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. 

What Is Plurality Voting? 

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. 

What Is Majority Voting? 

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. 

The Difference Between Plurality Voting And Majority Voting

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. 

Choosing Between Plurality And Majority Voting

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. 

Elections And Voting Systems

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. 

Single Transferable Vote: What’s That?

Single transferable vote, or STV for short, is the voting method used when one wants to run a preferential vote on a given position, but has multiple vacancies for that position; for a regular preferential ballot, there is only one vacancy. As far as the overall feel of casting an STV-based ballot is concerned, from the eye of a voter, there is no difference between an STV and a regular preferential ballot. It is only when we get to the tallying portion that the magic starts to happen.

The name says it all: this voting method involves transferring votes. But, how? What does this mean? 

Results are calculated through the process of redistributing votes in rounds, based on the voters’ indicated preference for a candidate. Low-ranked candidates are eliminated. Transferring votes from those eliminated candidates helps get other candidates across the line. Additionally, candidates that have surpassed the quota and therefore have already secured a spot also have their surplus votes redistributed. 

ElectionBuddy specifically uses Meek’s STV, which is a modified version of conventional STV. We will address Meek’s STV below!

The Single Transferable Vote Quota: Droop Quota

STV quota formula
STV formula

There are a few different ways to calculate a quota; ElectionBuddy uses a Droop quota. Calculating a Droop quota involves some simple mathematics. First, the total number of submitted votes in an election is divided by the number of available vacancies for the position, plus one. Then, 1×10^-9 is added to the quotient, and the result is truncated to nine decimal places. For example, if we have 115 votes cast in an election where the position up for election has three vacancies, we would calculate the quota using the formula on the left.

Single Transferable Vote: Round #1

The first round is very straightforward: the first preference on each ballot is a vote for that particular candidate. The votes are tallied. Any candidate(s) who have at least the minimum number of votes required, as dictated by the quota, win. So, in our above example, a candidate would need to obtain, at minimum, 28.750000001 votes to win.

Now, we need to decide how to transfer votes. Surplus votes are the first choice to be transferred; but, if no candidates surpassed the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Their votes get transferred to other candidates. When two candidates are tied for last place, a candidate is randomly selected for elimination.

Subsequent Single Transferable Vote Rounds: To Transfer, or To Eliminate?

No matter whether the votes are coming from an eliminated candidate, or from surplus votes from a candidate above quota, the transferring process is the same: transfer the votes to the next highest-ranked candidate, as indicated by the voter.  However, there is a big difference between transferring surplus votes, and transferring votes from an eliminated candidate!

Logically, when a candidate is eliminated, all of their votes need to be redistributed. But, when a candidate has surplus votes, only some of their votes are redistributed, because they still need to have votes in order to be elected!  So, depending on which votes are considered “surplus”, the outcome for other candidates can change: if two voters indicated a candidate who has surpassed quota for first place, but their second-choice rankings are different, the outcome for the next candidate could be affected depending on which of the two voters’ ballots are considered “surplus”. To solve this problem, we transfer votes in fractions, which keeps the vote distribution fair and unbiased for all candidates. 

With regards to our previous example: imagine a candidate received 41 votes. That candidate has just over twelve surplus votes to be distributed (41-28.750000001=12.249999999). The surplus votes get transferred at 12.249999999/41, or 0.298780488, of their value.  So, when transferred at such a small amount of their total value, the re-distribution of votes results in 12.249999999 total votes being transferred.

The rounds of transferring surplus votes/eliminating candidates and transferring their votes continue until you are left with enough winners to fill the position. 

Exhausted Votes and the Dynamic Nature of the Single Transferable Vote Quota

The quota changes when a vote is “exhausted”. A vote becomes exhausted when a voter has no next most-preferred candidate to transfer votes to. When there is no next most-preferred candidate for a voter, then once their ranked candidates are eliminated, the voter’s vote is eliminated with the last eliminated candidate. This affects the quota because it impacts the numerator of the quota formula — the total number of votes cast decreases.

Meek’s Single Transferable Vote Method

Conventionally, once a candidate has reached quota, that’s it – they have won a seat, and so they are excluded from any subsequent rounds of vote transferring (unless the quota changes). Meek’s STV, as previously mentioned, is a modified version of conventional STV. The candidates who have hit quota continue to be apart of the receiving and transferring of votes. Each candidate is assigned a keep factor that identifies the percentage of votes that they get to keep per round. So, any candidate under quota has a keep factor of 1, because they will keep the entire portion of their votes to attempt to reach quota. Candidates above the quota will have a keep factor of less than one. This is because their votes will always have a portion transferred away to keep them at quota.

The Benefit of Meek’s Single Transferable Vote Method

The main benefit of Meek’s STV is that it is beautifully democratic, especially when compared to other STV methods. Because the candidates are always getting votes, even if they’ve reached or surpassed quota, the voter’s votes are always going to their intended candidates. This is why we use it in our STV calculations. 

Constantly adjusting and cycling votes around sounds complicated, and if you don’t like math, it is definitely a little complex. Take a look at this guide to evaluate the difficulty for yourself!
BUT, WHEN YOU HAVE ELECTIONBUDDY TO DO THE MATH FOR YOU, IT’S A LOT EASIER! SIGN UP FOR A FREE ACCOUNT AND TRY OUT ELECTIONBUDDY’S SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE TO SEE JUST HOW EASY STV CAN BE!

One of our developers has completed their work on the highly-requested cumulative tally method. It is now ready for you to try out in your next election!

A Brief Explanation of Cumulative Voting

Cumulative voting is a method of voting in which voters receive a certain number of votes that they can cast in an election. Therefore, voters can disperse these votes as they see fit among the candidates.

Cumulative ballot
Here is a sneak peek at what it looks like in your ballot setup in ElectionBuddy

Presently, how this works in ElectionBuddy is that the number of votes that voters have to disperse among candidates for a given ballot question is equal to the number of vacancies available for that position. However, you can adjust whether voters have to assign all of their votes, or if they can assign up to their total possible number of votes.

In California, it’s the Law!

By law, all California-based corporations that are not publicly traded must conduct their elections using cumulative voting. However, publicly-traded corporations are legally allowed to amend their bylaws and opt out of this requirement! Learn more about this California electoral requirement.

So, hello, California-based organizations – ElectionBuddy is ready for you!

STV is a voting system that’s based on voters using the Preferential Voting method to vote, with the results being tallied using proportional representation. And it seems to have gained a strong following because it ensures that every vote counts, to ensure a better level of democracy.  It’s gained popularity in Europe, where countries have actually adopted STV for government elections. Ireland, Australia, and certain local government elections in the UK use STV.  And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences use it for their nomination process for the Academy Awards (Oscars).  To learn more about STV, reference the Wikipedia article on STV, especially its External Links section.

Advantages and Disadvantages of STV

According to the ACE project, the advantages of STV are that it provides a better chance for the election of popular independent candidates than other tallying systems. It treats every vote and every voice with equal respect..

It is however is quite complex and demands a high degree of literacy and numeracy, which isn’t feasible for everyone. It can also produce pressure for political parties to fragment internally because members of the same party are competing against each other. Click here, to read the full article.

How it works

Winners are calculated according to these following steps:

  1. Any candidate who has reached or exceeded the number of votes needed to win is declared elected.
  2. If a candidate has more votes than the required amount of votes need to win, that candidate’s surplus votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner instead go to the next preference listed on their ballot. These are generally called surplus votes.
  3. If no one new meets the number of votes needed, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that candidate’s votes are transferred.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidate

To learn about how the process works, watch this video from Fairvote.org.

Surplus Votes

As previously stated, in STV when a candidate reaches the required number of votes, he/she won’t need the help of additional votes and those will get transferred to voter’s 2nd choice of a candidate. There is a wide variety methods for determining which votes get transferred.  An example illustrates this:  suppose candidate X, at a certain stage of the count, has 190 votes, and the quota is 200. Now X receives 30 votes transferred from candidate Y (after Y was either elected or eliminated). This gives X a total of 220 votes, i.e. a surplus of 20 to be transferred. But which 20 votes will be transferred?  That’s what the different methods do:

For more information on STV and surplus votes, click here.

Feel free to let us know if you have tried STV tallying for an ElectionBuddy election before. Reach us at support@electionbuddy.com. We’d love to hear from you!

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