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Encyclopedia > First Past the Post electoral system

The First Past the Post electoral system, is a voting system for single-member districts. The name first past the post (abbreviated FPTP or FPP) is an analogy to horse racing; the system is also variously called winner-take-all, plurality voting, or relative majority. In political science, it is known as Single-Member District Plurality or SMDP. When this system is in use at all levels of politics it usually results in a true two-party system, based on single seat district voting systems. However, the system of forming a governing government is also crucial; it is very common in former British colonies and is the single most commonly used system for election of parliaments [1] (http://www.aceproject.org/main/english/es/esh.htm) based on FPTP voting districts. A thorough list is given below. Voters at the voting booths in the US in 1945 Voting systems are methods (algorithms) for groups of people to select one or more options from many, taking into account the individual preferences of the group members. ... Horse-racing is an equestrian sporting activity which has been practiced over the centuries; the chariot races of Roman times were an early example, as was the contest of the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology. ... A plurality (or relative majority) is the largest share of something, which may or may not be a majority. ... Niccolò Machiavelli, ca 1500, became the key figure in realistic political theory, crucial to political science Political Science is the systematic study of the allocation and transfer of power in decision making. ...

Contents

Overview

The United Kingdom continues to use First Past The Post for national and most regional elections. Changes to the UK system have been proposed, and alternatives were examined by the Jenkins Committee in the late 1990s but no major changes have been implemented. Canada also uses First Past The Post for national and provincial elections. In May 2005 the citizens of the Canadian province of British Columbia will have a chance to cast a ballot for a referendum for abolishing plurality for single transferable vote after the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform made a recommendation for the reform. The Jenkins Committee (or Commission) was a body appointed by the United Kingdom government in the late 1990s to examine the feasiblity of alterting the electoral system used in UK general elections. ... Events and trends Technology Explosive growth of the Internet; decrease in the cost of computers and other technology Reduction in size and cost of mobile phones leads to a massive surge in their popularity Year 2000 problem (commonly known as Y2K) Microsoft Windows operating system becomes virtually ubiquitous on IBM... Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories. ... 2005 is a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Motto: Splendor Sine Occasu (Splendour without diminishment) Other Canadian provinces and territories Capital Victoria Largest city Vancouver Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo Premier Gordon Campbell (BC Liberal) Area 944,735 km² (5th)  - Land 925,186 km²  - Water 19,549 km² (2. ... The Single Transferable Vote, or STV, is a preference voting system designed to minimise wasted votes in multi-candidate elections while ensuring that votes are explicitly for candidates rather than party lists. ... Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform can refer to: Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform (British Columbia) Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform (Ontario) This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ...


Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and New Zealand have fairly recently implemented different election systems. National motto: Cymru am byth (Welsh: Wales for ever) Waless location within the UK Official languages English and Welsh Capital Cardiff Largest city Cardiff First Minister Rhodri Morgan Area  - Total Ranked 3rd UK 20,779 km² Population  - Total (2001)  - Density Ranked 3rd UK 2,903,085 140/km² NUTS... Scotland (Alba in Scottish Gaelic) is a country or nation and former independent kingdom of northwest Europe, and one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. ... Northern Ireland is an administrative region and one of four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. ...


Recent examples of nations which have undergone democratic reforms but have not adopted the FPTP system include South Africa, almost all of the former Eastern bloc nations, Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Cold War, the Eastern Bloc (or Soviet Bloc) comprised the following Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Albania (until the early 1960s, see below), the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia. ...


The term "first past the post" refers to a now seldom-used analogy with horse racing, where the winner is the first to pass a particular point (in this case a plurality of votes), upon which all other runners automatically and completely lose ("winner take all"). There is, however, no "post" that the winning candidate must pass in order to win, they are just required to receive the largest number of votes in their favour. This sometimes results in the alternate name "furthest past the post". An analogy is a comparison between two different things, in order to highlight some form of similarity. ... Horse-racing is an equestrian sporting activity which has been practiced over the centuries; the chariot races of Roman times were an early example, as was the contest of the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology. ... For the Finno-Ugric people, see Votes. ...


Duverger's law predicts that constituencies that use first-past-the-post systems will become two-party systems. Duvergers Law is a principle which asserts that a first-past-the-post election system naturally leads to a two-party system. ... A two-party system is a type of party system where only two political parties have a realistic chance of winning an election. ...


Procedures

Each voter in a given electoral district selects one candidate. All votes are counted and the candidate with more votes than any of the other candidates is the winner. The winner represents the entire electoral district. A constituency is any cohesive corporate unit or body bound by shared structures, goals or loyalty. ...


Examples

Simple example

The election of a Member of Parliament in the UK is a well known example of the First Past the Post electoral system. But the system is also used on a smaller scale. A Member of Parliament, or MP, is a representative elected by the voters of an electoral district to a parliament; in the Westminster system, specifically to the lower house. ...


This example is an election for the president of a school class. Each class has a president who sits on a school council.


The election for class president

There are three candidates, Amy, Brian and Chloe. Each class member gets a ballot paper, with these three names on it. The class member must put an "X" against one of the names.


After the election finishes, the papers are sorted into three piles. One pile contains all the papers where there is an "X" against Amy (that is, votes for Amy). The other two piles contain votes for Brian and for Chloe.


The largest pile decides the winner. For instance, if Amy's pile has 11 votes, Brian's pile has 16 votes, and Chloe's pile has 13 votes, then the winner is Brian.


Notice that there were a total of 11 + 16 + 13 = 40 votes, and the winner had only 16 of them — only 40%. But that is only the result for this one class.


We have created an imaginary school where the girl and boy students disagree with each other on most issues, and that girls vote for girls, while boys vote for boys.


The election to the school council

Note that the class members (the "electors") only vote once, and their votes help to choose both a class president and a member of the school council (the same person).


Now, let's suppose that across all the classes, 8 of the class presidents that were elected were girls, and 9 were boys. That makes the boys the overall winner. The only influence that the pupils in this class had was to vote for Amy, Brian or Chloe. Some might argue that a boy won for this class because there were two girls, who "split the vote". Perhaps if Amy had not been a candidate, then Chloe would have won this class, and the girls would be the winners of the whole council.


Arguments exactly like this, but on a larger scale, are common wherever there are first-past-the-post elections.


More complex example

Imagine an election for the capital of Tennessee, a state in the United States that is over 500 miles east-to-west, and only 110 miles north-to-south. In this vote, the candidates for the capital are Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. The population breakdown by metro area is as follows: State nickname: Volunteer State Other U.S. States Capital Nashville Largest city Memphis Governor Phil Bredesen Official languages English Area 109,247 km² (36th)  - Land 106,846 km²  - Water 2,400 km² (2. ...

  • Memphis: 826,330
  • Nashville: 510,784
  • Chattanooga: 285,536
  • Knoxville: 335,749

If the voters cast their ballot based strictly on geographic proximity, the voters' sincere preferences might be as follows: Census. ...

42% of voters (close to Memphis)
  1. Memphis
  2. Nashville
  3. Chattanooga
  4. Knoxville

26% of voters (close to Nashville)

  1. Nashville
  2. Chattanooga
  3. Knoxville
  4. Memphis

15% of voters (close to Chattanooga)

  1. Chattanooga
  2. Knoxville
  3. Nashville
  4. Memphis
17% of voters (close to Knoxville)
  1. Knoxville
  2. Chattanooga
  3. Nashville
  4. Memphis

If voting follows sincere preferences, Memphis is selected with the most votes. Note that this system does not require that the winner have a majority, but only a plurality. That is, Memphis wins because it has the most votes, even though more than half of the voters preferred another option. A simple majority is the most common requirement in voting for a measure to pass, especially in deliberative bodies and small organizations. ... A plurality (or relative majority) is the largest share of something, which may or may not be a majority. ...


Advantages

Strong government

It is argued that, because first-past-the-post is more likely to produce a simple majority for one party, this produces a stronger government. When difficult decisions or strong leadership are required for the good of the voters, a government is not distracted by the constant need to negotiate within the legislature. In addition, the need to govern leads to coalitions, which may give disproportionate power to a party with limited popular support, simply because the largest party sees them as "enemies of their enemies". In the UK, arguments for first-past-the-post often look to Italy where the frequent government changeovers are presented as undesirable.


Simplicity

First-past-the-post may well be the simplest of all voting systems. This implies specific advantages. It is likely to be quicker, and easier to adminster; this may also imply that an election costs less to run. It may also have an effect on voters, because it is easy to explain and understand. Alternative voting systems may alienate some voters who find the systems hard to understand, and who therefore feel detached from the direct effect of their own vote.


In addition, not all voters see party politics or policies as a major issue. Some voters see an election primarily as a form of recruitment for an individual representative, a point of contact between the state and themselves. First-past-the-post gives such voters a direct choice of single candidate, with no extra votes to be shared or balanced between parties. This may be especially important to voters who want to vote for individuals based on particular ethical frameworks that are not party aligned, and who do not want their vote to have a "side effect" of electing others they may not approve of.


Each representative must be a winner

Sometimes, the voters are in favour of a political party, but do not like specific candidates. An example was the premier of Alberta, Donald Getty. His government was re-elected in 1989, but because of voter dissatisfaction with the way the government was led, Getty, the leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, was not re-elected by voters from his electoral district. Motto: Fortis et Liber (Strong and free) Other Canadian provinces and territories Capital Edmonton Largest city Calgary Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong Premier Ralph Klein (PC) Area 661,848 km² (6th)  - Land 642,317 km²  - Water 19,531 km² (2. ... Donald Ross Getty (born August 30, 1933), Canadian politician, was Premier of Alberta and leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party between 1985 and 1992. ... The Alberta Progressive Conservative Association is a provincial right-of-centre party in the Canadian province of Alberta. ...


However this can also have the opposite affect. A candidate who is very popular among the electrorate in general may lose if the candidate or the candidate's party is unpopular or has cause dissatisfaction in his or her seat.


Similarly, in the 1999 Ontario provincial election, Mike Harris and his Progressive-Conservative party was re-elected to a majority government, but symbolic of the growing discontent among voters about cuts to education, his education minister and strong ally was resoundingly defeated by the opposition candidate. Motto: Ut Incepit Fidelis Sic Permanet (Loyal she began, loyal she remains) Other Canadian provinces and territories Capital Toronto Largest city Toronto Lieutenant Governor James K. Bartleman Premier Dalton McGuinty (Liberal) Area 1,076,395 km² (4th)  - Land 917,741 km²  - Water 158,654 km² (14. ... Michael Deane Harris (born January 23, 1945, in Toronto, Ontario) was the twenty-second Premier of Ontario from June 26, 1995 to April 15, 2002. ... The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party of Ontario) is a right-of-centre political party in Ontario, Canada. ...


It is often claimed that because each electoral district votes for its own representative, the elected candidate is held accountable to his own voters, thereby helping to prevent incompetent, fraudulent or corrupt behaviour by elected candidates. The voters in the electoral district can easily replace him since they have full power over who they want to represent them. In the absence of effective recall legislation, however, the electors must wait until the end of the representative's term. Also, it is generally possible for candidates to be elected if the party regards them as important even if they are fairly unpopular, by moving the candidate to a safe seat which the party is unlikely to lose or by getting a candidate in a safe seat to step down.


Disadvantages

"Unfairness"

The most commonly expressed disadvantage – perhaps because it is easiest to express and explain – of first-past-the-post is that it is "unfair", i.e. that substantial bodies of opinion are not represented at all in the final result, and that a party may obtain a clear majority without popular support at that level. Examples include the recent United Kingdom general election of 2005 where the new government won a majority of the seats with less than 38% of the national vote. The United Kingdom general election of 2005 was held on Thursday, 5 May 2005 and won by the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair. ... 2005 is a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ...


Tactical voting

First-past-the-post encourages the tactical voting technique known as "compromising": voters are encouraged to vote for one of the two options most likely to win, even if it is not their most preferred option. In the above example, voters from Chattanooga and Knoxville may "compromise" by voting for Nashville, which they prefer to Memphis. In voting systems, tactical voting (or strategic voting) occurs when a voter misrepresents his or her sincere preferences in order to gain a more favorable outcome. ...


If enough voters vote use this tactic, the first-past-the-post system becomes a form of runoff voting where the first round is held in the court of public opinion. This can give substantial power to the media as voters will tend to believe their viewpoint on who the leading contenders are likely to be in the election and use that viewpoint to decide where a "tactical" vote would be (in the voter's opinion) best used. This can also become a system promoting votes against more so than votes for. Runoff voting is a voting system used in single-seat elections. ...


One consequence of the system is that many FPTP elections can be considered won before all votes are tallied, once there are no longer enough uncounted votes to override an established plurality count. Though not necessarily a disadvantage, this can produce a feeling of disenfranchisement among voters when running tallies are reported through the media.


Tactical voting can lead to situations where voters pass over a candidate who is preferred by a majority of voters and instead vote for a "lesser evil" who has shown themselves as good vote getters in the past.


Anomalous results

An interesting anomaly in the results of this system arose in the Canadian federal election of 1926 for the province of Manitoba. The province was entitled to 17 seats in that election. The result was very different from how people voted. The Canadian federal election of 1926 was called following an event known as the King_Byng Affair. ...

Political party Percentage of votes Number of seats Percentage of Seats
Conservatives 42.2% 0 0%
Labour Progressives 19.5% 7 41%
Liberals 18.4% 4 24%
Progressives 11.2% 4 24%
Labour 8.7% 2 12%

The Conservatives clearly had the largest number of votes across the province, but received no seats at all. The other parties were able to have success by having concentrated support in particular constituencies, and by not running candidates in others.


This presents a problem because the parties tend to focus narrowly on the needs and well-beings of specific electoral districts where they can be sure to win seats, rather than be sensitive to the sentiments of voters everywhere. In order to secure election results, some also choose to use gerrymandering, that is, redistricting to distort election results by enclosing party voters together in one electoral district. Redrawing electoral districts in this example creates a guaranteed 3-to-1 advantage for Party 1. ... Redistricting, known as redistribution in many Commonwealth countries, is the changing of political borders (in many countries, specifically the electoral district/constituency boundaries) usually in response to periodic census results. ...


Strong government

Because first-past-the-post is held to produce strong government (see above), it follows that those who prefer weak government (government unable to effectively introduce social change or legislative progress) might see strong government as a disadvantage of that system. Preference for weak government is likely to be found in people who favour the status quo, who favour curtailing the power of government, or do not favour the direction any majority party is likely to take.


Wipe out and clean sweep results

Since FPTP combined with single member constituencies generate a winner's bonus, if not winner takes all, the loyal opposition can be left with few if any seats.


An opposition that is weak or absent, because of an electoral wipeout, is not good for good governance. Provincal elections in several Canadian provinces provide suitable examples. An election might be judged to have a lopsided or wipeout result if the winning party wins far more seats than its share of the votes would justify, winning most if not all of the seats. ... An election might be judged to have a lopsided or wipeout result if the winning party wins far more seats than its share of the votes would justify, winning most if not all of the seats. ...


This is the missing corollary of strong-government argument for FPTP.


No system can guarantee a clear result

A close election is one where the winner's majority is very small, or where third parties or independents hold the balance of power. No Voting system can guarantee a clear result all the time, even FPTP. Some close elections, where the winner won a bare majority, or where a third party or independents hold the balance of power include: Australia 1901-1913 party system yet to crystalise. ...


Where First Past the Post systems are used

Countries that use this system to elect the lower or only house of their legislature include:

See Table of voting systems by nation

The first past the post election system is used in the Republic of China on Taiwan for executive offices such as county magistrates, mayors, and the president, but not for legislative seats which used the single non-transferable vote system. This has produced an interesting party structure in which there are two broad coalitions of parties which cooperate in executive elections but which compete internally in legislative elections. Source: Making Votes Count, Gary Cox (1997) This article or section should be merged with Italian Government Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum (see Birth of the Italian Republic). ... The Parliament of Italy (Italian: Parlamento Italiano) is the national parliament of Italy. ... The Additional Member System (AMS) is a voting system where some representatives are elected from geographic constituencies and others are elected under proportional representation from party lists. ... State nickname: Pelican State Other U.S. States Capital Baton Rouge Largest city New Orleans Governor Kathleen Blanco Official languages None; English and French de facto Area 134,382 km² (31st)  - Land 112,927 km²  - Water 21,455 km² (16%) Population (2000)  - Population 4,468,976 (22nd)  - Density 39. ... Single-winner voting systems by country Multiple-winner voting systems by country Key Seats per district - most elections are split into a number of districts (for example, a constituency). ... The Republic of China (Traditional Chinese: 中華民國; Simplified Chinese: 中华民国; Wade-Giles: Chung-hua Min-kuo, Tongyong Pinyin: JhongHuá MínGuó, Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínguó) is a multiparty democratic state that is de facto composed of the island groups of Taiwan, the Pescadores, Quemoy, and the Matsu. ... The Single Non-Transferable Vote or SNTV is an electoral system used in multi-member constituency elections. ... The Republic of China (ROC) currently has jurisdiction over Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu, and the Pescadores Islands and several of the smaller islands. ...


India is using a proportional representation system for its upper house. Proportional representation (PR) is any of various multi-winner electoral systems which try to ensure that the proportional support gained by different groups is accurately reflected in the election result. ...


Ballot types

Ballots can be of two forms. The simplest form is a blank ballot where the name of a candidate is written in by hand. A more structured ballot will list all the candidates and allow a mark to be made by a single candidate. (A ballot with a candidate list can include space for a write-in candidate as well)


Image:Onevoteballotname.gif Image:Onevoteballotmark.gif Plurality ballot by writing name File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Plurality ballot by marking a listed candidate File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ...


See also

  • List of democracy and elections-related topics

Politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action: the conduct of decision-making for groups. ...

External links

  • ACE Project: First Past The Post (http://www.aceproject.org/main/english/es/esd01.htm) - Detailed explanation of first-past-the-post voting
  • The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform says the new proportional electoral system it proposes for B.C. will improve the practice of democracy in the province. (http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public)
  • ASSEMBLY AUDIO AND VIDEO Below, you'll find audio and video recordings of six Learning Phase weekends, a meeting held in Prince George and the six Deliberation Phase weekends. The Learning Phase and Deliberation Phase recordings were broadcast on Hansard TV during 2004. (http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public/learning_resources/learning_materials/av) - week 5 gives a detailed description by David Farrell, of the University of Manchester (England), Elizabeth McLeay of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

  Results from FactBites:
 
First Past the Post electoral system (710 words)
This system is in use at all levels of politics - famously in the United Kingdom.
The first past the post election system is used on Taiwan for executive offices such as county magistrates, mayors, and the president, but not for legislative seats which used the single non-transferable vote system.
This facet of the system leads to the practice of gerrymandering, which is the drawing of electoral district boundaries for the purpose of influencing an election.
Science Fair Projects - First Past the Post electoral system (2144 words)
The First Past the Post electoral system is a voting system for single-member districts, variously called First Past the Post electoral system (FPTP or FPP), winner-take-all, plurality voting, or relative majority.
However, the system of forming a governing government is also crucial; it is very common in former British colonies and is the single most commonly used system for election of parliaments [1] based on FPTP voting districts.
The term "first past the post" refers to a now seldom-used analogy with horse racing, where the winner is the first to pass a particular point (in this case a plurality of votes), upon which all other runners automatically and completely lose ("winner take all").
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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