Jul 032017

In Canada, where I live, the voting system for the parliaments is the easy to understand, but blunt, first past the post (FPTP) system (also called plurality voting). The person who wins the most votes (a plurality) wins the seat, whether they get over 50% or under 30%. I believe that it’s time we had a system that gives more people a more nuanced say in the government they get; tactical voting of various forms in a FPTP system only goes so far. For my own benefit I’ve written up the voting systems of 3 other countries in which I’ve lived. I don’t have a firm opinion on which one I prefer (yet).


At the Federal level in Germany, the voting system is a version of a mixed-member proportional system: voters get two votes. One is for a direct candidate (approximately half the seats), and works by the plurality (FPTP) system. The other is where the voter votes for a party. Each party has a list, and the appropriate number from each party list is deemed elected, depending on the number of votes the party got. There is a threshold for the list votes; parties have to get over 5% of the vote to get any seats via the second (list) vote, unless more than three direct candidates from that party are elected.

This system was set up to balance many aims. Among them are the principle of equal votes (each vote must have equal weight), discourage small parties while allowing them, and encourage balance between various political views. It tends to lead to coalition governments, and is good for finding consensus.


Australia uses preferential, or ranked, voting systems. The voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gets 50% + 1 (or more) first preference votes, they are elected. If not, the candidate who received the fewest first preference votes is eliminated from the list, and their second preferences are distributed. This process continues until one candidate does have 50% + 1 or more votes. There’s a variation for the Senate that I’m not going into.

Ranked voting gives people a chance to vote for a candidate they know won’t win, and give the second preference to a mainstream candidate, which makes it better than FPTP tactical voting. One downside is that you have to rank all candidates in order, and it is quite possible to miss a number, or make some other mistake. There are some people who number from 1 down the page, so the ballot has to be designed to take that ‘donkey vote’ into account.

New Zealand

New Zealand uses a different version of mixed-member proportional representation to Germany. (No, I’m not going into detail on the precise differences.) Each voter has two votes: one for a direct candidate, and one for a party. The party vote determines the overall number of seats each party is entitled to. There is a threshold, as for Germany, of 5% for the party vote, or one direct candidate elected.

There are also a certain number of seats reserved for the Māori electorate; those use the same voting system.

Personally, I think any of these systems would be better than the current FPTP system we have.

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