A Look at the Different Voting Systems

An electoral system determines the set of rules which shape the voting process and results interpretation in an election. This is a widely used practice since it exists even in non-governmental organizations, businesses, etc. to determine the people in charge. However, the main focus of this piece is going to be on the political electoral systems.

The Electoral College | National Geographic Society
The United States’ electoral vote map based on the 2010 census (Credit: MB298/Wikimedia Commons)

One of the two main types of electoral systems is the Plurality Voting System (or winner-takes-all). This may sound familiar since the United States uses this system in most of the elections that take place. It is used to elect the U.S House of Representatives as well as many state and local legislatures. The defining characteristic is that each voter is allowed to vote only for one candidate, and the candidate who polls more than their counterpart is declared the winner. This means that the winning candidate must receive an absolute majority, i.e. greater than the threshold. Some of the advantages of this system is that voters are presented with a clear cut choice on the ballot between the two candidates, making the process relatively simpler. Due to this, popularity takes precedence and individual candidates have a real chance of winning. The results from this election also give rise to a single-party government where there is less clashing of ideologies and beliefs, leading to a quicker decision process within the government, for better or for worse. Moreover, the opposing party would be placed with a more prominent role since they would be liable to question the decisions of the ruling party and hold them accountable to the public.

(Credit: National Popular Vote)

However, people often argue that the disadvantages for the plurality system outweigh its benefits. Fair representation often hangs in the balance since the two main parties dominate the elections and the ballot, excluding smaller parties and candidates. Also, due to the nature of the voting process, there are a large number of wasted votes at the end which do not account towards any candidate. Furthermore, one of the most discussed problems with plurality voting is the rise it gives to gerrymandering, a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries (Wikipedia). This is because where the boundaries of districts are drawn are a huge component in determining the winners in the election. Therefore, there is still a lot of debate in the US and around the world regarding the viability of the plurality voting system. 

The Unkillable Two-Party System – Reason.com

On the other, in the proportional representation system groups of winners are allocated in alignment with the proportion of the vote they receive. This system has gained a lot of popularity since a majority of the world’s democracies (excluding the United States, United Kingdom, India, France, and Canada) use this system. This is on the opposite side of the coin to the plurality system since it gives smaller parties and individual candidates a much better chance at the election. It also produces a coalition government where the clashing of ideas often leads to decisions which favour a larger majority of people. This may mean that there is going to be a larger voter turnout since people would be more event represented within the government and their votes would be accounted for. However, this system has its demerits since the nature of the voting process means that extremist parties and groups often get elected onto positions of power whereas the plurality system often keeps them out. Also, the coalition government that has been formed would also be slower at decision making since there may be many disputes within the ruling party due to their different beliefs. 

Although many new and popular voting systems are emerging as people point out the inherent flaws in the two mentioned above, the plurality system and the proportional representation system seem to be the most popular and widely used as of yet. 












Suhani Agrawal

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