Democracy has long been a political idea that many countries have woven into their societal structure. However, the system and procedures to implement a country’s democratic wishes differ from nation to nation. In practice, there are various voting systems to award election winners.
Two standard voting systems are the plurality voting system and a majority voting system. But what are they, and what is the difference between plurality and majority voting systems? If you can understand each voting system, you will fully grasp the vote-counting process of any election.
The plurality system is used in the United States and other well-established democracies worldwide, like Canada, Great Britain, and India. It is a straightforward way of determining the outcome of an election. In a plurality system, the winner of an election is the individual who wins the most votes over the other candidates. However, it can mean that a winner only attains the highest number of votes by a small margin, meaning a large proportion of people do not vote for them. That is highly likely to be the voting system used for elections with three or more candidates.
The majority system is similar to the plurality system in that it seeks to reward the individual with the highest number of votes. However, a nominee must win more than fifty percent of the vote in a majority voting system. If no one does this, it is common to run a secondary, run-off election. According to the initial outcome, that election is between the top two most popular candidates.
A majority vote in some countries, states, or entities will require a winning proportion higher than fifty percent or a supermajority. The winning percentage that a successful nominee needs is anything set by the voting public or decision-makers. For example, a supermajority voting system could require a nominee to win seventy-five percent of the vote, but it could be more or less than that too.
Proportional representation is another voting system implemented in countries across the globe. Arguably, the most famous is in Germany. In Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, the electoral system works by parties gaining seats in proportion to their votes won. As a result, after an election, many parties form coalitions to become more powerful and push through new policies or change old ones.
While it is a very fair way of representing and reflecting how a community and population feels about who they are voting for, the problem with proportional representation is how it can create a government with many, many different factions or parties. As a result, change can be slow, as getting buy-in from so many different viewpoints is tough.
Coalitions work to minimize that effect, but in themselves, they are not always efficient either. Coalitions are prone to infighting, and the pace at which they can move is often slower than in governments with a majority.
Another voting system is a two-round system similar to a run-off election, allowing the two candidates who received the most votes in the first round to go through to the second round of voting. Voters then choose their favorites out of these nominees.
Having the right voting system in place to accurately and effectively emulate the wishes of a community or population is vital to the integrity and success of democracy. There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of voting systems, as they all try to balance ease or speed of voting with announcing a winner with enough power to enact change.
For example, in the case of the plurality voting system, people cast their vote for their choice of nominee. The candidate with the most votes wins, which is a quick way of holding an election. However, there is a high risk that the winner does not represent a higher proportion of voters. While that in itself may sound a little at odds with democracy, it also makes it harder for the winner to push through change if they do not have the majority.
Majority voting, however, is not without its downsides. It may require a larger than fifty percent win rate, but that can mean that determining a result sometimes takes longer. If a run-off election, for example, is required after an initial majority vote, then that can be a time of uncertainty in leadership.
The downsides to these popular and much-used voting systems emphasize why it is so important to put an efficient voting process in place. Making ballot-casting as streamlined as possible helps guarantee that the voting population in any election can easily cast their ballot. When an electoral community is motivated to use their democratic right, it is far more likely that voters will turn up when there are as few obstacles as possible. As a result, the election outcome is more likely to benefit and reflect the community’s wishes.