Two types of election systems

Ranked Choice Voting Flow chart

There are only two types of elections systems currently in use:

  1. Party insiders decide
  2. Voters have the final say

Every election system can be categorized as one of the three.

Here is the proof:

Based off of Wikipedia’s list, there are 14 types of election systems they list as currently being used, with one being missed:

  • Plurality (in order to win, you don’t need a majority, just more valid votes than anyone else)
    • First past the post
    • Delegate
    • Appointment
    • Two-round system
    • Multiple non-transferable vote
    • Single non-transferable vote
    • Cumulative Voting
    • Party-list proportional representation
    • Majority bonus system
    • Mixed-Member Proportional
    • Parallel Voting
    • Borda Count
  • Majoritarian (You must have a majority of all valid votes, or in multiple member systems, at least 1/n of all votes where n is the number of valid votes)
    • Instant runoff voting
    • Single Transferable Vote

How do all of these election systems fit in to our two categories? Well, it’s quite simple really. Almost every system fits into the first bin. In order to have voters feel comfortable voting for you you need to have the endorsement of the party you are allied with, which is the signal voters need in most systems to know that the candidate has a chance of winning. Every non-majoritarian election system becomes a two party system given time with very few counter-examples which generally ends up with an old party becoming usurped by a new one. Most voters understand the spoiler effect enough that they know if they and enough people in their district vote for a minor party that they will likely get the candidate they like least. It doesn’t really matter if you are looking at a system where you look at voting by party or voting directly for the individual, you either are in the early stage, like Israel or Germany are right now, where there are a lot of parties creating and ending, but over time the number of parties will reduce and power will coalesce between two main parties. It took the United States over 100 years to reach the state we are in now, but I expect that someday a lot of minor parties which continue to not get sufficient representation in the Knesset in Israel or Bundestag in Germany will someday stop existing, and Israel and Germany will have two party systems unless if they change. Both Israel and Germany have seen the Prime Minister/Chancellor position always dominated by either their center-left or center-right parties over the last 60 years with only one exception each, Olmert who served for 3 years in Israel, and Walter Scheel who served for a total of 9 days in Germany. Despite being forced to form coalitions, their party list systems have not given true party diversity to their head of government. The United Kingdom saw Labour take over the left from the Liberal Party in the early 20th century, and in the latter half of the 20th century the Liberals became almost obsolete. After Tony Blair the Liberal Democrats became more prominent, but unless if Britain changes their election system again we will almost certainly see a two party system develop once again in the United Kingdom once Labour goes back to its platform from before Tony Blair.

Because of this whoever determines the leadership of the parties which have a chance of forming a government choose what happens in the next election cycle. The rules vary country to country and party to party, but ultimately, whoever determines party leadership of the two main parties in these countries will determine who become head of government in parliamentary systems.  If you are not in the process of nominating the leader of one of the two major parties, you have very limited input into who actually becomes your head of government.

When we move to a top two primary on the outside it looks like this opens up elections so that insiders are not the major ones pulling the strings and forming governments. In reality however it can quickly end up with one candidate on each side getting the financial support of a major party, and being able to out canvass, outspend, and outperform any third party candidate. Because of the spoiler effect people must vote strategically and it ends up reinforcing the two party system.

Ranked voting however breaks this mold which other election systems use. It allows third parties which can actually form a government grow up to be very powerful, like in Ireland, because people can vote their conscience without worrying about who  their neighbor is voting for. There are unfortunately very few places which use this voting system, but hopefully it will spread around the United States and that will allow candidates who don’t have the support of the party establishment but have popular support to have a chance of success. It also will prevent extremists like Trump (who did not win a majority of the vote in the 2016 primary) from getting elected since it blocks their benefit of a spoiler effect. This means that voters can safely vote for third party candidates without risking that their least favorite candidate can win, unlike any other voting system.

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2 thoughts on “Two types of election systems

  1. Rioting Pacifist says:

    I think you’re wrong on a few of those voting systems

    Two-round system – guarantees a majority for the winner
    Party-list proportional representation – non Plurality winners
    Mixed-Member Proportional – non Plurality winners
    Parallel Voting – non Plurality winners

    1. stidmatt says:

      Well, in the two round system, it is not a guarantee. If you look at the Washington State Treasurer’s Race in 2016 (where we use a two round system) the Democrats won more votes than the Republicans in the primary, but since they had more candidates Republicans proceeded to the general, meaning the the majority of voters did not have the party of their choice in the primary proceed to the general. So while the winner technically did have the majority of votes in the second round, the majority of voters already had their votes discounted in the first round.

      You are correct that the other three systems do not guarantee that the party with the most votes will win in the end.

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