Majority and plurality voting systems are two of the most common you will find globally. If you live in a democratic country, the likelihood is that you will vote underneath one of these systems when choosing an elected official in some way.
Yet, there are critical differences between plurality and majority voting systems that are important to understand, which can help you pick the strategy that will work best if you ever find yourself running a vote. Understanding these voting systems can help you choose the most valuable framework for your circumstances, whether at a local club, community council, or committee at work.
Plurality voting is when an election winner is the most popular choice as decided by voters. This type of election can be between two or more people, depending on the situation. In scenarios where the vote is between more than two people, the person that wins may have a more significant number of votes against them. Yet, they still win the day, as long as they lead by a single vote.
The United States and other famous democracies around the world use plurality voting. 48 out of 50 states use a plurality-based system to determine electoral votes within the United States. Great Britain, Canada, and India also use the plurality voting system.
Majority voting systems only declare a winner when they win the more significant part of the votes. The precise quantity of votes is not essential since an individual must win more than half the total number of votes in all. In short, the number of votes counted towards an individual running must be over fifty percent.
In examples of this voting system, nominees need to win a qualified majority, which can be known as a supermajority. In these elections, the number of votes required to win must be above a predetermined percentage.
Each nominee wants to win as many votes as possible in both systems. But, there is a critical difference between how each system assigns a winner. In the plurality voting system, the winner is the individual who has the most votes. That could mean that that nominee could win with only 33% of the voting community’s support (for example). That means far more people voted against that nominee than for them. Yet, with the plurality voting system, that person still wins. The majority voting system addresses that issue by ensuring that the number of votes obtained by the eventual winner must be above fifty percent minimum.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. Plurality voting means there will always be a winner unless two nominees receive the same specific number of votes. Given that votes can come in by the hundreds, thousands, or millions (depending on the situation), the likelihood that two nominees receive the same specific number of votes is exceptionally low.
The disadvantage of plurality voting is that there is a high risk that there will be a large proportion of people who did not vote for the eventual winner in elections with more than two candidates. In the case of political battles, that can leave many individuals disgruntled with the result. Implementing any changes with a disenfranchised electorate is a more complex process due to this lack of trust.
So, what happens if there is not a majority winner found in the first round? With majority voting, that possibility greatly diminishes given that more than half the electorate always has to vote for the eventual winner. As a result, the majority voting system does have an immediate advantage over plurality voting systems. However, they are far more complicated to implement.
That’s where another standard solution can be helpful - a run-off, which often occurs between the two top candidates from the initial election. While useful in achieving an overall winner, the downside to run-off elections is higher costs and delays in finding the ultimate winner. If run-off elections are not in the political arena, you can determine winners through forming coalitions. However, coalitions can struggle to enforce change due to internal factions wanting to achieve different aims.
While these disadvantages to both voting systems may seem sizable, no voting system is without its downsides. For example, another much-used system, proportional representation, also has adverse effects on the more extensive political system. Germany, for example, uses the proportional representation system. While it has a stable political framework, so many parties are represented within the Bundestag that it can be challenging to push through policy change.
Using effective voting systems is at the heart of a thriving democratic society. The rules, framework, and requirements to award an eventual winner must be clear to the electoral community from the outset to build confidence in the election process.
The difficulty is that no one voting system is perfect. There are disadvantages and advantages to all of them. As a result, it is even more crucial to take steps so that the electoral community can easily cast their ballots, encouraging high participation rates. High participation rates can better reflect the community’s desires and protect against a disgruntled population.