Which Countries Use Single Transferable Voting?

March 4, 2022

As democracies around the world continue to develop, electoral reforms have become necessary. That’s why many companies, non-profit organizations, and governments are adopting the single transferable vote (STV) system. This is a voting system that allows voters to elect multiple candidates for various positions using a single ballot. This voting system has proved to be a very effective way of conducting fair polls because it provides proportional representation. Electionbuddy offers customers the option to use single transferable voting, and to cast their votes via an online, digital, or paper ballots.

But what exactly is proportional representation by single transferable vote? And which countries use a single transferable vote system? In this article, you’ll learn more about the STV voting system and the countries that are already using it.

What is a Single Transferable Vote System?

The STV system is a ranked preferential voting system in which voters are allowed to choose their most preferred candidates for multiple positions. Each voter casts a single ballot with all the names of the candidates. The candidate who wins a majority of valid votes, commonly referred to as the quota, is declared the winner. If they exceed the set quota, the surplus votes are transferred to the second and third candidates. If there are more candidates than the available positions, the least preferred candidates are eliminated and their votes transferred to alternative candidates ranking higher on the ballot.

Sometimes the votes are apportioned fractionally to the remaining candidates. With the STV system, each voter is supposed to rank candidates with numbers like 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.  Number 1 indicates the most preferred candidate while number 5 represents the least preferred candidate. If there are only three positions, number 4 and number 5 will be eliminated and their votes transferred to the remaining candidates based on their ranking. But remember that a voter’s number 1 may end up being eliminated if they get the lowest number of votes.

Benefits of Single Transferable Vote System

For a long time, political scientists have advocated for the STV system as among the most effective and attractive electoral systems in the world. One of the reasons for this is that it produces good local representation and promotes honesty in polls. Particularly, this voting system has proved to be very efficient in delivering proportional representation on the local level.

Since each party or group in the district is required to present a single candidate, it means that every substantial minority group gets a chance to present a candidate and win a seat. This also means that even the minority groups get to feel part of the governance structure. And because the STV system determines representatives based on individual preferences rather than based on the party or geography, independent candidates have an opportunity to present themselves to the electorate for consideration.

Furthermore, the STV system doesn’t punish voters by discarding their votes when eliminating candidates because their votes are transferred to their next most preferred choices on the ballot. So, even if a voter’s first choice doesn’t win, they’ll be represented by their secondary preference. Therefore, they can express their honest preference without worrying about wasting their votes. This voting system also prevents tactical voting by ensuring that every voter has an opportunity to express their sincere preferences by neutralizing possible spoiler effects.

Tactical voting means voting against a candidate instead of for the candidate for strategic purposes. But with STV, every winner has a legitimacy that indicates more than just having the support of the majority. It also means that the winner has the lowest disapproval. That’s why this voting system has been adopted by many countries around the world, especially those that want to uphold democracy in their elections.

Which Countries Use Single Transferable Vote?

As mentioned above, the STV voting system has been adopted widely by countries that appreciate transparency in their elections and proportional representation. Here are some of the powerful countries that have been using STV for some time.

Australia

In Australia, the STV system became fully operational for assembly polls in 1909. In 1948, it became the preferred method of electing members of the Australian Senate, giving rise to several minority parties, including the Democratic Labor Party, Australian Greens, and the Australian Democrats. To date, this voting system is still very important in Australian elections.

Canada

In Canada, the STV voting system became popular after it was recommended by the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform for provincial elections in 2004. It also received almost 60 percent of the vote in the 2005 provincial referendum and about 80 percent of support in electoral districts. But it was later defeated in a second referendum in May 2009. Nevertheless, this system has been in use in many other parts of Canada, such as Edmonton and Calgary cities where they’ve been electing their members of legislative assemblies through STV.

United States

In the U.S. this idea of proportional representation was established in 1893 and was adopted by numerous cities at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the major cities in the U.S. that have been using STV include Cleveland, New York, Cincinnati, among others.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the STV system has been operational in many countries, including Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, among others. In Northern Ireland, members of the assembly and local governments have been elected through this voting system since 1998.   

In summary, the single transferable vote system has been adopted by many countries around the world to make their elections more transparent and guarantee their electorate approximately proportional representation.

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