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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

The Single Vote Method

The Single Vote Method.

This is the simplest of all methods, and is the one adopted for Parliamentary elections in all English-speaking communities in the case in which there is only one vacancy to be filled. As is well known, each elector has one vote, which he gives to some one candidate, and the candidate who obtains the greatest number of votes is elected. This method is used for any number of candidates: but in general the larger the number of candidates the more unsatisfactory is the result.

In this method, unless some candidate obtains an absolute majority of the votes polled, the result may be contrary to the wishes of the majority. For, suppose that there are twelve electors and three candidates, A, B. C, who receive respectively five, four, and three votes. Then A, having the largest number of votes, is elected. This result, however, may be quite wrong; for it is quite possible that the four electors who vote fox B may prefer C to A, and the three electors who vote for C may prefer B to A. If this were the case, and the question

That A is to be preferred to B

were put to the whole body of electors, it would be negatived by a majority of two, and the question

That A is to be preferred to C

would also be negatived by a majority of two. Thus the single vote method places at the head of the poll a candidate who is declared by a majority of the electors to be inferior to each of the other candidates. In fact, if A and B were the only candidates B would win; or if A and page 3 C were the only candidates C would win; thus B and C can each beat A, and yet neither of them wins. A wins simply because he is opposed by two men, each better than himself.

Thus the single vote method does not satisfy the fundamental condition. It appears also not only that the best man may not be elected, but also that we are not even sure of getting in the second best man. It is clear that if any candidate obtain an absolute majority of the votes polled this error cannot occur. All we can say, then, about the single vote method is that if any candidate obtain an absolute majority the method is correct, but if no one obtains such a majority the result may be quite erroneous.

These results are well known, and consequently in elections under this plan great efforts are generally made to reduce the number of candidates as much as possible before the polling day, in order to avoid the return of a candidate who is acceptable to a small section only of the electors. This reduction can, in practice, be made only by a small number of the electors, so that the choice of a candidate is taken out of the hands of the electors themselves, who are merely permitted to say which of two or more selected candidates is least objectionable to them.