Alternate Processes

Parliamentary vs. Presidential

A parliamentary system is a system of representative democracy of a state in which the executive branch derives its democratic legitimacy from, and is held accountable to, the legislature (parliament). As a result the executive and legislative branches are interconnected. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government, and most importantly, the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

One of the major flaws in a Parliamentary system is the lack of checks and balances. This stems from that fact the head of government, usually a prime minister, is selected by the majority party or majority coalition, which makes for governments who may pass bills without compromise from other parties. This fact taken in combination with the fact that that the legislature does not need the signature of an executive to pass legislation, effectively permits the majority party or majority coalition to pass any legislation they wish.

One advantage to a Parliamentary system stems from the inherent disadvantages previously stated, in that power is spread out across multiple areas of government, and not held by a powerful executive branch. This can be counteracted in a congressional/presidential system should the legislature properly use any constitutional checks permitted on the executive, but this relies on the legislature to act in order for the checks and balances to be implemented. In a two-party system this downside is very apparent when the majority party holds the legislature and the executive branch.

Instant Run-Off

Instant Run-Off Voting, also known as Ranked Choice Voting, is an alternative voting method that permits the voters to rank the candidates in order of their preference.

The voter simply numbers the candidates from first to last according to their most preferred candidate to their least perferred candidate. When the votes are tallied the winner must achieve at least 50% of the votes plus one additional vote, for a simple majority, to be elected. This differs from the method currently used in the United States, known as plurality voting, in that plurality voting simply requires the winner to have the highest vote total, regardless of what their percentage of the overall vote is.

In the Instant Run-Off system, when the votes are tallied, if no candidate has the required 50% plus one vote, then the candidate with the least amount of votes is removed from the election, and those ballots cast for that candidate have their votes transferred to their second choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate has at least 50% plus one vote.

This process permits individuals to vote for who they actually wish to vote for (such as a third-party or independent) without fearing that they may inadvertantly help the candidate that they do not want to win be elected, because they may vote for their 'back-up' candidate as their second or third choice. This method would help allieviate the two-party system in the United States by permitting voters to work around the lesser of two evils mentality.

Example Instant Run-Off Election
Round # Candidate A Candidate B Candidate C Candidate D
Round 1 20% 18% 35% 27%
Round 2 33% Eliminated 38% 29%
Round 3 50.5% Eliminated 49.5% Eliminated

Here is an example of what an Instant Run-Off Ballot may look like

Approval Voting

Approval Voting is similar to the Instand Run-Off method in that you cast your ballot for multiple candidates. The difference lies in the fact that you do not rank the candidates in a preferential order, but instead simply vote for the all the candidates you approve of. The candidate that gets the most votes wins the seat. This method can be seen as a hybrid of plurality voting and Instant Run-Off voting.

This process would be greatly beneficial to executive and adminstrative office elections. This is because executives occupy unilateral seats and are typically sought to have high voter approval, as opposed to sharing the powers of the office, as in a legislative body where the collective approval of the legislatures is typically more important.

Here is an example of what an Approval Voting Ballot may look like

Proportional Representation

Proportional Representation is an electoral system where each party is allocated a number of seats depending upon the percentage of the vote the party won. There are a number of different ways proportional representation can be achieved, with the two most popular being pure party-list proportional, and mixed-member proportional. Typically, regardless of which method is used, voters cast ballots for the parties as a whole, thereby showing how many seats each party should have in the legislature.

Pure party-list proportional relies on each party creating a list of representatives, who would take the seats in which that party is entitled. The list can be created and modified in any number of ways; including methods such as Local Lists, Closed Lists, Open Lists, or other methods. The downside to this method is that the party bosses create the lists of candidates that will be eligible to take the seats, and there is no guarantee that a represenatative would actually be represenative of the electorate. This stems from that fact that that it is theoritcally possible that all representatives on the party lists could come from the same area of the country (or state), or all be from cities with no one from rural or even suburban areas. This is particularly possible using closed lists. Open and Local lists can combat this in certain regards, as local list require local representatives (but voters still have zero impact on which individuals are actually given the seats), and open lists which permit voters to move individual candidates up and down the party lists by popular vote.

Mixed-member porportional works a little differently, in that in addition to the party vote, there are still local districts in which candidates with residency in that district run for election by popular vote. In mixed-member all voters get two votes for their representatives; the one for the party they want to represent them and one for a local representative. This way there is still a represenatitve with ties to the local community, but the overall legislature is still truely proportional to what parties the electorate in the region actually want to represent them. Typically when using mixed-member a certain number of seats (usually half to two-thirds) are allocated to the districts and then the remainder of seats are allocated to be used as "leveling" seats, to pull the final seat totals into proportion with each parties region-wide party vote.

Ultimately, using either pure proportional or mixed-member, the end result is practically the same. When a party wins seats they simply start at the top of their list going from the first candidate down until they exhaust the number of seats they won. Under either system the first thing done after polls close and ballots are tallied is the total number of ballots cast is divided by the total number of seats to be filled. The resulting number is called the threshold. This threshold is the number of votes needed for each party to obtain one seat. After finding this threshold, you simply divide that number into each parties vote totals, and every equal division (i.e; no remainder) equates to the awarding of one seat.

The final few seats are typically calculated differently using a method known as the D'Hondt method. This is because the parties will likely be left with a remainder of votes under the threshold and thus no more seats could be awarded using the threshold method. The D'Hondt method works by taking the current amount of seats awarded to each party and divides that number of seats plus one, into their initial vote total and the result is their new vote total. After each round the party with the largest amount of votes is the next party that is awarded a seat. You could use the D'Hondt method from round one and award seats iteratively, however, this would take as many rounds as their are seats to fill. The threshold method lets you short circuit the process by awarding nearly 95% of the seats in one step.

Example Proportional Election
In this example we will use the Texas House of Representatives and their current 150 seat size.
We will use a total of 7,131,281 votes cast. The threshold is (7,131,281 / 150) = 47,542
Party A Party B Party C Party D Party E
Votes Received 1,887,649 1,688,678 2,323,112 482,329 749,513
Percentage Won 26.47% 23.68% 32.58% 6.76% 10.51%
Threshold Divisor Result 39.7 35.5 48.9 10.1 15.8
Threshold Seats Awarded 39 35 48 10 15
Total Seats Awarded 147 - We need three rounds of D'Hondt.
D'Hondt Round #1 Divisor
(Total Current Seats + 1)
40 36 49 11 16
D'Hondt Round #1 Votes
(Initial Votes / D'Hondt Divisor)
47,191.23 46,907.72 47,410.45 43,848.09 46,844.56
Round #1 Seats Awarded 0 0 1 0 0
Round #1 Seat Totals 39 35 49 10 15
Total Seats Awarded 148 - Two more rounds of D'Hondt.
D'Hondt Round #2 Divisor
(Total Current Seats + 1)
40 36 50 11 16
D'Hondt Round #2 Votes
(Initial Votes / D'Hondt Divisor)
47,191.23 46,907.72 46,462.24 43,848.09 46,844.56
Round #2 Seats Awarded 1 0 0 0 0
Round #2 Seat Totals 40 35 49 10 15
Total Seats Awarded 149 - One more round of D'Hondt.
D'Hondt Round #3 Divisor
(Total Current Seats + 1)
41 36 50 11 16
D'Hondt Round #3 Votes
(Initial Votes / D'Hondt Divisor)
46,040.22 46,907.72 46,462.24 43,848.09 46,844.56
Round #3 Seats Awarded 0 1 0 0 0
Round #3 Seat Totals 40 36 49 10 15
Total Seats Awarded 150 - All done.
Total Seats Won 40 36 49 10 15
Percentage of Seats 26.67% 24% 32.67% 6.67% 10%

After voters cast their ballots the outcome of the election is as shown above. For pure proportional the process is simple; each party fills the seats by going down their party list and that completes the proccess. Mixed-Member has a few more steps to complete.

With mixed-member proportional somewhere between 75 to 100 of the seats would be allocated to a number of districts. When the ballots are tallied, the parties of the candidates that won their district elections have each affilated candidates' seat deducted from that party's seat total. This new total is how many seats each party would add from their party list. After deducting these district seats, you then, as stated earlier under the pure proportional section, go down each parties lists and "top-up" the seats for each party so their final seat totals match the original party vote totals.

For example, let's say that 75 of the 150 seats are allocated to districts and those candidates that ran at the district level won seats in the following totals:

Party A Party B Party C Party D Party E
Districts Won 19 26 25 2 3
Party Seats Won 40 36 49 10 15
Seats Filled by Party List 21 10 24 8 12

Now you may wonder what would happen if a party wins more district seats than seats they won in the party vote. While unlikely to occur, there is a solution to this. It is called "overhang" seats. These are seats that are added to the legislature as a whole to correct for the misalignment of seats to one party at the detriment of the others. These seats are only added when absolutely necessary; most countries that use this election system (such as New Zealand) ever only add an additional 1 to 3 seats.

In the end, regardless of the method used, the amount of seats each party gets roughly matches the percentage of the votes cast for that party.

Here is an example of what a Proportional Representation Ballot may look like
Source: New Zealand Electoral Commission

Single Transferable Voting

Single Transferable Voting can be seen as a hybrid between Proportional Representation and Instant Run-Off. In Single Transferable Voting a region is divided into districts and each districts has multiple seats, like under Proportional Representation. The difference lies in that there is a cap on the percentage of the vote any one candidate can earn.

It is designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked-choice, or Instant Run-Off, voting in multi-seat voting districts, like proportional representation. Under Single Transferable Voting, a voter has a single vote that is initially allocated to their first choice candidate. As the votes are tallied candidates are either elected by achieving the required percentage or eliminated. When a candidate is elected or eliminated their remaining votes are transferred to other candidates according to the voter's stated preferences.

The system provides approximately proportional representation, and enables votes to be cast for individual candidates rather than for parties as under proportional representation. To determine the required number of votes to be elected, the total number of votes cast is divided by the number of seats that need to be filled plus 1, and then 1 is added to that total. This is called the Droop Quota. The Droop Quota is the smallest number that guarantees that no more candidates can reach the quota than the number of seats available to be filled.

The formula can be written as:
(x number of votes cast / (n number of seats to be filled + 1)) + 1 = Votes Required.

For example, if we fill in the variables as follows:
(25,124 number of votes cast / (5 number of seats to be filled + 1)) + 1 = 4,188 Votes Required.

Example of a Single Transferable Vote Election
In this example there are 5 seats for election.
If 25,124 votes were cast then each candidate needs at least 4,188 votes to win a seat.
Cand. A Cand. B Cand. C Cand. D Cand. E Cand. F
Votes 5,276 3,769 6,281 2,512 1,507 5,779
Reached 4,188? Yes No Yes No No Yes
1st Round Winners Elected - Elected - - Elected
Votes Transferred 1,088 - 2,093 - - 1,591
New Vote Totals
Based on Voter's 2nd Option
4,188 4,962 4,188 4,492 3,106 4,188
Reached 4,188? Elected Yes Elected Yes - Elected
2nd Round Winners - Elected - Elected - -
Final Seat Allocation Elected Elected Elected Elected Lost Elected

After the ballots are cast and the votes tallied, Candidates A, C, and F have over the required 4,188 votes and as such are deemed elected. Any remaining votes cast for them over the 4,188 cap are transferred to those voters second choices, as Candidates A, C, and F are already elected and need no more votes. After these remaining votes are transferred, Candidates B and D have over the required 4,188 necssary votes and are deemed elected. After this, all 5 seats have been allocated.

If you do the math, to check that the Droop Quota is accurate, and transfer the excess votes from Candidates B and D, after round 2, to Candidate E, Candidate E will only have 4,184 votes, and thus could not win a seat, proving the Droop Quota worked.

Here is an example of what a Single Transferable Ballot using a Closed List may look like
Source: Mount Holyoke College