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Voting Systems

If you were trying to decide on what to do for a fundraising event at school and there were three options with the following result, which would win? Sponsored silence 29%, talent show 34% and no-uniform day 37%. Did the no-uniform day win with the most votes? Just 37% voted for that option.

The majority actually voted for something else (63%) in total. That means that the majority chose something else to what actually won. Is this, therefore, a democratic decision? Does voting for something make it democratic? What do you think?

News reader with the poll results

First past the post

The type of voting system where the winner is the one with the most votes is called first past the post. This is the system used in UK general elections. Some say it's not fair, especially to the smaller parties that might actually receive a large number of votes across the whole country but not enough to win particular constituencies, and so don't get elected and so don't have a voice.

However, it is quick and easy to understand. It also produces strong governments with lots of MPs in Parliament supporting them. But what are the alternatives? There is another way of working out the winner of an election through proportional representation.

Proportional Representation (PR)

This system is considered to give a more accurate result. Basically, you vote in order of preference, so you put a number 1 next to your first choice, 2 next to your second choice and so on.

When the votes are counted, if any of the candidates has received over 50% of the vote on first choices, they win as they have the majority of the votes. If nobody has over 50%, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated and all the second choices are added to the first choices. If someone achieves over 50% they win.

What if there is no clear winner?

If one candidate still hasn't achieved the 50% mark, the bottom candidate is eliminated and the third choices are added on. This keeps going until there is a candidate with 50% of the votes. This way, people's choices and preferences are taken into account. This system is used in some types of election in the UK and in many other countries across the world. It sounds a bit complicated but it's quite simple really and gets exciting when there isn't an outright winner on the first count.

Key Points

  • In the UK we use the first past the post system for voting in general elections.
  • First past the post is quick and simple to understand.
  • Some think it's unfair as quite often the views of the majority aren't really reflected in the winner of the election.
  • An alternative to first past the post is proportional representation.
  • Proportional representation allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. To win the candidate must get a clear majority (over 50%).

Interesting Facts

  • Elections for London Mayor are by proportional representation.
  • The Liberal Democrats are in favour of proportional representation.
  • Labour used to be strong supporters of changing the way we vote. Once in government they did not seem as keen.

Big Question

  • Is it in the government's interest to introduce proportional representation? If so, why? If not, why not?