Sunday, 13 March 2011

Aspects of voting systems

A voting system specifies the form of the ballot, the set of allowable votes, and the tallying method, an algorithm for determining the outcome. This outcome may be a single winner, or may involve multiple winners such as in the election of a legislative body. The voting system may also specify how voting power is distributed among the voters, and how voters are divided into subgroups (constituencies) whose votes are counted independently.

The real-world implementation of an election is generally not considered part of the voting system. For example, though a voting system specifies the ballot abstractly, it does not specify whether the actual physical ballot takes the form of a piece of paper, a punch card, or a computer display. A voting system also does not specify whether or how votes are kept secret, how to verify that votes are counted accurately, or who is allowed to vote. These are aspects of the broader topic of elections and election systems.
 The ballot
In a simple plurality ballot, the voter is expected to mark only one selection.

Different voting systems have different forms for allowing the individual to express his or her vote. In ranked ballot or "preference" voting systems, such as Instant-runoff voting, the Borda count, or a Condorcet method, voters order the list of options from most to least preferred. In range voting, voters rate each option separately on a scale. In plurality voting (also known as "first-past-the-post"), voters select only one option, while in approval voting, they can select as many as they want. In voting systems that allow "plumping", like cumulative voting, voters may vote for the same candidate multiple times.

Some voting systems include additional choices on the ballot, such as write-in candidates, a none of the above option, or a no confidence in that candidate option.

Some methods call for a primary election first to determine which candidates will be on the ballot.
 Weight of votes
Main article: Weighted voting

Many elections are held to the ideal of "one person, one vote," meaning that every voter's votes should be counted with equal weight. This is not true of all elections, however. Corporate elections, for instance, usually weight votes according to the amount of stock each voter holds in the company, changing the mechanism to "one share, one vote". Votes can also be weighted unequally for other reasons, such as increasing the voting weight of higher-ranked members of an organization.

Voting weight is not the same thing as voting power. In situations where certain groups of voters will all cast the same vote (for example, political parties in a parliament), voting power measures the ability of a group to change the outcome of a vote. Groups may form coalitions to maximize voting power.

In some German states, most notably Prussia and Sachsen, there was before 1918 a weighted vote system known as the Prussian three-class franchise, where the electorate would be divided into three categories based on the amount of income tax paid. Each category would have equal voting power in choosing the electors.[citation needed]
 Status quo

Some voting systems are weighted in themselves, for example if a supermajority is required to change the status quo. An extreme case of this is unanimous consent, where changing the status quo requires the support of every voting member. If the decision is whether to accept a new member into an organization, failure of this procedure to admit the new member is called blackballing.

A different mechanism that favors the status quo is the requirement for a quorum, which ensures that the status quo remains if not enough voters participate in the vote. Quorum requirements often depend only on the total number of votes rather than the number of actual votes cast for the winning option; however, this can sometimes encourage dissenting voters to refrain from voting entirely to prevent a quorum.
Main article: Constituency

Often the purpose of an election is to choose a legislative body made of multiple winners. This can be done by running a single election and choosing the winners from the same pool of votes, or by dividing up the voters into constituencies that have different options and elect different winners.

Some countries, like Israel, fill their entire parliament using a single multiple-winner district (constituency), while others, like the Republic of Ireland or Belgium, break up their national elections into smaller multiple-winner districts, and yet others, like the United States or the United Kingdom, hold only single-winner elections. The Australian bicameral Parliament has single-member electorates for the legislative body (lower house) and multi-member electorates for its Senate (upper house). Some systems, like the Additional member system, embed smaller districts (constituencies) within larger ones.

The way constituencies are created and assigned seats can dramatically affect the results. Apportionment is the process by which states, regions, or larger districts are awarded seats, usually according to population changes as a result of a census. Redistricting is the process by which the borders of constituencies are redrawn once apportioned. Both procedures can become highly politically contentious due to the possibility of both malapportionment, where there are unequal representative to population ratios across districts, and gerrymandering, where electoral districts are manipulated for political gain. An example of this were the UK Rotten and pocket boroughs, parliamentary constituencies that had a very small electorate - e.g. an abandoned town - and could thus be used by a patron to gain undue and unrepresentative influence within parliament. This was a feature of the unreformed House of Commons before the Great Reform Act of 1832.

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