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Vote-But How? - Amogh Shukla

Voting is crucial to the survival of a representative democracy, but so is the system through which it is implemented. There are various methods around the globe through which votes can be cast and the results calculated. These systems are known as “electoral systems." An electoral system defines the set of rules through which elections are conducted and their results are formulated. Voting is limited not just to politics and government selection but also applies to corporations, non-profits etc.

Wherever voting occurs, there will be a particular set of people who are allowed to vote. It is referred to by multiple names, like an electoral college, an electoral roll, or simply an electorate. For example, the electoral college for the election of the president of India consists of the elected members of both the houses of parliament and the elected members of the legislative assemblies of states and union territories. Only the votes of these members of a particular electoral college are valid.

Greece, according to most historians, seems to have implemented one of the earliest forms of "voting,” or elections. They had a system wherein male landowners (the electorate) could choose which individual they wished to get rid of. If any candidate got more than 6,000 votes, they were kicked out. Here, the electorate was made up of male landowners. But today, in most democracies, we choose our leaders via voting, and for this purpose, multiple systems have developed; commonly, they are classified into three broad systems:

  •   Plurality systems
  •   Majority systems
  •   Proportional representative systems

Let’s tackle all of these one by one, starting with the plurality system of voting: The plurality system is the easiest system to understand. In this system, the candidate who polls the most votes wins. It can further be characterized into two small subsections:

  1.    Single-member plurality is used when only one member or representative is chosen. This is also known as the first-past-the-post system.
  2.    Multi-member plurality is used when multiple representatives are to be chosen for a particular seat.

Example of single-member plurality voting:

Suppose you have four candidates for any particular position, namely candidates A, B, C, and D. Candidate A polls 21 percent of the votes, while candidates B, C, and D poll 19, 20, and 20 percent of the votes, respectively. In such a scenario, candidate A, even though only 21 percent of people voted for him, will win. In the plurality system of voting, the voter is allowed to vote for only one specific candidate. It is not at all a necessity for any candidate to get 50 percent of the total legal votes, but just more votes than any other participating candidate.

The merits of these types of elections are that they are easier to understand by the voters and less costly to carry out. This system also has multiple demerits. First and foremost, this system is not always a correct representation of the mood of the electorate. Referring to the aforementioned example, we can see that even though candidate A had polled only 21 percent of the votes, he would have won. This meant that he won despite 79 percent of the people not voting for him. Another thing is that in such a system, even though a particular party has millions of voters but they are very thinly spread, they might not be able to get seats proportional to the number of votes they polled. On the other hand, if a party has a smaller number of voters but is concentrated, it might have a better chance of scoring higher seats than the party with more voters. This can be observed in the 1998 Indian general elections, wherein the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 182 seats with only 25.6 percent of the total votes in their favor, while the Indian National Congress (INC) got only 141 seats with 25.8 percent of the total votes (0.2 percent more than the BJP). It is still used in many places, like India, the USA, and the UK.

 Next, let’s move on to the second type, the majority system of voting:

In this particular system, the candidate, to win, needs to poll at least 50 percent of the total votes. Let’s say 3 candidates are contesting for a position, namely A, B, and C. A polls 45 percent of the votes, B secures 40 percent of the votes, and C manages to get only 15 percent. If it were a plurality system, as discussed above, A would have won the contest, but in a majority system, no one can be declared the winner if they are not able to secure 50 percent or more. Now, how they proceed from there is different. Some countries still use preferential voting. During this method, the voter ranks their choice of candidates in order of preference. After this, if no candidate can get to the majority mark, the candidate with the least number of votes is disqualified, and their votes are redistributed amongst the others. This is also known as the Alternative vote (AV). In some other countries, if no candidate gets more than or equal to 50 percent, they go to a secondary election, which involves only some of the candidates from the previous round. In the French presidential election, only the top two candidates run in the secondary election. An important merit of this system is that it ensures that the candidate wins only by securing the majority of votes. Although this method eliminates the issues that the plurality system had, it still has some problems. The smaller parties have almost no chance of winning. This system also encourages “bloc voting,” wherein different ideological groups tend to unite to secure the majority vote.

The majority and plurality systems may work fine in some places, but sometimes they fail to represent the actual mood of the electorate. This gives rise to the proportional representation system of voting. A proportional representation system is one in which the representation in the body where an election is happening depends on the overall support of the party in the electorate. In this system, all the votes hold the same weight, and equal opportunity is given to smaller parties, unlike in the majority and plurality systems. In other systems, like plurality, an entire constituency is given to a candidate, even if he polls as low as 20 percent. But this system ensures that each representative is elected by an almost equal number of supporters. The seats (supposed in an assembly) are allocated according to the total number of votes or the vote share a particular party receives.

One of the ways of implementing this is through party-list proportional representation, in which the members are chosen based on their respective positions on the electoral list. For example, let’s say the party A gets allocated 5 seats in an election, and they submit a list that goes like this: 1) Salman, 2) Shahrukh, 3) Amir, 4) Sanjay, 5) Akshay, and 6) Ranbir. In such a scenario, the first seat allocated to the party will go to Salman, then the next to Shahrukh, then Amir, Sanjay, and Akshay, respectively, while Ranbir wouldn’t get a seat. Voters vote for the party, not any individual candidate. This list can be classified into two types:

  1.   Closed list:  Wherein the political party finalizes the list before the elections.
  2.   Open list:  Here, the list is not predetermined and can even be decided after the voting has taken   place.

Another way of implementing a PR system is the Additional Member System, also known as the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) system. This system is used to decide the representatives for both local representatives and political parties. It is a system that is a mixed form of other systems (plurality or majority) and proportional representation. The seats of political parties are allocated based on proportional representation and local bodies by plurality or majority. Thus, every voter has two votes to cast. This MMP is used in South Korea, New Zealand, and Germany (used on the federal level and known as personalized proportional representation). This system has various advantages, as it helps in the proper representation of smaller parties. Votes are not “wasted” here because the preferences of all people are taken into account. But still, it has some disadvantages as well, because this system will weaken the accountability of any representative to the constituency. This is also a complex system, and thus it can be difficult for voters to understand it. All in all, we understand that multiple methods with innumerable combinations can be implemented. But whichever method we use, it is important to understand the importance of a vote.


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