Voting Systems

Voting systems are the way we elect our politicians. The type of system we use decides whether our government truly represent us and whether we can hold them to account if they let us down. Most experts group electoral systems into 3 general categories:

  • proportional representation systems (PR);
  • mixed member systems (MM);
  • plurality/majority or single-winner systems. (PM)


First past the post (FPTP)
Used in UK general elections.
How it works: Put one “X” next to a candidate. The one with the most votes wins.
Advantage: easy to understand and voter can express view on which party should win election.
Disadvantage: wastes millions of votes as those cast for loser, or for the winner above the level they need to win seat, count for nothing.
Who wins: Conservatives and Labour.
Who loses: Lib Dems and minor parties.

Supplementary Vote (SV)
Used in London Mayoral contest.
How it works: mark an “X” in the first column for candidate of first choice and another in second column. If a candidate receives 50 per cent of the vote they are elected. However, if not then the votes for second choice are reallocated between the top two candidates.
Advantage: it gives the voter more power because both first and second preference count.
Disadvantage: does not ensure winner has the support of at least 50 per cent of electorate.
Who wins: Lib Dems and Greens.
Who loses: Tories and Labour.


Alternative Vote (AV)
Used in Australia and New Zealand.
How it works: Candidates ranked in order of preference. If no one receives more than 50 per cent the one with the least votes is eliminated and votes reallocated according to second choices until someone has 50 per cent.
Advantage: MPs would have support of a majority of their local electorate. Prevent extremists succeeding.
Disadvantage: prone to ‘Donkey voting’ as voters rank candidates without knowing enough about them.
Who wins: Labour and the Tories.
Who loses: the minor parties.

Additional Member System (AMS)
Used in Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, London Assembly.
How it works: vote for MP via first past the post with a second vote for party of your choice.
Advantage: voter can express support candidates who campaign on single issues, such as hospitals, as well as their favourite party.
Disadvantage: Some MPs are chosen for being member of a party rather than on their own merits.
Who wins: minor parties.
Who loses: Tories and Labour.

Alternative Vote Plus, proposed by Jenkins commission.
Not used anywhere in the world.
How it works: Under this hybrid system, about 500 MPs would be elected for individual constituencies under a scheme where voters rank candidates in order of preference. There would be a top-up of about 150 members to ensure a broad proportionality between votes cast and seats won.
Advantage: Being able to rank candidates increases voter choice, as does having a constituency vote and regional vote.
Disadvantage: creates two classes of MPs which creates animosity between them and a confusion of roles.
Who wins: Lib Dems and minor parties.
Who loses: Tories and Labour.


Single Transferable Vote (STV),
Used in Northern Ireland (PR)
How it works: preferential voting in multi-member constituency. Each voter gets one vote, which transfers from their first-preference to their second-preference. Candidates with least votes are eliminated and votes redistributed.
Advantages: gives voters more choice than any other system.
Disadvantages: can lead to massive constituencies, ballot papers can be more complex,
Who wins: candidates rather than party managers.
Who loses: party managers.

D’Hondt System.
Used in European elections in England, Wales and Scotland.
How it works: closed party-list system in which votes are cast for parties not people. MPs ranking on the list decided by party managers not voters.
Advantage: Lists ensure women and ethnic-minority groups are represented.
Disadvantage: Closed party lists are impersonal, weakening any link between MP and regional area.
Who wins: party managers who choose candidates and minor parties such as the BNP.
Who loses: voters who have no choice of candidate and Tories and Labour.

By Andrew Pierce
9:19PM BST 10 Jun 2009, The Telegraph.

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