Limited Voting, Cumulative Voting and Choice Voting:

A Comparison of Three Alternative Voting Systems


This sheet examines the pros and cons associated with the three most commonly-used proportional / semi-proportional systems in the United States: limited voting, cumulative voting (in its two major variations) and choice voting.


Summary: Choice voting promotes proportional representation, allowing minority and majority perspectives to win representation in proportion to their relative voting strengths. Although best accompanied by a straightforward voter eduction effort, choice voting is an easy system for voters and reduces demands for complex voting strategies like bullet-voting. Limited voting and cumulative voting are not as certain to represent voters fairly, but still have clear advantages over the winner-take-all election system.  

Limited Voting. Like the other systems described in this factsheet, limited voting uses multi-seat electoral districts -- meaning districts that elect two or more representatives to a legislature. With limited voting, voters have fewer voters than there are seats. For example, in a five-seat district, each voter might be allowed to cast two votes, and the winners are the five candidates who receive the highest totals of votes. With limited voting, the fewer votes each voter has, the more likely political minorities will win fair representation – when voters are limited to one vote, the victory threshold is as low as it is with cumulative voting and choice voting.

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necessary to ensure fair representation

Cumulative Voting (free version). In free cumulative voting, voters have the same number of votes as there are seats in a multi-seat district. Voters can allocate their votes in any manner they choose, be it one vote each to several candidates or multiple votes to one highly favored candidate. Pooling votes on one candidate allows voters in a political minority to express a strong preference for their candidate. Winners are the highest vote-getters (plurality).

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Cumulative Voting (equal and even). The equal and even form of cumulative voting – also known as the Peoria model -- acts much like free cumulative voting with one important difference: votes are allocated equally among the candidates chosen by a voter. For instance, if a voter has five votes and votes for two candidates, each candidate receives 2.5 votes. Winners are the highest vote-getters (plurality).

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Choice Voting – Choice voting (also known as preference voting, the single transferable vote and the Hare system) allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference: one for their favorite candidate, two for their second favorite, and so on. Candidates earn election when they reach the victory threshold [see factsheet __]. For instance, in a nine-seat district, a candidate must earn about 10% of the vote to earn one seat and a political party / slate needs more than 50% of the vote to win a five-seat majority.

To determine winners, ballots are counted in a series of rounds of elections. First-choices are counted, and any candidate who reaches the victory threshold is elected. In the next round, "surplus votes" – those votes beyond the victory threshold obtained by any winning candidate -- are counted for the second choices of voters as indicated by their ballots (for fairness, all ballots are counted for second choice candidates at an equally reduced value). If not all seats are filled at this point, as is typical, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and ballots cast for that candidate are counted for the candidate listed next on each voter’s ballot. These rounds of election continue until all seats are filled or the number of remaining candidates equals the number of seats.

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This factsheet is part of the CVD Factbook Series, a compilation of one-page factsheets covering voting systems and voting system reforms.