The most common system, used in Canada, India, the UK, and the USA, is simple plurality, first past the post or winner-takes-all, a voting system in which a single winner is chosen in a given constituency by having more votes than any other individual representative; there is no requirement that the winner gain a majority of votes.
In some countries such as France and most of Latin America a similar system is used, but there are two rounds: the "two-ballot" or "runoff election" plurality system. If any candidate in the first round gains a majority of votes, then there is no second round; otherwise, the two highest-voted candidates of the first round compete in a two-candidate second round or all candidates above a certain threshold in the first round compete in a two-, three- or four-candidate second round.
In political science, the use of the plurality voting system alongside multiple, single-winner constituencies to elect a multi-member body is often referred to as single-member district plurality or SMDP. Plurality voting is also variously referred to as winner-takes-all or relative/simple majority voting; however, these terms can also refer to elections for multiple winners in a particular constituency using bloc voting.
Historically, FPTP has been a contentious electoral system, giving rise to the concept of electoral reform and a multiplicity of different voting systems intended to address perceived weaknesses of plurality voting.
Plurality voting is used in 43 of the 191 countries in the United Nations for either local or national elections. Plurality voting is particularly prevalent in the United Kingdom and former British colonies, including the United States, Canada and India. See Westminster system.
In an election for a legislative body, each voter in a given geographically-defined electoral district votes for one candidate from a list of candidates competing to represent that district. Under the plurality system, the winner of the election acts as representative of the entire electoral district, and serves with representatives of other electoral districts.
In an election for a single seat, such as president in a presidential system, the same style of ballot is used and the candidate who receives the largest number of votes represents the entire population. (The President in the United States is not directly elected by such a system, but rather by an Electoral College.)
Plurality voting is based on minimal information — a person's vote can be entirely represented by a binary choice, so anything can be used to signify a vote — the ancient Greeks would vote on ostracising someone by scratching the name of the person to be ostracised on a piece of pottery. Votes cast as physical objects can also create a realistic display of the election results, such as an array of candidates with jars filled with differently coloured beans, with the winner being the most-filled.
In our hypothetical election, there are three candidates: Amy, Brian and Cathy. Each class member gets a ballot, with these three names on it. Each voter must put an "X" by one of the names on their ballot.
After the election finishes, the papers are sorted into three piles--one for votes for Amy, one for votes for Brian, and one for votes for Cathy.
The largest pile decides the winner. If Amy's pile has 11 votes, Brian's has 16, and Cathy's has 13, Brian wins.
Notice that there were a total of 40 votes cast, and the winner had only 16 of them — only 40%.
Note that the class members (the "electors") only vote once, and their votes help to choose both a class president and a member of the school council (the same person).
Some might argue that a boy won for this class because there were two girls, who "split the vote": some of the girls in the class voted for Amy and others for Cathy. Perhaps if Amy had not been a candidate, all the girls would have voted for Cathy and she would have won this class; this in turn would make the girls the winners of the whole council. This is known as the spoiler effect.
Voting is accomplished whereby each voter in each city selects one city on the ballot (Memphis voters select Memphis, Nashville voters select Nashville, etc.) Votes are tabulated; Memphis is selected with the most votes (42%). Note that this system does not require that the winner have a majority, but only a plurality. Memphis wins because it has the most votes, even though 58% of the voters in this example preferred Memphis least. Notice that this problem does not hold anymore in the two-round system.
However, proponents of other systems, such as approval voting, point out that the OMOV principle was made to control the magnitude of districts; that each district must be relatively in proportion to one another in population. Approval voting does not actually represent some voters more than others, so the OMOV principle would be a weak one to discount it on. In any case, it could be argued approval voting grants one vote for each candidate to each voter - which they may choose not to cast, and cannot vote cumulate on one candidate.
In the Tennessee example, if all the voters for Chattanooga and Knoxville had instead voted for Nashville, then Nashville would have won (with 58% of the vote); this would only have been the 3rd choice for those voters, but voting for their respective 1st choices (their own cities) actually results in their 4th choice (Memphis) being elected.
The difficulty is sometimes summed up, in an extreme form, as "All votes for anyone other than the second place are votes for the winner", because by voting for other candidates, they have denied those votes to the second place candidate who could have won had they received them. It is often claimed by United States Democrats that Democrat Al Gore lost the 2000 Presidential Election to Republican George W. Bush because some voters on the left voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party, who exit polls indicated would have preferred Gore to Bush 45 percent to 27 percent, with the rest not voting in Nader's absence.
Such a mentality is reflected by elections in Puerto Rico and its three principal voter groups: the Independentistas (pro-independence), the Populares (pro-commonwealth), and the Estadistas (pro-statehood). Historically, there has been a tendency for Independentista voters to elect Popular candidates and policies. This phenomenon is responsible for some Popular victories, even though the Estadistas have the most voters on the island. It is so widely recognised that the Puertoricans sometimes call the Independentistas who vote for the Populares "melons", because the fruit is green on the outside but red on the inside (in reference to the party colours).
Because voters have to predict in advance who the top two candidates will be, this can cause significant perturbation to the system:
A feature of the FPTP system is that invariably, voters can select only one candidate in a single-member district, whilst in multi-member districts they can never select more candidates than the number of seats in the district. Some argue that FPTP would work better if electors could cast votes for as many candidates as they wish. This would allow voters to "vote against" a certain despised candidate if they choose, without being forced to guess who they should vote for to defeat that candidate, thus eliminating the need for tactical voting. Such a system would also serve to reduce the spoiler effect. This system is called approval voting.
First-past-the-post tends to reduce the number of political parties to a greater extent than most other methods, thus making it more likely that a single party will hold a majority of legislative seats. (In the United Kingdom, 18 out of 22 General Elections since 1922 have produced a majority government.) Single party rule enables quicker decision-making with less need for back and forth negotiation; some argue that this is an advantage.
Multi-party coalitions, on the other hand, require consent among all coalition partners to pass legislation, which gives small parties a disproportionate amount of power. In the UK, arguments for plurality often look to Italy where the frequent government changeovers are presented as undesirable. (This problem could be solved with separation of powers, in which the entire government didn't have to turn over just because it lost a vote.)
FPTP's tendency toward fewer parties and more frequent one-party rule can also produce disadvantages. One such disadvantage is that the government may not consider as wide a range of perspectives and concerns. It is entirely possible that a voter will find that all major parties agree on a particular issue. In this case, the voter will not have any meaningful way of expressing a dissenting opinion through his or her vote.
As fewer choices are offered to the voters, voters may vote for a candidate with whom they largely disagree so as to oppose a candidate with whom they disagree even more (See tactical voting above). The downside of this is that candidates will less closely reflect the viewpoints of those who vote for them.
It may also be argued that one-party rule is more likely to lead to radical changes in government policy that are only favoured by a plurality or bare majority of the voters, whereas multi-party systems usually require greater consensus in order to make dramatic changes.
Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are notable examples of countries within the UK, or with previous links to it, that use non-FPTP electoral systems.
Recent examples of nations which have undergone democratic reforms but have not adopted the FPTP system include South Africa, almost all of the former Eastern bloc nations, Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The plurality election system is used in the Republic of China on Taiwan for executive offices such as county magistrates, mayors, and the president, but not for legislative seats which used the single non-transferable vote system. This has produced an interesting party structure in which there are two broad coalitions of parties which cooperate in executive elections but which compete internally in legislative elections.
India uses a proportional representation system for its upper house.
On the 100th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, Puerto Rico still deserves independence.(Originated from Knight Ridder/ Tribune News Service)
Jul 23, 1998; This is one in a series of op-ed pieces from the Progressive Media Project on issues of concern to people of Latin heritage. KRT...