Choice Voting -- The Optimal Proportional Representation Election Method
Choice voting is a proportional representation system in which voters maximize their vote’s effectiveness by ranking candidates, and the threshold of support necessary to win is lower than in winner-take-all elections. Proportional representation systems are ones where as many voters as possible in a given constituency elect a preferred candidate. Choice voting (also known as “preference voting”, the “Hare system” and the “single transferable vote”) is the fairest method of proportional representation that can be used in non-partisan elections, and also has a well-established history in partisan elections. Choice voting effectively eliminates the spoiler problem, and can encourage coalition-building among minority groups and parties, as candidates benefit from being one another's second choices.

Choice voting has been used primarily in English-speaking nations, in large part because of John Stuart Mill’s strong advocacy. Choice voting is currently used for electing such legislatures as the parliaments of Malta and the Republic of Ireland; the federal senate in Australia; the regional assembly and most cities in Northern Ireland; all local health boards in New Zealand and the city council of New Zealand's capital Wellington; and the city council and school committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Citizens' Assembly in British Columbia also recommended choice voting for future elections in the province. It is also frequently used to elect the boards of non-governmental organizations.

Approximately two dozen cities in the United States have used choice voting, mostly in the first half of the 20th century when it was highlighted in the model city charter of the National Municipal League. New York City used it for five city council elections during the era of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Cincinnati used it for council elections from 1925 to 1955. Others municipalities using choice voting included Cleveland, Sacramento (CA), Toledo (OH) and Worcester (MA). Generally adopted to reform “machine” governments, choice voting faced persistent and ultimately successful opposition, despite voters typically opposing initial repeal efforts. The need for hand-counts and the fact that it represented racial minorities well were the main political problems for choice voting in the United States in this era.

Choice voting has won recent support from charter commissions in cities such as Kalamazoo (MI) and Pasadena (CA). It won 45% of the vote in stand-alone ballot measures in Cincinnati in 1988 and 1991 and in San Francisco in 1996.


Recent Articles
October 19th 2009
A better election system
Lowell Sun

Election expert Doug Amy explains how choice voting can "inject new blood" into the elections of Lowell (MA), and give voters a greater incentive to participate.

October 16th 2009
Haven't Detroit voters spoken enough?
Livingston Daily

In Detroit, there have been three mayors in the past two years and the current one has come under scrutiny. Perhaps a system like instant runoff voting will help bring political stability to motor city.

August 21st 2009
Black candidate for Euclid school board to test new voting system
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Limited voting, a form of proportional voting, will be used in Euclid (OH), in the hopes of allowing better representation of minorities.

July 2nd 2009
Reforming Albany
New York Times

FairVote's Rob Richie responds in a letter to the editor making the case for proportional voting systems to bring substantive reform to New York's legislature.