Categories of Electoral Systems
The definition of the word election involves a choice of a person for a political office or other position by voting, and is based on the Latin “eligere”, meaning to pick out. The appointment of a person to a position by a resolution, even though voting is also used, is different from an election because an election allows the filling of a defined number of positions from a larger number of candidates, whereas votes for appointment by resolution are either YES or NO to each of a number of single candidates conducted seriatim, or to a single slate of candidates.
Australia’s first Federal Parliament in 1901 chose to make a significant change from the British Parliament’s practice. It inaugurated its present practice when the Senate resolved to elect its first President (see Parliamentary Debates Page 9, on 9th May 1901) by a preferential secret ballot from the three candidates that stood. The House of Commons in the UK has since followed that lead for the election of its Speaker, but in 2001, a century later, Australia’s Corporations Act 2001 still provides that company directors can be appointed by sequential resolutions, rather than being elected from multiple candidates being compared against each other in one decision. Alternatives to that provision are now allowed, but no election process is made mandatory.
1. DIRECT ELECTION OF CANDIDATES versus INDIRECT ELECTION OF CANDIDATES
This major and fundamental distinction between electoral systems can be seen by clicking here.
2. SINGLE VACANCIES versus MULTIPLE VACANCIES:
The use of vote-counting systems to fill a single vacancy, such as the president of an organization, is a simpler operation than their use to fill the multiple vacancies required to be filled when the members of a representative body are to be elected, as there are fewer possibilities, and usually fewer candidates. Similar general approaches can be applied to both situations, but there are obviously more variations possible with the multiple vacancy situation.
Proportional representation is only applicable to the election of a representative body, and provides full and accurate representation of as many voters as possible. It requires multi-member electorates for it to operate. Single-member electorate systems, which are necessarily and inherently winner-take-all systems, do not soundly elect representative bodies, as they collectively represent barely half of all voters, and leave the remaining voters totally unrepresented.
3. TRANSFERABLE VOTE SYSTEMS versus NON-TRANSFERABLE VOTE SYSTEMS
A useful resource for details of many of these systems is the Wikipedia page on Voting Systems.
Single Vacancies: The earliest and simplest voting took place for single positions, such as the chairperson or presiding officer of an organization. When there were only two candidates for such a single position it was obvious that the candidate with most of the votes was the candidate that should be elected. When there were more than two candidates the assumption was made that the same "first-past-the-post" rule should apply there also, and that was widely done as it was not a difficult operation.
Widespread long term use of such systems has led to their replacement in countries such as the UK and USA being resisted, although it was soon recognized that having three or more candidates could result in the candidate with the most votes of any candidate nevertheless not receiving most of the votes cast overall. A working solution to that anomaly arrived in the form of the single transferable vote in the 19th Century, which is the system now used in all the Lower Houses of Australia's Federal and mainland State Parliaments, but that was not adopted until 1919, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 - the present principal Act - was first used. That system, called the Alternative Vote, Transferable Vote, or preferential system as it is usually known in Australia, ensures that the votes for the less strongly-supported candidates are successively transferred to the next most-preferred candidate until a candidate gains more votes than the remaining votes combined, whereupon that candidate is declared elected.
The Alternative Vote for a single-member electorate is easy to explain by showing how it can fill a single vacancy such as that for a single spokesperson to represent, on behalf of a public meeting - particularly if it was not significantly party-political and thus perhaps likely to require a secret ballot - what was decided at that meeting by way of successful resolutions. The meeting might decide to do that, for convenience, by assembling in groups next to the various candidates according to their support for them. The chairperson of the meeting would arrange for a count of each group, and exclude the candidate with the fewest supporters with a request that they either move to a continuing candidate's group or to a group for those with no further preference. Done successively in Thomas Hill's "schoolboy election" style - but for a single vacancy only - that would be a procedure that few at an actual meeting of reasonable, orderly people could successfully contest the logic of, as ultimately it would be obvious to all present that the person elected had received the vote of an absolute majority of those voting. By contrast such an election by a first-past-the-post system could well result in the person elected being strongly opposed by an absolute majority of those that did not vote for him or her, in the only vote that the system allowed.
The original bill for the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 provided for the single transferable vote (preferential voting) for both houses of the Australian Parliament with marking of second and later preferences being fully optional, as is the optional preferential system for the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, but that 1902 Bill, which was introduced by the Barton Government and passed by the House of Representatives, was amended in the Senate to remove the transferable element, leaving a "first-past-the-post" non-transferable vote for the electors for both houses. The House of Representatives passed the amended bill, which became Australia's first federal electoral law.
Multiple Vacancies: With multiple vacancies both transferable and non-transferable vote systems exist. The non-transferable systems can be either proportional or winner-take-all (majoritarian), as can the transferable systems. For example the first and the second federally-enacted vote-counting systems at Australian Senate elections were both winner-take-all systems:
That second system was in turn was replaced in 1948 by the present quota-preferential system of proportional representation, which is a transferable proportional system. Since 1948, no single party has won all the seats, Australia-wide, at a periodic Senate election, as happened in 1910, 1917, 1925, 1934 and 1943. Both Eire and Malta use quota-preferential PR for elections to their national parliaments. Interest in PR is growing in the USA and Canada.
contrast the majority of countries on the
continent of Europe use proportional systems
that involve non-transferable votes, usually
called party list systems. Many new
introductions of electoral systems involve the
use of such systems ostensibly because of the
ease of use for voters, despite (or because
of) that ease of use leading to the voters
having no real control over the actual persons
being elected, as the voters are only
permitted to vote for parties. Examples of
such systems are those now used in South
Africa, Sri Lanka and Iraq. New Zealand
uses a hybrid MMP system, like Germany, where
one part is winner-take-all
the other part is an attempt at a proportional
correction, in party terms, of the distortions
of that majoritarian
component. Fortunately the use of party list
systems, which do not directly elect MPs,
would appear to be unconstitutional (see next
paragraph) for electing either MHRs or
senators to Australia's Federal Parliament and
– alone among the Australian States –
4. MULTIPLE VACANCY SPECTRUM: PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION to WINNER-TAKE-ALL
The Proportional Representation End: At the proportional representation end of this spectrum are those systems, whether transferable vote or non-transferable vote systems that provide, in electoral districts electing five or more candidates as a group, for the election of candidates with a significant degree of diversity able to represent, collectively, some five-sixths of the total number of voters. This end of the spectrum includes
The Winner-take-all End: At the Winner-take-all end of the spectrum are those systems, mostly like the two different majoritorian systems above used for Australian Senate elections from 1902-46 where, like the multiple plurality system (1902-17), the candidates that gained the largest single group of votes filled all the available positions, or the multiple majority-preferential system (1919-47), where the candidates that gained a bare absolute majority of votes filled all the available positions. At five separate periodic Senate elections, a single party won all available seats Australia-wide! As stated in Section 2 above, single-vacancy systems are inherently winner-take-all systems.
Intermediate Positions: Between those two ends of the spectrum of proportionality are systems that give a degree of proportionality, but tend to have some bias towards larger groups. Examples are quota-preferential systems where the number of persons to be elected is fewer than five, and non-preferential non-proportional systems that nevertheless enable some minority representation, such as the limited vote or the cumulative vote.
The requirement of transferable vote electoral systems relating to the marking of preferences has extended from a requirement to mark all preferences consecutively without error or any omission or duplication of numbers to the complete removal of any requirement to mark any preferences other than a unique first preference. In all quota-preferential systems a ballot-paper is informal if it has no unique first preference marked on it.
system of proportional representation
By contrast, electoral systems in other parts of Australia and elsewhere have been overlaid with aspects that operate against voters being the real arbiters of whom is elected. Examples of such aspects include a degree of stage management where political parties are allowed to decide the order of candidates on ballot-papers, and the Group Voting Tickets used for other parliamentary PR polls in Australia. Those aspects allow voters to be readily persuaded to adopt a specific choice of candidates from a ticket lodged by their party of choice, and to not bother distinguishing between the particular candidates, even though, unlike the case with party list systems, which are indirect electoral systems, there is provision for them to do so, although that is made harder for them than the easy method of donkey voting or ticking a Group Voting Ticket box.
Representative bodies elected from single-member electorates weaken voter control in the sense that, unlike proportional representation systems, nearly half the voters in each electorate, and hence overall, are unrepresented by the final outcome.
DESCRIPTIONS OF A WIDE RANGE OF
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