Understanding How Preferential Voting Works

March 2, 2022

Preferential voting, also called instant-runoff voting, is used in single-seat elections with more than two candidates. Rather than indicating support for a single individual, voters in preferential elections can rank the candidates in order of preference.

The preferential voting platform permits a single candidate to be elected, with several nominated aspirants vying for the same seat. The vote can be monitored in real-time using an online management dashboard that breaks down each preference round until officials find a winner.

The Preferential Voting Process

So, what is a preferential ballot? Before answering that question, we must first look at how the preferential voting process works. In this scenario, voters rank the candidates, one being the highest preference. For instance, if there are three candidates, the voter can specify their first choice with one, second choice with two, and third choice with three.

For a ballot to be considered valid, it must meet the following conditions:

  • The voters must rank at least one candidate for every position. You can still count the ballot in cases where there is abstention and the voter refrains from voting for that position. Yet, this will only be valid for the other candidates vying in the election.
  • Voters cannot award two candidates the same ranking. Doing so will make their ballot invalid for that particular position.
  • A candidate can receive any ranking since officials count the relative total.

Calculating Preferential Voting Results

As mentioned earlier, preferential voting is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates using preference markers on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of the first preference votes, they will be declared the winner. If no candidate wins most first-preference votes, the one with the least preference votes will face elimination.

From here, the first-preference votes cast in favor of the failed candidate will be removed, putting forward the second-preference choices cited in those ballots. The election officials will then conduct a new tally to determine whether any candidate has won the majority share of those ballots. This process repeats until one candidate wins an outright majority.

Where Can Preferential Voting Apply?

An election body can use preferential voting in any candidate voting scenario. However, most states in the U.S. still prefer to use the first-past-the-post or cumulative voting method. This system is also popular in various institutions such as schools, sporting clubs, universities, and other tertiary educational centers. A constitution that mandates elections and ballots in such a manner regulates this process too.  

The preferential voting system is not a new concept in any way. It has been used around the world by regional and federal governments that wish to put more power in the hands of the voter. In every instance used, the authorities could have opted to go with the more conventional first-past-the-post system. However, this could have resulted in a candidate winning the election without the most votes.

Most of us can agree that whenever we go to the ballot box to pick our candidate, it is vital that the winner garners broad support among citizens. The electorate must have as much choice as possible. With preferential voting, the electorate can build widespread support around one candidate, helping to ensure that the public has as much ownership of the results as possible.

Preferential voting intends to solve some of the issues associated with the first-past-the-post voting system, such as the lack of diverse options and inclusivity. Through preferential voting, the electorate doesn’t just pick who their favorite candidate is, but also their second preferred choice, and so on, thereby indicating as many preferences as they want.

It works by writing a number next to every candidate to indicate their favorites instead of just marking one candidate. If more than half of the votes cast go to one particular candidate, that candidate wins.

In Conclusion

From the information provided above, we can say that the preferential voting system is one whereby voters indicate their first, second, and third choices of several candidates vying for a particular office. The unique thing about this system is that if no candidate receives a majority, the second choices are added to the first choices until one candidate gets a majority. If there is still no winner, officials will distribute the third and other subsequent choices until there is a winner.

With that said, it is still important to remember that different kinds of preferential voting systems exist, one of them being the single-transferable-vote-method. However, the preferential voting system was brought forth by elections experts to ensure that the candidate elected is the most preferred by the electorate.

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