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 significantly 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 practice of the British House of Commons. 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, which requires the use of a winner-take-all system, 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 in the most representative manner, 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 only applies to elections of a representative body, and provides the fullest and most 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 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 implemented until 1919, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 - the present principal Act - was first used. That system, called the Alternative Vote, Single 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.
Alternative Vote for a
single-member electorate is easily explained
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,
which can only be passed by the vote of more
than 50% of those voting supporting them. As
those resolutions were only able to be passed
by that absolute majority, it is consistent
that a single spokesperson for the meeting
should be elected with the support of an
absolute majority (more than 50%) of
those voting at the meeting. If there are more
than two candidates for the election of such a
spokesperson, a first-past-the-post
count will not necessarily produce a
spokesperson elected by an absolute majority,
so preferential voting is needed.
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 modern 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, the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.
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, Australia's first and second federally-enacted vote-counting systems at Senate elections were both winner-take-all systems:
That second system was in turn was replaced in 1948 by the present PR-STV (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.
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 –
MULTIPLE VACANCY SPECTRUM:
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.
The Winner-take-all End: At the Winner-take-all end of the spectrum are those systems, mostly like the two different majoritarian 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 PR-STV (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 still used for Upper House polls in Victoria and Western 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 just ticking a box above-the-line.
Representative bodies elected from single-member electorates weaken voter control as - unlike proportional representation systems - each party nominates only one candidate, and nearly half the voters in each electorate, and hence overall, have absolutely no effect on the final outcome.
DESCRIPTIONS OF A WIDE RANGE OF
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