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Preferential block voting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Preferential block voting is a majoritarian voting system for electing several representatives from a single multimember constituency. Unlike the single transferable vote (STV), preferential block voting is not a method for obtaining proportional representation, and instead produces similar results to plurality block voting (a type of multiple non-transferable vote, MNTV), of which it can be seen as the instant-runoff version, making it a multiple transferable vote (MTV). Under both systems, a single group of like-minded voters can win every seat, making both forms of block voting non-proportional.

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  • The Alternative Vote Explained
  • Politics in the Animal Kingdom: Single Transferable Vote
  • Why Electronic Voting is a BAD Idea - Computerphile


Queen Lion of the Animal Kingdom is displeased. She recently introduced elections for the office of king using the first post the post voting system. While her Realm started out as a healthy democracy with many parties running candidates for king, it quickly devolved into two party rule, with the citizens not liking either one but trapped within the system because of a problem called the spoiler effect. However, one of Queen Lion’s subjects from a distant land, Wallaby, has a solution: The Alternative Vote. What’s the difference? To find out, lets follow one voter on election day, Red Squirrel, under both systems. There are five candidates running for king, two members of the big parties Gorilla and Leopard and three other candidates, Turtle, Owl and Tiger. Under first-past-the-post Red Squirrel gets a ballot where he picks just one candidate. Red Squirrel Really likes Turtle and even campaigned for him. However he knows that his new neighbor, Grey Squirrel, is voting Gorilla. And what, starts to wonder Red Squirrel, about all the other animals? Who are they going to vote for? The debates on Animal News Network only had the big parties, so Red Squirrel thinks it’s going to be a close race between Gorilla and Leopard. While he’s indifferent toward Gorilla he is deathly afraid of Leopard. Because he can only pick a single candidate, he gives his one vote to Gorilla in hopes of preventing Leopard from becoming king. This is strategic voting, and it’s a necessity under First Past the Post. But now it’s time to look at the Alternative Vote, which wallaby explains to Red Squirrel. Instead of picking one and only one candidate, he can rank them in order of his most favorite to his least. He goes into the voting both and gets the same ballot as before, but now puts Turtle as his first choice, Owl as his second and Gorilla, third. He dislikes Leopard and Tiger equally so he stops filling in his ballot and drops it in the box. At this point, Red Squirrel doesn’t care exactly what happens, he has other things on his mind and heads off. But you, dear citizen, want to know how the votes are counted so here goes: Turtle, beloved though he is with some of the citizenry, comes in last place with only 5% and he is eliminated from the race. Because the voters ranked their candidates in order, we can know what would have happened if Turtle didn’t run. Without Turtle, voters like Red Squirrel, would have picked Owl instead, so their votes are transferred to her as though Turtle was never in the race at all. This is why Alternative Vote is sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting. It’s able to simulate a bunch of elections where the least popular candidate is eliminated after each round without all the time and expense it would take to run a bunch of campaigns, one after another. The Alternative Vote method keeps eliminated the least popular candidate until someone either wins a majority or is the only one left. As no one has a majority yet, the next lowest candidate, Tiger, is eliminated. Tiger voters listed leopard as their second choice, so she gets Tiger’s votes. In the last round, Gorilla is eliminated. Gorilla voters listed Owl as their second choice, so Owl gets those votes, wins a majority, so is crowed king. The alternative vote is a better system because it produces winners that a larger number of voters agree on. While the Alternative Vote does have flaws it’s important to note that any problem AV has, first past the post shares. They’re both susceptible to gerrymandering, they aren’t proportional systems, they can’t guarantee a Condorcet winner (which math geeks hate but there isn’t time to explain here), and over time they both trend toward two main parties. That being said, Alternative Vote has a huge advantage that first past the post lacks and makes it a mathematically superior method: no spoiler effect! Imagine this election: the two big candidates are running, Gorilla and Leopard, and Leopard looks set to win 55% to 45%. But then a third party candidate, Tiger, enters. Tiger manages to convince 15% of the Leopard voters to back him. Now the results are: Under first past the post, gorilla now wins even though a majority of the voters didn’t want him. Under the Alternative Vote, because all Tiger voters put Leopard as second choice, Leopard still wins because a majority of the citizens of the animal kingdom would rather have her in charge than gorilla. With AV citizens can help support and grow smaller parties that they agree without worrying they’ll put someone they don’t like into office. After examining the differences, Queen Lion decrees that the Alternative Vote is to be the rule of the land for electing the king and everyone is happier. …well almost everyone. The two big parties can’t be complacent and need to campaign harder for their votes. This has been The Alternative Vote Explained by me C. G. P. Grey. Thank you very much for watching.

Casting and counting the ballots

In preferential block voting, a ranked ballot is used, ranking candidates from most to least preferred. Alternate ballot forms may have two groupings of marks, first giving n votes for an n seat election (as in traditional bloc voting), but also allowing the alternate candidates to be ranked in order of preference and used if one or more first choices are eliminated.

Candidates with the smallest tally of first preference votes are eliminated (and their votes transferred as in instant runoff voting) until a candidate has more than half the vote. The count is repeated with the elected candidates removed and all votes returning to full value until the required number of candidates is elected. An example of this method is described in Robert's Rules of Order.[1]


With or without a preferential element, block voting systems have a number of features which can make them unrepresentative of the diversity of voters' intentions. Block voting regularly produces complete landslide majorities for the group of candidates with the highest level of support. Under preferential block voting, a slate of clones of the first winning candidate are guaranteed to win every available seat.[2] Although less representative, this does tend to lead to greater agreement among those elected.


Block voting was used in the Australian Senate from 1901 to 1948; from 1919, this was preferential block voting.[3] More recently, the system has been used to elect local councils in Australia’s Northern Territory.[4] In elections in 2007 and 2009, Hendersonville, North Carolina used a form of preferential block voting. In 2009, Aspen, Colorado also used a form of preferential block voting for a single election before repealing the system. In 2018, the state of Utah passed a state law creating a pilot program for municipalities to use instant runoff voting for single seat contests and preferential block voting for multi seat contests, and in 2019, Payson, Utah and Vineyard, Utah each held preferential block voting contests for three and two city council seats respectively.[5]


Rank ballot Hybrid ballots
Preferential bloc voting ballot 3.png
Preferential bloc voting ballot 1.png
Preferential bloc voting ballot 2.png
Three example ballots for a two-seat election, the first using a pure ranked ballot, and the second using a plurality block voting ballot for the initial vote, and ranking only the alternate preferences. The hybrid ballots are intended to clarify the fact that the top n choices are counted simultaneously, and the ranked choices are used conditionally based on elimination.

See also


  1. ^ Robert, Henry M. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th ed., p. 425-428 (RONR)
  2. ^ Reilly, Ben; Michael, Maley (2000). "Chapter 3: The Single Transferable Vote and the Alternative Vote Compared". In Bowler, Shaun; Grofman, Bernard (eds.). Elections in Australia, Ireland, and Malta under the Single Transferable Vote: Reflections on an Embedded Institution. University of Michigan Press. pp. 37–58. ISBN 978-0-472-02681-4.
  3. ^ Farrell, David M.; McAllister, Ian (2005). "1902 and the Origins of Preferential Electoral Systems in Australia" (PDF). Australian Journal of Politics and History. 51 (2): 155–167. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8497.2005.00368.x. Retrieved 2020-08-03.
  4. ^ Sanders, William (2011). "Alice's Unrepresentative Council: Cause for Intervention?". Australian Journal of Political Science. 46 (4): 699–706. doi:10.1080/10361146.2011.623669. S2CID 154563517. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  5. ^ Jack Santucci and Benjamin Reilly, "Utah’s new kind of ranked-choice voting could hurt political minorities — and sometimes even the majority"
This page was last edited on 9 April 2023, at 19:41
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