The technical term plurality Voting may sound intimidating to people who have never read about alternative voting methods. Yet, we can say with confidence that everyone knows what plurality Voting is. It is the election method used in every democracies in the world, for all national and local elections. There are certain variations, but during an election, everyone knows the procedure: given a certain number of candidates, each voter can choose only one to vote for. The candidate with the most votes wins.
|This is an example of a plurality Voting ballot. You can only choose one among all the candidates.|
plurality Voting is indeed widely used, and not only in political elections. Whenever one thinks of an election of any kind, whether it is to select a class delegate in high school, find out the most popular movie or the sexiest actor, one automatically thinks of the basic procedures that define plurality Voting: among all the candidates for class delegation, each student gives no more than one vote to only one classmate; people can choose from a short list only one movie they like, or only one actor they find sexy.
plurality Voting is so much part of our society and way of thinking, that most people never stop to think about whether there are alternatives to it, and which of such alternatives would be more suitable to achieve our goals (and in order to choose the best alternative, one must be clear about the goals to achieve).
The fact is that there are many different election methods. Some are good, depending on the stated goal, some are bad. Election method experts can state with certainty that plurality voting is a very bad choice for most if not all elections we use it for.
This section of the site will explain in which way plurality voting is faulty, explore alternatives methods and provide the tools to bring about some meaningful changes in our society.
There are variations of this voting system: single round voting, two rounds voting, with or without primaries.
With a single round, citizens only get to vote once, for only one candidate.
This system is adopted in Taiwan for the presidential elections since 1996. In the USA, this system is adopted for gobernatorial elections. Even though the presidential elections are not direct, there is only a single round plurality vote.
Single Round plurality Voting has some important drawbacks. It limits the choice of the voter. The voters are inticed to vote strategically, often hiding their true preferences. It favorizes a two party system, where smaller parties or candidates have little chance to succeed, whether or not they'd receive the population's approval.
In order to compensate for the single round voting drawbacks, a second round has been devised in some places to give small parties a better chance to have their voice heard. It is the case in particular for the French presidential elections.
In such a system, citizens vote twice. In the first round, they have a large choice of candidates. Only the two highest ranked candidates remain for the second round. Voters then choose one of them two.
It is believed that this way, smaller parties have a fair chance in the election. Citizens often vote according to the heart in the first round, knowing that they can get the least-bad of the two main candidate elected in the second round.
The French 2002 presidential election has proved however that such a system has its limits too. Quite unexpectedly, Le Pen came second in the first round and thus won his place for the second round which he lost with the abysmal score of 18% against 82% for President Chirac. The problem is not that Le Pen arrived second, but that he was by far disapproved of by the majority of the French people. On a one-on-one combat, Le Pen would have lost against more than half of the 16 first round candidates. On the other hand, Chirac wouldn't have had such an easy win in the second round against those same candidates. He may not have won at all against Jospin or, maybe, against other moderate candidates. That 2002 election failed to show the French voters true preferences. What's more, afraid of having a repeat situation in the next presidential election in 2007, left-wing voters can be expected to shy away from smaller candidates, even though they may have been their true preference, and vote as soon as the first round to the candidate who is perceived to be the leader among the left-wing candidates.
Since all the candidates compete with each other and the voters only have one vote, it makes sense for the political parties to put forward only one candidate, to increase their chance of being elected. An inner-party primary election is however only a tactical necessity in Plurality Voting. Using other election methods, the primary would be an unnecessary step: each party could field as many candidates as they wanted, leaving the whole population the freedom to choose, without diminishing the party's chances to win.
Primaries are very common before elections that use single round, plurality voting. Most notably, it is used in the USA presidential elections.
Back to election index or on to Approval Voting.