Cumulative Voting and Ballots

Also known as Split Voting, Dot Voting, or Multi-voting

Understanding Cumulative Voting

Voters are assigned a set number of votes to distribute for a given position being voted on. The voter may assign those votes to the candidates however they’d like. For example, if a voter has three votes to assign, and five candidates to choose from, they could give all three votes to one candidate, or give one vote to three candidates, or something in between. The administrator decides whether the voters must assign all votes, or whether they may assign fewer votes (up to the total number of votes allowed) during the cumulative voting election.

How the Results are Calculated

A vote-counting algorithm is used to count the number of votes assigned to each candidate. The candidate with the most cumulative votes assigned to them is considered the winner of the election.

When running a multi-seat election (i.e., multiple vacancies are available for the position), the candidate with the highest percentage of votes assigned to them will win the first seat. The candidate with the second-highest percentage of votes wins the second seat, and so on until all seats are filled.

What is Cumulative Voting?

Cumulative voting is a voting system that gives minority shareholders more power to influence the outcome of an election and elect their preferred candidate. Cumulative voting is typically used by organizations voting for business directors or board positions. This voting method could also be used in executive state legislatures, federal legislatures, and other government entities. 

Understanding cumulative voting can be valuable since this type of election is often held in business. When cumulative voting is used in business, votes are proportional to the number of shares one holds (usually multiplied by the number of positions to be voted on). So a shareholder with 100 shares can cast the equivalent of 100 votes. If multiple positions are to be voted on, such as board directors, each shareholder can choose to place all of their votes toward one candidate or split it however they want among each candidate on the ballot.

Examples of Cumulative Voting in Business

Consider a shareholder with 100 shares participating in a vote for two open board member seats; that gives the shareholder 200 votes. The shareholder could choose to only vote for one seat, sending all 200 votes toward one candidate. But they could also choose to vote for both seats, splitting their votes equally (100/100) or disproportionately (150/50, etc.) between candidates running for both board member seats. The candidate with the majority of the votes wins the cumulative voting election.

Who Benefits from Cumulative Voting?

Cumulative voting is most beneficial to minority shareholders because they can direct all their votes to a single candidate or decision. If several minority shareholders put their votes in the same direction, they have the power to decide the outcome of the vote.

Minority Shareholders

If majority voting by number of shares is imposed, minority shareholders are often fractured, losing their ability to maintain a position of power in an organization. Systems like cumulative voting help protect minority rights, allowing them to leave a weightier influence in decisions.

Pros and Cons of Cumulative Voting

Cumulative voting protects minority rights. Cumulative voting is an electoral tool that allows minority shareholder views to be recognized and responded to while not being overpowered by the majority. That said, some organizations don’t find the need to use cumulative voting, particularly those with governance protections in place to take care of the minority—which is arguably even better than the ability to appoint the directors they want on the board.

Taken too far, cumulative voting may result in skewed elections that appoint directors who don’t represent the interest of all shareholders. However, for shareholders with less than the majority, or 50% of shares, this voting system is still the best method to guarantee representation on the board.

Alternatives to Cumulative Voting Systems

Statutory voting (or straight voting) is another way of voting that gives shareholders a proportionate amount of votes to their shares. It’s similar to the cumulative voting system, except it requires the votes to be divided evenly among the candidates or issues voted on.

For example, if there are five board seats open, a shareholder with 100 shares would have 100 votes for each of the seats. This totals to 500 votes that they must divide evenly among the options, in contrast to cumulative voting that would allow the shareholder to direct all 500 votes toward a single candidate.

Other voting methods include system ranked-choice voting, approval voting, instant runoff voting, and plurality voting.

What Do You Need to Run Cumulative Vote Elections?

You’ll need powerful voting system software to run an efficient and accurate cumulative election. With ElectionBuddy, you can assign the number of votes per person, which they can assign to their choice of candidate via a drop-down menu. A vote-counting algorithm then tallies the vote for you, making the voting process very simple. You run cumulative voting elections on ElectionBuddy with a free trial.

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