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Choice Voting: A Short Operational Primer

by Forrest Barnum // Published June 17, 2009
"All the spods, geeks and nerds who have spent too long thinking about it end up supporting the Single Transferable Vote (STV)"

After composing several jeremiads touting the benefits of Single Transferable Vote (STV) systems (known as choice voting in the States), I realized that some readers might not be familiar with how STV actually works. Even in nations where choice voting is used, there are laments about a lack of voter awareness. At heart, the choice voting process – from voting to tabulation -- is easily recognizable and similar to more familiar electoral processes. Information from the electoral authorities of Malta, Ireland, and Northern Ireland – the three nations that utilize choice voting for European Parliament elections – illustrate the common bonds among counting methods. Malta and Northern Ireland – small jurisdictions both – set up a single counting room, while Ireland proscribes one for each of its four districts. Simply put, the ballots are counted by hand; each round, ballots are allocated as candidates are eliminated. This flowchart illustrates these concepts.

This primer composed by our good friends at the UK Electoral Reform Society details the precise procedures and methods used in choice voting. Irish broadcaster RTE has a helpful guide illuminating the logic and the mechanics of choice voting. Finally, FairVote's Program for Representative Government boasts a plethora of fine educational materials about all aspects of choice voting. In the end, I hope the essentially democratic nature of choice voting is clear. Often, it can be difficult to grasp the notion that more than one way of conducting free, fair, and transparent elections exists. Once that hurdle is crossed, a consideration of voting systems based on merits is no longer such a taboo. Sometimes, however, a little levity helps.