Different uses for voting
need different types of voting.
 Voting systems and election rules for Accurate Democracy

Primer on Voting Rules

 Introduction to voting systems, chapter contents

The best voting rules are inclusive, well centered and decisive.
They can make a group more popular, stable and quick.
After this primer shows the need for better voting rules, the voting games will show the simple steps in each tally.
The supporting references, statistics and glossary are online. All are in the pdf for mobiles or printing in English or español.


Two of Many Tragedies

These tragedies were caused by voting rules often used by countries and towns, co-ops and corporate boards.
Clear cut mountain

What can big swings in other policies do?

Jump to the next slide by clicking the gray link:
  What's Wrong? ↓

Old ways of adding up votes fail to represent large groups in many places.  In the USA, North Carolina had enough black voters to fill up two election districts. But they were a minority spread out over eight districts.  So for over 100 years, they won no voice in Congress.  As voters, they were silenced–with tragic results.1

The Northwestern U.S. tore itself apart by changing forestry laws again and again.  In a year with weak forestry laws, hasty logging wastes resources. But sudden limits on logging bankrupt some workers and small businesses.
If this policy pendulum swings far, it cuts down forests and species then families and towns, again and again.2

Businesses and agencies often lose money and power when a council changes hands and policies swerve.  This is a major cause of war-like politics.

Can we end such raging or silent tragedies?  Better tools give real hope; we can stop the tragedies caused by the old voting tools.

What's Wrong

Voters waiting waiting, by Kiichiro Sato

Will their votes have any effect?

Our defective voting rules come from the failure to realize this:
There are different uses for voting, and some require different types of voting.

We all know how to take a vote on an issue that has only two options: We each vote for one or the other. Those yes-or-no votes are enough for a good tally on such a simple issue.

But if a third option or candidate appears, the contest becomes more complicated. Then that old yea or nay type of voting is no longer suitable.

Sometimes what we want is not the election of a solitary official. We want to elect a whole council that represents all the voters. Then we do not need to divide voters into winners and losers. Instead, we need a way of condensing them, in the right proportions, into their chosen leaders.3

Yes-or-no voting is even worse at giving fair shares of council seats, adjusting many budgets, or finding a balanced policy.

Eras in Democracy

In the 19th Century: Winner-Take-All Districts lead to Off-Center ;Councils

Some English-speaking countries still count votes by England's old plurality rule.  It elects only one representative from each district; and winning it does not require a majority.  It merely elects the one who gets the most yes votes. 

A district with only one rep tends to develop only two big parties.  Only their candidates have good chances.  So the voters get only two real candidates; that is a very limited choice.4

It gets worse: a district's bias often makes it a “safe seat” a captive audience for one party. So voters in a plurality district are given very little choice or no real choice.5

A few of the few voters who do get some choice can make a council swerve from side to side. Its majority (dark blue in this picture) sets all policies and budgets. Hopes and fears of sudden policy flips polarize politics. Each battle is brutal because the winner takes all.

 Plurality election

Typical Council Elected By Plurality Rule

In the 20th Century: Fair-Share Representation leads to Off-Center Majorities

Proportional Representation was developed around 1900 to end some major problems caused by plurality rule.  Most democracies now use “PR”.

It elects several reps from each election district.  It gives a group that earns, say 20% of the votes, 20% of the council seats.  Thus PR delivers fair shares of representation.6 (In the USA, this is sometimes called “Fair Representation”.)

This leads to broad representation of issues and opinions.  But usually there is no central party (C in this picture). And the two biggest parties normally refuse to work together.

So the side with the most seats (blue and black) forms the ruling majority; then it enacts policies skewed toward its side.

 Proportional Representation

Typical Council Elected By Proportional Representation

In the 21st Century: Ensemble Councils lead to Broad, Centered Majorities

Ensemble rules will elect most representatives by Proportional Representation, plus a few representatives by a central rule ( C  in picture).  So the political views within the council will have a spread and a pivotal midpoint that match the voters more accurately.   O + = a target   That’s the target.
Later slides will show how a rule can pick winners with wide support and views near the center of the voters.  So winners will be near the center of a Proportional council.
There they can be the council's powerful swing votes, 
with strong incentives to help build moderate majorities.

Many voters in the winners' wide base of support won't want narrow centrist policies.  They‘ll likely want policies to combine the best suggestions from all groups.

 Mixed Member Proportional MMP

Ensemble Elected By Central And Proportional Rules

A soapbox supports the shoes of a speaker. Progress of Democracy A TV shows the face of a speaker.

A centrist policy enacts a narrow set of ideas it blocks rival ideas: opinions, needs, goals and plans. A one-sided policy also blocks rival ideas.

A compromise policy tries to negotiate all ideas. But contrary ideas forced together often work poorly.

A balanced policy blends compatible ideas from all sides. This process needs advocates for diverse ideas. And more than that, it needs independent moderators, These swing-voting reps can please their wide base of support by building moderate majorities in the council. 

A broad balanced majority works to enact broad, balanced policies.  These tend to give the greatest chance for happiness to the greatest number of people. 

Excellent policies are a goal of accurate democracy.  Their success is measured  by data on a typical voter's education and income, freedom and safety, health and leisure.7

Old tally rules often skew results and hurt a democracy.
An ensemble is inclusive; yet it is centered and decisive.
— to help make its actions popular, yet stable and quick.
The best tools to set budgets or pick a policy will also show these qualities in our stories, graphics and games.

Electing a Leader

Nine Voters

Let's think about this election: Nine voters want to elect a leader. The figures in this picture mark the positions chosen by these voters. They stand along a political spectrum from left to right. It is as though we asked them,

“If you want high-quality government services and taxes like France or Germany, please stand over
↓ here.” “Stand here ↓ if you want to be like Canada.
To be like the USA stand over here↓. For Mexico's low
taxes and government services stand over there ↓.”

Throughout this primer, we're going to show political positions in this compelling graphical way.

Nine voters spread out along an issue.

 Nine voters

High taxes, great gov. services Low taxes, poor gov. services

Jump to the next slide by clicking the gray link:    Plurality ↓

Plurality Election

Here we see three rivals step up for election.  Each voter prefers the candidate with the closest political position. So a voter on the left vote yes for the candidate on the left.

Ms. K is the candidate nearest four voters. 
L is nearest two and M is nearest three. 
Candidates L and M split the voters on the right.

Does anyone get a majority (over half),   Yes, or No?
Who gets the plurality (the largest number),   K,L, or M.
Who wins the second-largest share of votes,   K,L, or M?
Answers: Mouse over a question, but do not click.

A mere plurality gives the winner a weak mandate. 
This is the authority effective votes loan to a winner. Strong mandates –for the reps, budgets and policies– support and speed action to achieve popular goals.

By plurality rule, the one with the most votes wins.

 Plurality election

K is nearest four voters. L is nearest two. M is nearest three.

Runoff Election

Only the top two from plurality advance to a runoff.
We eliminate (“drop”) the other candidates all at once. Who wins this runoff,   K, or M?

The two (teal) who had voted L now vote for M. 
Did teal voters get more power than others,Yes, or No?

Only four “wasted votes” fail to elect anyone.
More ballots became effective votes, a basic goal
Did the plurality election waste more votes, Yes, or No?
So did the runoff result in a stronger mandate? Yes, or No?

Runoffs practically ask, “Which side is stronger?”
Later, these voters will use a rule that asks,
“Where is our center?” 
And a bigger group will use a rule that asks,
“Which trio best represents all of the voters?”

In a runoff, the top two compete one against one.

 Runoff election

Candidate M wins the runoff.

Politics in Two Issue Dimensions

When more issues concern the voters, a voting rule keeps its character.1

This photo shows voters choosing positions all across two issue dimensions: left to right plus up and down. A person's position on the first issue does not help us guess their position on an independent issue.

A voter may rank candidates on any issue(s). He prefers the candidate he feels is closest.

“Please step up for more protective regulations. 
Please step down if you want fewer protections.
Take more steps for more change.”

The slides on simulation games and research will show more tallies with two and even three issue dimensions.

Seventeen voters spread out along two issues:
more or less regulation ↕ and taxes for services ↔

 Voters in 2 Issue Dimensions

Kay wins a plurality. Em wins a runoff.

Chief Executive

The Goal of Instant Runoff Voting is this:

A majority winner
from a single election.

Voting is easy:  You simply rank your favorite as your first choice, and backup choices: second choice, third and so on as you like. Your civic duty to vote is done.

Now your vote counts for your top-rank candidate.
If no candidate gets a majority, the one with the fewest votes loses. So we eliminate that name from the tally.
Your vote stays with your favorite if she advances.
If she has lost, then your vote counts for your backup
This repeats until one candidate gets a majority.

Instant Runoff Voting, a Tally Analogy

Here is an analogy:  Each candidate puts out a box.  A voter puts his ballot in his favorite candidate's box.  The ballots are counted.

If the box gets a majority of the ballots, it wins.  If not, the voter moves his ballot to another candidate's box.  Or, he waits, hoping others will move their ballots to his favorite box.

To break that deadlock, we have a rule:  If a round of counting ballots finds no winner, the box with the fewest votes is eliminated.  Its ballots go to each voter's next backup choice — probably a candidate with similar views and more popularity.

These transfers make voters condense into large groups supporting strong candidates.  Ballots are counted again to see if any candidate gets at least half of the current top ranks.

In practice, each voter ranks the candidates as 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd etc.  Then election officials move ballots between boxes or a computer tallies them.

Why Support Instant Runoff Voting, IRV

  • Backups give you more power and freedom to
    express opinions with less risk of wasting a vote.
  • No hurting your first choice by ranking a backup, because that does not count unless your first choice has lost.
  • No worry about vote splitting in a faction, because votes for its least popular candidate go to each supporter's backup choice.
  • A majority winner from one election, so no winner with a weak mandate and no costly runoff election and campaign spending.2
  • High voter turnout also creates a strong mandate. Turnout often falls during a runoff election2
  • Less divisive campaigns come from candidates who act nice to earn backup votes from a rival’s supporters.3
    This fosters more inclusive thinking and consensus.5

Plurality Voting Patterns

Running for president in South Korea, the former aide to a dictator faced two popular reformers.  The two got a majority of the votes but split their supporters.  So the aide won a plurality. (37%, 28%, 27%, 8%)

The winner claimed a mandate to continue repressive policies.  Years later he was convicted of treason in the tragic killing of pro-democracy demonstrators.5

A voter‘s backup is often like his favorite, but more popular. So by dropping one reformer, IRV might well have elected the stronger one with a majority.

The U.S. also has seen major elections in which two candidates on the left split their voters or two on the right split theirs.  Sometimes this increased our national tragedies.  (Can you name such an election and its tragic results?)

Instant Runoff Voting Patterns

From five factions to one majority.

 Four IRV pie charts

 1) Ms. Violet loses.  Her ballots go to each voter's next choice.
2) Ms. Blonde loses, backups get those votes.
3) Ms. Green loses.
4) Ms. Carmine loses.
The IRV games will show each ballot moving.

This chief executive starts in a big band of voters on
the biggest side, then builds a majority. This helps her
work with reps on the biggest side of a typical council.

IRV may be helping women achieve parity in politics.6

IRV elects leaders in more and more places: London, Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York City, and Maine have adopted it.  Students use it at Duke, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Rice, Tufts, MIT, Cal Tech, Carlton, Clark, Cornell, Dartmouth, Hendrix, Reed, UCLA, Vassar, Whitman, William and Mary, The Universities of: Cal, Il, Md, Mn, Ok, Va, Wa, Wi, and more.

Irish and Australian voters have used it for decades. They call it the Alternative Vote or Preferential Vote. Many in the USA call it Ranked Choice Voting, RCV.

IRV lets you vote for the candidate you really like. 
And even if that option loses, your vote isn't wasted;
it goes to your next choice.

Council Elections

Three Single-Winner Districts

A class of 27 wants to elect a planning committee. Someone says, “Elect a rep from each seminar group.”

In the first seminar group, 5 voters elect B to power, while 4 people waste their votes on a loser, J.  In the last seminar, 8 voters elect M, but 3 of those votes are wasted in a surplus that has no effect. The total is 12 wasted votes.

A minority with 11 voters gets majority power with 2 reps. But if it were spread out evenly, it would get none.

One Fair-Representation District

A better suggestion says, “Keep the class whole.
Change the definition of victory from half of a small
seminar to a 1/4 of the whole class, plus one vote.”
So 3 reps must get 3/4, not just a plurality.
Now there are just 6 wasted votes.
Wasting fewer votes gives the council a
stronger mandate.

Now a majority gets two reps and a minority gets one.
Many wasted votes may expose a gerrymender.

The principle of Proportional Representation is this:

Majority rule, by representing the
groups in proportion to their votes.

That is, 60% of the vote gets you 60% of the seats, not all of them.  And 20% of the vote gets you 20% of the seats, not none of them.  These are fair shares.
    How does it work?  There are three basic ingredients:
  • We elect more than one rep from an electoral district.
  • You vote for more than one; you vote for a list.
    You pick a group's list, or you list your favorites.
  • The more votes a list gets, the more reps it elects.

Why Support Proportional Representation

  • Fair shares of reps go to the rival groups so
    Diverse candidates have real chances to win so
    Voters have real choices and effective votes so
    Voter turnout is strong.1
  • Women win about three times more often2 so
    Accurate majorities win — also due to more: choices,
      turnout, effective votes, and equal votes per rep so
    Policies match public opinion better.3

Fair Shares and Moderates

Chicago now elects no Republicans to the state Congress, even though they win up to a third of the city's votes.  But for over a century it elected reps from both parties.  The state used a fair rule to elect 3 reps in each district.  Most districts gave the majority party 2 reps and the minority 1.  So both parties courted voters in all districts.

Those Chicago Republicans were usually moderates.  So were Democratic reps from Republican strongholds.  Even the biggest party in a district tended to elect reps who were more independent.  They could work together and make state policies more moderate.4

(The transferable-vote game shows one way to get PR — which is also called Fair Voting, Proportional Voting, Full Representation, or Fair Representation.)

New Zealand switched in 1996 from Single-Member Districts to a layer of SMDs within Proportional Representation.  This is called Mixed-Member Proportional or MMP. A small one-seat district focuses campaigns more on local issues. Proportional Representation frees voters from the confinement of small districts, so they can elect reps with thin but widespread appeals.

The seats won by women rose from 21% to 29%.  The native Maoris reps incerased from 7% to 16%, which is almost proportional to the Maori population.5  Voters also elected 3 Polynesian reps and 1 Asian rep.

(The print edition and an interactive web page compare national statistics to show the effects of PR on the election of women, on policies and on the quality of life.)

Why Elect Women

Does Proportional Representation elect more women?

New Zealand and Germany elect half of their MPs in single-member districts and half from Fair Rep lists. Their Single-Member Districts elect few women; but in the same election, the PR lists elect three times more women.

In every one-seat district, a party's safest nominee is likely to be a member of the dominant sex, race, etc. That adds up to very poor representation of all others.

PR leads each party to nominate a balanced team of candidates to attract voters. This promotes women.6 A team may have class, ethnic and religious diversity. And that gives us diverse reps to approach for help.

Some leading women spoke of starting a new party in Sweden which uses PR. Under plurality rule, a big new party splits the voters on their own side, so it loses. But Fair Rep gives every big party its share of seats.

This credible threat made some parties decide that job experience was not as important as gender balance. So they dropped some experienced men to make more room for women on the party's list. And they won.7 Now they are incumbents with experience, power and allies.

Voting Rules and Policy Results

A woman in a multi-winner race is not so much running against a man or an incumbent, because she is more often seen as running for her issues.

SMDs elect reps with a wide range of vote totals. So a majority of reps might not represent most voters. But PR requires the same total for each rep. So each majority of reps really stands for most voters. It leads to policies matching public opinion better.3

Shares of votes equal fair shares of seats.

Councils with fewer women tend to do less for health care, childcare, education, and other social needs.8 Then the poorest schools and clinics are a blight, as are the citizens and workers hurt by poor education or health.

If those urgent needs overwhelm us, we neglect the essential need to reform their structural source: We often get poor results from poor policies due to poor representation coming from a poor voting rule. We might agree, helping voters control government is now an urgent need.

The countries with the best voting rules get the best quality of life, as measured in their international scores. We would all like better quality-of-life results for our country, and for our towns, schools, clubs and co-ops. So help friends talk about and try these voting rules.

Allocating Budgets

Fair Shares to Buy Public Goods

Electing reps is the most obvious use of voting rules. Rules to pick projects or a policy are also important. These decisions occur more often than elections and occur even in groups with no elections. Members of clubs, colleges and co-ops, grant makers and investors, all can enjoy the benefits of Fair Share Voting.

Proportional Representation distributes council seats fairly.  In the same way, voting can distribute some spending power fairly.

Democratic rights progress  Each step makes a democracy more fair, accurate and trustworthy, widely supported, popular and strong.
Fair Rep Voting by rich men, poor men, “colored” men, women.
Fair Rep Proportional Representation of all big political groups.
Projects Fair Share Voting by big groups of voters or reps.

 Fair shares mean minority voters also have some power.


Fair shares give minority voters some power.

Local Control of Central Funds    

Participatory Budgeting, PB, lets local meetings research, research, discuss and vote on how to spend part of a city's budget.  In South America, it spread from one city in 1989 to hundreds today.  The World Bank reports this process may reduce corruption and it tends to raise a community’s health and education.1

In 2010, a Chicago alderman gave $1,300,000 to PB.  It was a popular success.  But a plurality rule made the votes and voters unequal. For example, in 2011 each vote to help a park won $501. That was its cost divided by its voters. But if cast for bike racks, each vote won a mere $31. That's too unfair. Even worse, most of the votes were wasted on losers.  We can do better.  We can give every voter the power to guide a fair share of money, with Fair Share Voting.

 Many empty hands

A costly winner makes many lose.

A bad election rule is even worse when it picks projects: It's not “cost aware,”; so it often funds a very costly item and cuts a bunch that get many more votes per dollar.  To win this bad tally, load various items into one proposal. Keep raising its cost if that attracts more votes.

One year, a scholarship fund got many surplus votes. These were wasted votes because they had no effect. So the next year, many supporters chose not to waste a vote on this “sure winner.” It lost! They saw the need for a voting rule that would not waste surplus votes.

The principle of Fair Share Voting is:

Spending power for groups,
in proportion to their votes.

That is, 60% of the voters can spend 60% of the fund, not all of it. Your ballot’s share of the fund lets you vote to pay your shares of the costs for your favorite items.

Voting is easy: simply rank your choices, like in IRV.

Your ballot pays one share for each of its present top ranks—as many as it can afford. A tally of all ballots drops the item with the fewest shares. Those two steps repeat until each remaining item gets full funding.3

The voting games will make the details easy to grasp.

Paying one share proves you feel the item is worth
its cost and you can afford it in your high priorities.

Merits of Fair Share Voting

  • Each winner is a popular priority worth its cost:
    Each had to earn our “base number” of shares.
  • FSV is fair to an item of any cost and to its voters:
    A ballot pays a costly share to vote for a costly item.
    cost / base = 1 share     e.g. $100 / 20 ballots = $5
    If more ballots divide a cost, each of them pays less.
  • So, a ballot's money can help more low-cost items.
    This motivates a voter to give his top ranks to the projects he feels give the most joy per dollar.
  • Votes can move from losers to backup choices so:
    Voters split by similar proposals can unite on one
    And the set of winners gets stronger support
    because the ballots leave few wasted votes.

  • After discussion, a quick poll can pick many items. It reduces agenda effects such as leaving no money for the last items or going into debt for them.
  • It lets sub-groups pick projects, so it's like federalism, but without new layers of laws, taxes and bureaucracy.
    And it funds a big group even if they are scattered.
  • Each big group controls only its share of the money. This reduces their means and motives for fighting.
  • Fairness builds trust in spending by subgroups and raises support for more. This can reduce spending at the extremes of individual and central control.
  • This does not give minorities too much power: A majority spends most of any fair-share fund. They set the policies that direct each department. They may end any program before the voting starts.
For Votes by Elected Councils
  • FSV gives some power to reps in the opposition, so
    Electing them is more effective, less of a wasted vote.
    This may increase voter turnout.
  • They ease starvation budgets made to cause failures. This makes program management more efficient.
  • A member can waste only her share of the fund. Voters can see a rep's grants to each project, tax cut or debt reduction and hold her accountable.

Fair Shares and Majorities

 Fair shares

Fair shares
spread the joy and opportunities.

In a citywide vote, each neighborhood or interest group funds a few school, park or road improvements.  The city's taxes then pay for the projects as the School, Park, and Road Departments manage the contracts.

If a plurality or a majority spends all the money, the last thing they buy adds little to their happiness.  It is a low priority.  But that money could buy the high-priority favorite of another big interest group, adding more to their happiness.

In economic terms:  The “social utility” of the money and goods tends to increase if we each allocate a share.  Fair share, cost-aware voting gives more voters more of what they want for the same cost =more satisfied voters. Shares also spread good opportunities and incentives too.

In political terms:  The total spending has a wider “base of support:” It appeals to more voters because more see their high priorities get funding.  So our budget appeals to more people.

Each big group controls its share of the resources. This reduces their means and motives for fighting and dominating the other groups.

Plurality rules let surplus votes waste a big group’s power and let rival items split it, as seen on page 14. The biggest groups often have the biggest risks.

FSV protects a majority’s right to spend a majority of the fund. It does this by eliminating split votes, as did IRV, and surplus votes, as we’ll soon see.

Adjusting Budgets

You may write-in and rank budget levels for an item. Your ballot may pay only one share of a budget level. Often, it can afford to help most of your favorite items.

Each budget level of an item is like a project: To win, it needs to get a base number of votes. It gets a vote when a ballot offers to share the cost up to that level or higher.cost / base = 1 offer = 1 vote
If more ballots divide the cost, each of them offers less.6
You only pay up to a level you voted for and can afford.

One at a time, the weak ones lose and the money moves.  The item that gets the fewest votes for its current top level, loses that level.  Any money you offered to it moves down your ballot to your highest rank that lacks your support.  This repeats until the remaining top level of each item is fully funded, by its large base of support.

  1) In FSV, the proper name for a base of support is a “support requirement” for each budget level.
• If a level gets more than enough votes and money, a share of the surplus goes back to each donor, as in STV.
• The voting game will show how to give your favorite item two votes and lower choices less than one.

One Voter's Ballot: A group with 100 members set our base number at 25 votes.4 My first choice got just enough votes, so my ballot paid 4% of the cost.   100% / 25 votes = 4%.
My second choice lost; did it waste any of my power?
My third choice got 50 votes, so I paid only 2% of the cost. Was there any surplus? Did I waste much power by voting for this sure winner?

 Several hands giving dollars to several projects.

A large base of support must agree,
this item is a high priority for our money.

FSV has been used to set the budgets of departments too. Each line item starts with most of its past budget.2 A voter may write-in and rank higher budget levels for a department.

  2) Each item could start with all of its past budget: A voter ranks the ones he is most willing to cut, with his share of “negative dollars”. Twin Oaks Community set their base number at 55% when using FSV to make controversial budget cuts during the great recession.

Fair Share Voting for Participatory Budgeting

  • Fair Share Voting is fair: 
    Each ballot controls the same number of dollars.
    The largest group can't control more than its share.
    Minority groups can control their shares of money.
    Voters know that their votes count.
  • Fair Share Voting is cost-aware: 
    Funds the projects with the lowest costs per benefit     (Benefits are measured by numbers of votes.)
    Fair to less-costly projects and their supporters
    More voter satisfaction per dollar spent
  • Votes for unpopular projects are not wasted, and votes for popular projects cost less: 
    Less incentive for tactical voting
    More support for the winning set of projects
    A stronger mandate for the final decision
  • With these benefits, we can hope to:
    Increase voter turnout and satisfaction.
    Encourage more officials to entrust PB with
        more money in more cities.
Twin Oaks Community in Virginia has experimented with Participatory Budgeting methods for over 35 years. In 2007 they first set budgets for projects by Fair Share Voting. In 2013 they used it to adjust ongoing budget areas.

Fair Share Voting Slideshow:

“Proposing a New Voting Method
For Participatory Budgeting”

  The presentation about Fair Share Voting
from North America's first PB Conference!
English: Open Office slide show, Printout (PDF).
Español: Open Office diapositivas, impresora.
中国版 Chinese: Open Office 幻灯片, 打印.


Condorcet Test Number Two

The nine-voter Runoff above was a one-against-one or “Pairwise” contest between the policy positions by candidates M and K.  Five voters preferred M's policy position over K's.

Here is a second Pairwise test with the same voters.

K's position loses this one-against-one test.
Candidate L wins by five votes to four.

(Each person votes once with a ranked-choice ballot.  There are several ballot styles. A workshop page shows a Condorcet tally table. And the sim maps show Condorcet voters with more issue dimensions.)

 Condorcet contest 2

    K is nearest four voters. L is nearest five voters.

Condorcet Test Number Three

Candidate L wins her next one-on-one test also. She even got one “surplus vote” more than needed.

She has won majorities against each of her rivals. So she is theCondorcet winner”.

Could another person top candidate L?   Yes,  No.
Hint: Is anyone closer to the political center?   Yes,  No.
Who'd win by Condorcet in the photo above?   K,  L,  M.

Thus a Condorcet Tally picks a central winner.
For example, it can elect a moderator to a council.
But is it likely to elect diverse reps?     Yes,  No.
And it can set the base of support in Fair Share Voting.
But is it likely to spread spending fairly?     Yes,  No.

 Condorcet contest 3

L is nearest six voters;     M is nearest three.

The goal of a Condorcet Tally is this:

Majority victories
over every single rival.

The winner must top every rival, one-against-one.

The sports analogy is a “round-robin tournament.”  A player has one contest against each rival.  If she wins all of her tests, then she wins the tournament.

Option J tops option D if most voters rank J above D.  Each ballot's rank of J relative to D concerns us. 
The numbers of first-rank votes do not.

Each voting test sorts all of of the ballots into two piles.  If you rank option J higher than D then your ballot goes in the pile for J.  The option with the most ballots wins that test.  If an option wins all of its tests, it wins the Condorcet Tally. (If none does, IRV can elect one of the near winners.)1

If another rule picks a different winner our Condorcet winner ranks higher on most ballots.  So it wins a one-against-one majority over that other rule's winner.

Condorcet Quickly Picks Balanced Policies

  • No split-vote worries because duplicates don't help or hurt each other.1
    The ad hoc majority ranks all of their favorites over other motions.
    Their top one wins.
  • Rank-choice ballots let us vote on related motions all at once.
    They simplify the rules of order and speed up voting.
    They reduce hidden votes and agenda effects, from simple errors to killer and free-rider amendments.
  • A balanced process avoids erratic or excessive changes.
    So the policies tend to be stable and decisive.
    Yet it can calm some fears of discussing further changes.
    All this saves money and builds respect for leaders.

      (More merits of the Condorcet or “Pairwise” rule...)

Policies with Wider Appeal

 Open voting

Everyone helps choose our center.

A plurality or runoff winner gets no votes from the losing side and doesn't need to please those voters.  But a CT candidate seeks support from all sides, because every voter can rank it versus its close rivals.  Thus every voter is “obtainable” and valuable.  This leads to policy proposals with wide appeal.

So the Condorcet winner is well balanced and widely popular:2  Most centrist and progressive voters like it more than any conservative policy.  At the same time, most centrist and conservative voters like it more than any progressive policy.  All sides can join to beat narrowly-centrist policies.

   Policy_6 ↓

Chairs with Balanced Support

A Condorcet Tally can elect a central chairperson and a vice chair to hold the powerful swing votes on an Ensemble Council.  They compete for support from voters left, right and center.  So they have strong incentives to balance a council's process and policies.

Proposed policies compete for high ranks from all members, but the chairs often cast the key votes. They can act like the keystone in an arch connecting and bridging.

Condorcet tallies will elect about one out of four reps.  Proportional Representation will elect the other reps for an Ensemble Council.

(IRV elects a strong chief executive to control vetoes within a separation of powers. She is likely to have ties to one of the council’s big parties, which reduces deadlocks.)

     Rigged_Votes_1 ↓

Gerrymanders, rigged voting #1

Candidate M lost the previous election by plurality rule.  Now let's say her party gerrymanders the borders of her election district.  They add people (purple below) who tend to like her party; and exclude some who do not.

If the new district a “safe seat” for the bluish party, its core suppoters may prefer a less central nominee. M might lose to someone less moderate in her party's primary — the most challenging election she will have.3
Is the Condorcet winner here the same as on slide 9?  Yes, No.

The party's activist wing often dominates the process of picking a nominee. This leads each party to nominate candidates with extreme positions. And in a safe district they have no electoral incentive to compromise with other factions. A top four primary helps by advancing four to the general election where the viable candidates must try to earn high ranks from at least half of the voters. A gerrymander still can swing a district, but not to the extreme.

The plurality rules are often easy to manipulate.  Borda and score voting are also very susceptible and so make many voters worry about voting tactics. The Condorcet+IRV rule has the lowest risks and worries. So you can simply and safely vote your sincere preferences.2

 Gerrymandered election

Now K has 3 votes. L has two. And M has four.

     Rigged_Votes_2 ↓

Bribes, rigged voting #2

Bribes, big campaign gifts, and jobs for friends can make some reps switch sides on a policy.  Condorcet rules resist corruption some, as bribing one rep moves the council's middle, and the winning policy, only a little. This also cuts the payoff to a big campaign sponsor.

Voting rules that give fair shares of seats and spending also reduce the payoffs to those who bribe the biggest party.  It can no longer seize more than its share of reps or money.

Killer Amendments, rigged voting #3

Like a bribe, a “killer amendment” aims to make some reps change sides, to oppose a bill they had supported.  But Pairwise lets reps rank the original bill, no bill, and the “poison-pill” amended bill — so they are able to vote for the bill without the pill.

Bob's Ballot
Rank        Option        
2Original Bill, the main motion
1Bill with Amendment One (a free-rider?)
7Bill with Amend. Two (a killer amend.?)
6Bill with Amendments One and Two
3Postpone for 1 days
4Refer the Bill to a Committee
5No Change in the status quo

Stacked Agendas, rigged voting #4

Meetings often make interlocking decisions one at a time.  They use a yes-or-no process, with or without explicit rules of order, agendas, and votes.  An early proposal may have to beat each one introduced later.  An early decision might shut out some later options.  So “stacking the agenda” is a way to favor some interests and hurt others.

Other meetings discuss rival options all at once; yet many people don't express their backup choices.  So similar options split supporters and hurt each other.  Then a  minority pushing one option can appear to be the strongest group. Even worse, a person with a well-balanced option but few eager supporters might drop it.

Committees sometimes choose parts of a policy.  They often allow other voters only a yes-or-no choice. A yes-or-no process may require a committee to report only two options for all members to choose between.

Rigged voting often builds a bad policy and animosity.
To reduce these risks, let the voters rank more options.

   Benefits and Costs ↓

Benefits and Costs

Steering Analogy   

1890 Ransom E. Olds steamer car

Mercedes-Benz Telligent Lane Assistent

Which is more stable and quick?

When choosing a voting rule, a new Mercedes costs little more than an old jalopy.  That price is a bargain when the votes steer important budgets or policies.

Does your car have an 1890 steering tiller or a new, power steering wheel?  Does your organization have an 1890 voting rule or a new, centered and balanced rule?

Today's drivers need the skill to use power steering — but they don't need the math or logic to engineer it.  Same with voters and voting rules.

How to Startup and Test Drive

It's easy for any group to test-drive a new rule in a survey.  Or a council can “form a committee of the whole”, to vote, tally and report results to enact by the old yes-or-no rule.

Many groups adopt a standard book of parliamentary rules; then they amend it with their own “special rules of order”.  So they own a modern vehicle for making their decisions more popular, stable and quick.

    Tools Between People ↓

Tools Between People 

Voting rules affect our laws — and our views on life. By making us give either fair shares or winner take all,  rules shape how we treat each other and see our world. 

The official rules model the goals and methods for shared decisions. They teach some patterns often followed by our coworkers, friends and neighbors.

Fair rules make cooperation safer, faster and easier. They favor people and groups who tend to cooperate, and may lead others to cooperate more often.

Politics are more principled and peaceful when all the rules tend to help us find fair shares and central majorities.  This may reduce political fears within our community, letting us be more free, tolerant and creative. Then the group's size, diversity and resilience may increase.

So better rules can help us build better decisions, plus better relationships. Both will please more people. Someone whose income or self-worth comes from war-like politics might not be pleased. But countries with better election rules tend to rank higher in happiness.2 Voting is an exemplary “tool between people.”

Tools between people
   Related Reforms ↓

Voting Helps Related Reforms

A news firm might inform us better if subscribers steer more parts of it than investors or advertisers do. VoterMedia has a low-cost method for any group: Use Fair Share Voting to reward the best local-news bloggers.  (McChesney and Nichols propose a $200 “news voucher” to help each voter fund their favorite ad-free news source.)

Public campaign funding in Maine and Arizona lets reps spend less time with rich sponsors and more with voters. One plan would gives each voter $50 of vouchers to donate. Such small, nameless donations or FSV can cut corrupt paybacks.3

One-seat districts let the campaign PACs flood money into the few toss-up districts and thus buy most of those swing seats.  But PR has close races in many multi-seat districts, forcing the PACs to spread-out their money into most districts.

Optical-scan ballots, post-election audits and open-source software check fraud by election workers and corporations.

Ballot access laws make it hard for minor parties to get nominees on the ballot.  The two big parties make those laws largely because they fear spoiler candidates.  Better voting rules such as IRV can calm that fear.

Sabbatical terms make the current rep run against a former rep former rep returning from rest, reflection and field research.  The voters get a real choice between two winners.  Each has a record of what they did in office.  Plurality rule could tend to make the current and former reps both lose by splitting their party.  But these ranked choice voting rules do not split parties. 
A sabbatical might pay each rep only if they work with others from all parties on urban and rural service projects.

Citizens’ assemblies4 and their referendums can get more choices and control by using Condorcet tallies. 
Laws about reps‘ salaries, fundraising, gifts, ads, election rules, etc. need referendums because on such issues reps have conflicts between their public duty and their private interest. 
But minority rights to ballots, reps and funds need constitutional protection from the majority of the day.

   Cost Effective Reforms ↓

Voting Reforms Are Cost Effective

These reforms open doors for popular changes.   e.g. Data shows Proportional Representation elects more women than plurality.  And this change leads to better health and education.

The data make it clear: Advocates for education, health care, a clean environment and a clean government should all work for better voting rules.  Donors should too.

If we are overwhelmed by urgent needs, we neglect the essentials, the structural roots of these problems.  We continue to get bad public policies, due to bad representation, due to bad election laws.

Issue campaigns lobby reps every week for years. This eases one problem, but rarely fixes the source.

Election campaigns cost a lot all at once. If you win control, you can help all issues for two years.

Reform campaigns cost no more than elections. A win strengthens the council and policies for many years. Your reform work keeps giving to a school, club or town.

   Costs compared to results from issue campaigns, elections or voting reforms

   Benefits Voters & Reps ↓

Review the Benefits for Voters and Reps    



Fair RepGive fair representation to all major groups.
    So the council enacts laws with real majorities.

Center Elect a central chairperson whose swing vote pulls
     reps from many factions to moderate policies.

Center Reduce deadlocks and upheavals in budgets or policies.
     Make shifts in power small, common and smooth.

Center Cut chances for agenda scams; detach poison-pill and
     free-rideramendments. Speed-rank all options at once.

Projects Give all members Fair Share Voting for optional budgets.
     And let the voters easily see each rep's spending.

    Why Take Votes  ↓


Why Take Votes

Groups with little time and many issues or competing interests, often end a discussion by asking for votes not consensus.  Their methods of discussion and of voting each affect the quality of their decisions and the group's morale.

The secret ballot can protect voters from many types of coercion.
A good tally can assure equality; even busy or unassertive people can cast a full vote.
Pondering a ballot or survey can motivate members to learn about setting the budgets and priorities.

The Condorcet policy can please most members best; it is not biased for any group or the current policy.  It also does not need to favor the status quo, except bylaws.

Fair Share Voting can give fair shares of power.  Inclusive yet fast, it doesn't let one member block action.  It is co-operative decision making, not individual nor hierarchical, not consensual nor adversarial.  Multi-winner rules are less about blocking rivals, more about attracting allies.

   Exit? ↓

Exit or Power

One set of policies sometimes cannot suit two groups with opposing values.  Moving to a better place is the surest way to get the policies you want.  This is often called “voting with your feet”.

That is practical when you have the freedom to move and diverse destinations to choose among.  Such diversity is more likely when culture and technology give places economic independence through “local self-reliance”.

Even when you can't move to a better city or country, you may still avoid willful authoritarians.  Build your democratic groups with fair egalitarians.

Democracy improves in eras such as The Enlightenment.  Many people restrained blind faith, obedience and ideology.  They expanded our knowledge of the universe and understanding of life through rational, skeptical, empirical thinking.

   Conclusions ↓


Many people are excited to learn that voting does not have to mean “winner take all.”

The best voting rules strengthen the ballots for voters.
Thus they strengthen the mandates for winners.
That means they lift the proven support for:
Center  a Chairperson from a plurality to a majority of voters,
Fair Rep  a Council from a plurality to over three quarters,
Budgets  a Budget from a few power blocs to all members,
Center  a Policy from a one-sided to an over-all majority.

This page shows different voting uses
need different kinds of voting rules.

Politics is more principled and
governance more legitimate with
fair shares for seats and money, and
true majorities for executives and policies.

    Actions  ↓


Learn more in this e-book, Accurate Democracy. Then build support in your school, club or town with FairVote, The Center for Voting and Democracy.

Steps toward accurate democracy include:
Organizing  Organize Voters,          with Transferable Votes.
Fair Rep  Represent Everyone,     with Proportional Representation.
Projects  Empower Everyone,      with Fair Share Voting.
Center  Center Policies,            with Pairwise Winners.

This website has sim games and handouts,
plus free ballot-entry and tally software.

   Printouts ↓

This text is © CC BY-SA 3.0, so edit it as you will and add your own slides for other topics.  For example, U.S. voters need concise statements of the principles and benefits in non-partisan redistricting, as practiced in Iowa, and public campaign funding, as practiced in Arizona, Maine, or North Carolina.

You may want to skip some topics or change the wording to suit an audience.  For legislators you might change “voter” to “rep” or “member” and you would do the opposite for a direct democracy.

Thanks to Steve Chessin for writing the original version of the “elevator pitch” for Proportional Representation.  He, Terry Bouricius, and Zo Tobi each wrote quick pitches for Instant Runoff Voting which were the basis for the IRV slides above.  Overall editors include Tree Bressen, Cheryl Hogue, John Richardson, and Rob Richie.  Many others have contributed ideas and writing.


This primer is part of a free booklet for printers or screens. It has the voting games, colorful graphics from both PoliticalSim™ and the budget voting games, data to compare nations and references. A few hard cover copies are available for college libraries.


This page showed the need for better voting rules and their merits.  The next page, voting games, show the simple steps in each tally and how they meet their goals.

After that, you may want to read the one-page intro­duction to each of the six voting tasks.  These tell how a task is like and unlike other uses of voting, what it must do, stories of tragedy and success, the best rule's name, its ballot and its main merits.

Accurate Democracy is organized by uses of voting:
elections and legislation, single winner and multi winner.

Search Accurate Democracy


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