how representative the final body is, ties for last place (and thus elimination) may occur repeatedly. It is important to understand that when settling a tie for last place, and thus elimination, in most cases all of the tied candidates will eventually be eliminated any way.  It is extremely unlikely that the drawing of lots for eliminating a last place candidate will have any effect on the final outcome of the election.

Is it respecting the "will of the voters" to settle ties by drawing lots?  Isn't there a better way to break ties than drawing lots?

A tie means that there is no clear "voters' will" to respect on that matter, so randomly drawing lots is fair, and is the common practice in typical winner-take-all elections as well. However, because we have more information about voter preferences due to the rank-order ballot, there are alternative methods for settling ties that could be used with Choice Voting. For example, one option is to examine which of the tied candidates was behind during the previous round of counting, and eliminate that tied candidate first. However, although that tie-breaking method "feels" fairer, it may not be.  The relative position of candidates in early rounds of the vote count may have far more to do with the number of similar candidates who happen to be on the ballot splitting up the vote than with the relative strength of support for a candidate. While the use of alternate tie-breaking rules could theoretically change the outcome, the likelihood of that occurring in any given real-world election is remote.

Where Can I Learn More About Choice Voting and Proportional Representation?

Here's a partial reading list:

  • Proportional Representation & Electoral Reform in Ohio. Kathleen Barber; Ohio University Press, 1995.
  • The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design
  • Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix this Broken Democracy. Krist Novoselic; RDV Books, 2004
  • Fixing Elections. Steve Hill; Routledge, 2002
  • Real Choices, New Voices. Douglas Amy; Columbia University Press, 1993
  • Tyranny of the Majority. Lani Guinier, 1994
  • Boston Review. "Reflecting All of Us: the Case for Proportional Representation," by Rob Richie and Steven Hill, Feb. / March 1998
  • Electoral Systems and Party Systems Professor Arend Lijphart; Oxford University Press, 1994
  • United States Electoral Systems: Their Impact on Women and Minorities. editors Dr. Wilma Rule and Dr. Joseph    Zimmerman; Praeger Publishers, 1992
  • "A Radical Plan to Change American Politics" by Michael Lind, Atlantic Monthly, August 1992
  • Choosing an Electoral System, edited by Arend Lijphart and Bernard Grofman, Praeger Press, 1984.
  • The Power to Elect, Enid Lakeman, Heinemann Press, 1982.
  • Seats and Votes, Rein Taagepera and Matthew Shugart; Yale Univ Press, 1989.
  • PR: The Key to Democracy, George Hallett; National Municipal League, 1940.
  • Considerations on Representative Government, John Stuart Mill; Park, Son and Bourn, 1861.
  • Women, Elections and Representation, by Robert Darcy, Susan Welch and Janet Clark; Longman Press, 1987.