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A voting system refers to any technique or method used by electorates to choose between two or more political candidates or to make a decision between two or more options on national policies such as referendums. A voting system is also referred to as an electoral system. In any voting system, certain rules and regulation have to be made so as to make the voting process fair, free and valid (Bingham 2004). Such voting rules often describe the conduct of voters during the voting process.
The voting rules also outline various processes and procedures to be followed during the voting process, for example, they specify how votes are to be casted, voting materials to be used during the process and how the votes are to be counted after the actual voting exercise as well as the methods of presenting the final voting results. There are various voting systems that have been adopted by various nations over time. The most common types of electoral systems include majority rule, proportional representation and plurality voting systems.
In majority rule, also called absolute majority system, a candidate must win more than a half, that is, fifty percent, of the total votes casted. If a person gets the highest number of votes but does not meet the majority rule requirement, a re-election is held. The majority rule voting system proposes that the winner of a given election exercise is the candidate that gets the highest number of votes.
In proportional presentation, the positions are distributed to candidates in proportion to the number of votes they received in the elections, for example, if a political party wins sixty percent of the total votes casted, it gets sixty percent of the total positions in the National Assembly. However, this system is often ineffective because a party may get an uneven percentage of votes that could not be easily translated into assembly positions, for instance, 17.19 percent.
In any voting system, the ballots should be specified. Additionally, the set or sets of allowable votes and the method of counting the votes, often referred to as tallying methods and the algorithm for establishing the final winner or outcome of the election process must be specified in advance before the actual election exercise (Ranney 2003, Bennett 2006). However, certain aspects of the voting process such as the methods of keeping casted votes secretly or the eligibility of voters are not specified by the voting systems but rather by the laws of the country through its constitution (Lakeman 2005). Similarly, most electoral systems do not spell out or give in details the methods or techniques that may be used to verify or authenticate that all casted votes have been accurately tallied. Such information is often presented in the constitutional laws of the country or by the constitution of the concerned electoral body.
Plurality Voting System
Plurality voting system refers to an electoral system in which votes are presented proportionally, hence the name proportional voting systems. Various methods have been deployed in plurality voting systems, for example, the first-past-the –post or preferential voting. According to Gallagher and Mitchell, the term plurality voting is often used in United Kingdom to refer to a voting system in which a candidate is expected to receive the largest number of votes (2005). If the voting is about a policy such as in a referendum, then voting shall consist of two sides; one side which consists of those people who are supporting the policy and another side composed of those who are opposing the new policy.
The plurality voting and majority voting systems apply almost similar principles. However, the major difference between the two voting systems is that in plurality voting system, the winner is the person or candidate with the largest number of votes after election while in majority voting system, a candidate must win more than a half of the total votes casted in addition to having the highest number of votes. This thus implies that a candidate who obtains the highest number of votes but are less than a half of the total votes casted does not become the winner of the election if majority voting systems is adopted. On the other hand, that candidate automatically becomes the winner if plurality voting systems is adopted because he or she has obtained the highest number of votes. The United Kingdom has been using the plurality voting since 1990. In UK, the plurality voting systems is referred to as first-past-the-post voting method (Harrop & Miller 2007). The plurality voting system has also been used in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Germany.
Advantages of Plurality Voting System
Every voting system has its own merits and demerits. In this paper, I will discuss the various merits associated with adoption of plurality voting system.
Firstly, plurality voting system is advantageous because it can be used for both single and multiple elections. The system has proved effective in elections where candidates tie with the number votes received (Carstairs 2010). For example, if after an election, two or more candidates get equal number of votes, those with equal votes are selected and proceed to the second election.
The repeat election is often referred to as a run-off. In this case, the number of votes received in the first election determines whether or not a candidate will proceed to the second election. On the other hand, multiple election technique is whereby candidates are arranged in chronological order based on the number of votes won in an election, starting with the candidate with the highest number of votes. These candidates are then assigned posts according to their respective chronological orders, with the first position going to the candidate who had the highest number of votes. For example, if people were voting for presidential, vice-president and prime minister’s positions, the person who gets the highest number of votes, say twenty thousand votes, will win the presidency, while the second person with the highest number of votes, say seventeen thousand will become the vice president and lastly the third person will be the prime minister.
Secondly, plurality voting system is easy to understand and implement. It is not as complicated as proportional presentation system which involves numerous calculations. A plurality system is direct and based on the finally tallied results of the election.
Thirdly, in plurality system, it is easy to make decisions based on the results of the election. This is due to its simple principles such as the winner-takes-it-all that does not require much thinking. Douglas asserts that plurality system is the simplest voting system that has ever been in history (2010).
Fourthly, the plurality system is more convenient and cheaper as compared to other electoral systems. For instance, majority rule system requires a re-election if the winner does not receive more than half of the total votes casted. This implies additional costs for organizing and conducting the re-election.
Fifthly, the plurality system is often used to discourage voters from wasting their votes. This implies that voters are unlikely to vote for candidates whom they presume to lose (Newland 2002). This results into election of people with broad perspectives and capacity to serve that nation. For example, voters often vote for candidates who have good tracks of regional development, national outlook and democracy. Plural system thus helps in election of responsible leaders.
Additionally, plurality voting systems often create the need for fewer political parties. This consequently results into establishment of stable governments. Furthermore, there are less conflicts or oppositions in such governments and hence increase in political stability of a country. However, great caution should be taken because this may encourage discrimination of minority groups such as races with fewer people or other disadvantaged groups like persons with disabilities and women.
Furthermore, plurality voting system often encourages large numbers of people to vote hence there are huge voter turnovers. According to Farell, voters will come out in large numbers to vote so that their preferred candidates would win. This may not be the case with other voting systems such as proportional percentage (2010).
Additionally, the election results in a plurality voting system usually come out immediately after the end of the voting process. This is because tallying processes in plurality system are often simple, direct and less strenuous.
Last but not least, unlike the majority rule voting system where there are possibilities of unfavored candidates winning the election, plurality system ensures that it is the most popular candidate who wins. However, it is important to note that plurality systems may encourage racism and tribalism where a candidate from the largest race or tribe gets elected even if he or she is not popular amongst other tribes. Similarly, a famous or popular person may be elected baselessly if even such a candidate does not have a realistic and practical manifesto.
In my opinion, the plurality voting system may encourage unfair voting process. For example, a candidate who loses in the first round of the election may induce his or her supporters to vote for a certain candidate of his or her choice. Similarly, voters may be enticed to vote for a candidate who they presume has higher chances of winning, and not necessarily because the candidate is their most preferred person.
Furthermore, plurality voting system may provide room for distortion and rigging of election results. This is because voters often predict and expect specific candidates to win, usually based on the candidate’s popularity. However, actual results may not come out as per the expectations of the voters. This often results into chaos after announcement of election results, for example, the post election violence that was experienced in Kenya after the 2007 general election erupted because the candidate who was announced as the winner by Kenya’s electoral body was not the person whom voters were expecting to win. It was alleged that the election results were distorted and seriously rigged. Similarly, new candidates who might not be having excellent history in politics may not be voted for by the electorates due to voters’ prejudice and opinions. This implies that such a candidate is likely to lose because of infamousness even if he/she might be having promising manifestos.
A plurality electoral system that adopts the first-past-the-post principle often results into wastage of numerous votes. Such wasted votes often have minimal or no effect on the final results of the election. Sachs defines wasted votes as votes casted in favor of losing candidates and votes casted in excess to the winning candidate (2011).
Last but not least, I would suggest that it the sole responsibility of the government or the State’s electoral bogy to determine the best voting system to use during its election exercises. The voting system chosen should have the capability to effectively meet the political needs of nation as well the interests of the citizen.