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  The following Glossary exists because in the world of election systems, a lot of different and confusing terms are used. This is partially due to the fact that over the past 100 years many different terms have been used, partially because the modern movement is new and hasn't truly settled on new terminology, and partially because the movement is trying to find and use simpler, more intuitive terms.

We hope you find it useful.
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  Additional Member System
See "Mixed Member Proportional"

Alternative Voting
see the Instant Runoff

Approval Voting
A system in which voters can vote for as many candidates as they like, or "approve of". For example, if used in the last presidential election, voters could have voted for both Perot and Bush, if they liked both of them. The winner is the one who gets the most votes. For more information, see the writing of Stephen Brams. Never used in public elections, but is used for some private organizations.

AV: Alternative Voting
See "Instant Runoff Voting"

Borda Count
A Weighted System (see below) using Choice Voting. For example, if five are to be elected, the first preference gets five points, the second gets four, etc. The highest point-getters are the winners. This is a semi-proportional system, but its proportionality is poorer than Cumulative Voting.

Bucklin Voting
A single-winner system in which the voter ranks the ballot in order of preference. All the #1 votes are counted. If no one has a majority, then all the #1 and #2 votes are counted. This process continues until a winner is found. Has the advantage that a compromise middle candidate could win in the second round. Has serious practical disadvantages that occurred when it was used in public elections circa 1935 in several states in the South. The biggest disadvantage was that voters and candidates were rightly afraid that their #2 votes could defeat their favorite candidate, so they simple almost all bullet voted. The system was therefore dropped.

Bullet Voting
The term for when a voter votes for only one candidate, when they had the option of voting for more than one.

Center for Voting and Democracy
The pre-eminent center for educating America about electoral systems, and especially about proportional representation systems.

Choice Voting
A system of voting in which the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference, and the vote is counted in a manner giving proportional results in a multi-winner contest. This system is also called STV (Single Transferable Voting), Preference Voting, Ranked Choice Voting, the Hare system, the Hare/Clark system, PR/STV, and other names. In a single-winner contest, the system is known as the Instant Runoff System. See "Single Transferable Voting" and "Instant Runoff system" for more information.

Citizens (or Californians) for Proportional Representation
Groups working to promote and establish PR in the USA.

There are an Illinois CPR, Seattle CPR, and other state level groups. CfER previously used the name Californians for Proportional Representation, as well as Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation. Each group that we know of has a link or contact information either from this web site, or CVD's web site.

(1) A common name for Pairwise election methods.
(2) The gentleman who came up with the first Pairwise system.

(1) Citizens for Proportional Representation
(2) Californians for Proportional Representation (a previous name of CfER)

Cumulative Voting
A semi-proportional system of voting in which each voter has as many votes as there are seats to fill, but each voter may give all of his/her votes to one candidates, or split them up as s/he desires. Generally results in fair minority representation. Since it does not allow for the transferring of votes, voters can and do still easily waste their votes.

Center for Voting and Democracy.

Direct Representation
Direct Representation means that citizens individually choose their representatives in a legislature, rather than collectively in an election. There are rules to ensure that the legislature does not become too big or too small, or change too rapidly. This system guarantees that everyone has a voice in government, and that everyone's vote has an incremental effect on the legislature. See the web site on this topic.

District Elections
An alternative to At-Large elections. The jurisdication is divided into districts, and one member is elected from each district. Often better for minority representation than traditional at-large elections. However, it comes with a number of severe disadvantages, including: (1) the drawing of districts is all important, leading to a host of new problems such as intentional and unintentional gerrymandering, (2) each elected official does not represent the whole jurisdiction, but rather only his/her area, commonly leading to pork barrel politics.

Droop Threshold
In Choice Voting, the Droop Threshold is the number of ballots divided by the number of seats plus 1, then adding 1. For example, if there were 1000 ballots and 4 seats to be filled, the Droop Threshold would be 201 votes. This represents the fewest number of votes that guarantees election. Also, if all winning candidates meet this threshold, a majority of the elected body represents a majority of voters.

First Past the Post
See "Plurality election systems"

First Past the Post, See "Plurality election systems"

Fractional STV
This form of Choice Voting is recommended for all public elections, and for non-governmental elections when a computer will be used. In older forms of Choice Voting, when a candidate was elected, and had surplus votes, some method had to be chosen to determine which ballots would be transferred and which would stay with the candidate. Sometimes they were chosen randomly, sometimes just the last ballots would be chosen, and their are other methods. With fractional STV, a fraction of each ballot is moved to the next most preferred candidate on each ballot, so there is no randomness involved. This is a pain to do by hand, but fortunately their are computer programs to handle the count, if one wishes to use the fractional method. Note that mathmeticians and statisticians have shown that the vast majority of the time that the "random" method will give the same results as the Fractional STV. See also "Simplified STV"

The English gentleman who popularized Choice Voting, which he called 'Personal Representation', in the second half of the 19th century. His work captured the attention of John Stuart Mill, the most famous scholar on representative government, who unsuccessfully campaigned for it while serving in the House of Commons. Simon Sterne and others brought Hare's ideas to the United States.

Hare Threshold
In Choice Voting, the Hare Threshold is the number of ballots divided by the number of seats. For example, if there were 1000 ballots and 4 seats to be filled, the Hare Threshold would be 250 votes. It would be ideal if all candidates met the Hare threshold, but if many voters do not rank all of the candidates, there can be a large disparity between the number of votes electing the first and last candidate. The Droop threshold is more commonly used today.

Instant Runoff Voting
A system used when only one person can be elected, such as a mayor or president. Similar too, but simpler than, Choice Voting.  Voters rank the ballot in order of preference. At first, only the #1 rankings are counted. If no candidate has a majority, then the weakest candidate (the one with the fewest number of votes) is defeated, and all of his/her ballots are transferred to the #2 candidate on each ballot. This process continues until someone has a majority of the votes and is the winner. The system is normally abbreviated as "IRV", but is also sometime abbreviates as "IRO" or "IR". It is also sometimes called Majority Preference Voting (MPV), or Alternative Voting (AV).

(1) "Interactive Representation" -- In this system, elected officials have the same number of votes as the number of people that voted for them. It uses an IRV-like procedure to limit the number of candidates. So, each elected official has a different number of votes. This is a very pure form of PR, but without voting for parties. It is a relatively new concept, and to our knowledge, has never been used in a government election. There are some concerns about whether or not it would be legal in public elections. The group that is promoting IR also advocates some other major systemic reforms. For more information, see the Democracy 2000 web site.
(2) Sometimes used as an abbreviation for the Instant Runoff system.

See Instant Runoff Voting.

Stands for "Instant Runoff Voting".

Limited Voting
A semi-proportional system in which each voter has less votes than the total number of open seats. For example, there may be five seats to fill, but each voter has one vote. The top vote-getters win. Because majority voters have only vote each, they will still normally control a majority of the elected body, but minorities will be more fairly represented. However, votes can be and commonly are wasted, because their is no system to transfer votes from one candidate to another.

Minority representation
Fair representation by any minority group, whether it may be Republican in a primarily Democratic area, African-Americans in a primarily European-American area, etc.

Mixed Member Proportional
A form of PR in which voters have two votes -- one for their district representative, and one for their favorite party. Usually 50% of the seats are awarded by district, and 50% by the party lists. The overall representation is based on the parties' votes. First used in Germany. See also "Non-compensatory mixed member systems," below.

Modified At-Large Systems
An election system that is an alternative to traditional at-large plurality systems. With modified at-large elections, the election is still held at-large, but the use of Choice Voting, Cumulative Voting, or Limited Voting, allows for minority representation.

"Mixed Member Proportional"

Majority Preference Voting. See the "Instant Runoff System".

Non-compensatory mixed member systems
These semi-proportional systems have some seats filled from districts and some from party lists, but the overall representation is not determined by the party vote. This means that the bigger parties that win almost all the seats in the districts will be over-represented in government, while the smaller parties will be under-represented.

None of the Above. Has nothing to do with PR, but people ask us about it. Means that voters have the option of voting for a candidate or candidates, or vote None of the Above to indicate that they dislike all the candidates. If "NOTA" wins, the candidate is defeated, and a special election called to try to fill the seat. There also is an "information-only" form of NOTA in which voters simply have an option to check that box in a particular race even if also voting for candidates -- e.g., a way to measure voter dissatisfaction with choices.

A family of single-winner election methods in which the voters rank the candidates in order of preference, and then each pair of candidates has their own little election to see who wins. For example, if candidates A, B, and C are running, and A beats C, but B beats A and B beats C, then B is the winner. This is the case even if B received the fewest number of #1 votes. In Pairwise, that doesn't matter. Pairwise can get complicated if their is no clear winner (A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A, for example). There are many ways to resolve this, so there are many methods that fit into the Pairwise category.

Parliamentary System
A system in which (a) the head of government is not directly elected, (b) the head of government can be removed by a vote of parliament, and (c) the terms of office are not fixed -- early elections can be called. Should never be confused with PR, which affects how candidates are elected when the people vote. Is the opposite of presidential systems. Note that some systems are neither pure parliamentary or presidential systems. England, Germany, Canada and Switzerland are a few examples of parliamentary systems.

Party List
A form of PR in which voters vote for their favorite party. Each party is awarded seats in proportion to the votes that it recieves from the electorate. In Open-List systems, they also vote for their favorite candidates within the party.

Plurality election systems
An election system in which the winners are the ones who receive the most votes, without any transferring or other mechanism to allow for minority representation. One common example is a city council in which there are 5 seats to fill, all voters get five votes, and the candidates with the top five totals win. Plurality systems are horrible in terms of minority representation. Another is the Presidential election -- the candidate who receives the most votes wins each state, even if they don't have majority support. Also sometimes called "At-Large" elections, and District Elections have traditionally been the proposed remedy. However, PR is a better remedy.

(1) Proportional Representation
(2) public relations

See "Single Transferable Voting"

Preference Voting
(1) A term often used for Single Transferable Voting. See also "Choice Voting".

(2)Any sort of voting system in which the voter ranks the ballot in order of preference, such as the Single Transferable Vote, the Instant Runoff, Pairwise, Weighted systems, and Bucklin.

Proportional Representation
Abbreviated "PR". A term for any electoral system in which the number of seats that each party or group receives is proportional to the votes that it receives. The main three types of PR are "MMP", "Choice Voting", and "Party List". There is also a fourth type of PR called Interactive Representation. Is the opposite of "winner take all" or "first past the post" systems. Provides for majority rule, but with fair minority representation. Minimizes the number of wasted votes in each election.

Proxy Voting
(1) Another name for Interactive Representation, or IR.
(2) A common type of election system used in corporations in the United States, in which voters are assumed to give their proxy to certain people unless they specify otherwise. In practice, those designated proxy holders control the vast majority of votes, so this system is strikingly undemocratic. However, it does allow for great stability within a company.

Sometimes used as an abbreviation for Preference Voting. See "Choice Voting".

(1) Sometimes used as an abbreviation for Preference Voting. See "Choice Voting".
(2) Sometimes used as an abbreviation for Plurality Voting.

In traditional runoff elections in the U.S.A., if no one has achieved a majority of the votes in the first round of voting, then another election is held, with only two candidates allowed to run. Does result in the winner having a majority. Unfortunately, the extra election usually doubles the cost of the overall election, is brutally hard on the candidates and their supporters, and, since a special election is usually necessary, results in a much smaller voter turnout in the runoff election. Can be easily avoid by using IRV.

Semi-Proportional election systems
These systems are more proportional than winner-take-all systems, but not as good as PR systems. The three most common kinds of semi-proportional systems are Cumulative Voting, Limited Voting, and non-compensatory mixed member systems.

Simplified STV
A set of rules for counting a Choice Voting election which is suitable for a hand count for organizations that have up to 500 votes in a contest. The system is still fully proportional and fair, just simpler, not quite as sophisticated as Choice Voting can be. In Simplified STV there are no surplus ballots. The Hare Threshold is used, the Fractional STV system is not used, and duplicate rankings are not allowed. See also "Fractional STV".

Single-Winner Election Systems
Election systems designed for contests in which there can be but one winner, such as a mayor or president. See Plurality, Runoff, Instant Runoff, Pairwise, Approval, and Bucklin. There are many other types of single-winner elections systems, but these are the major ones.

Single Transferable Voting
An alternate name for Choice Voting.

Single Non-Transferable Voting. A type of Limited Voting in which each voter gets one vote. Unlike Single Transferable Voting, however, the vote is never transferred, so it is a much less powerful vote.

Single Transferable Voting.

Weighted systems
Typically used in sports polls, each voter ranks the ballot, with each level of vote getting a different number of points. E.g., a #1 vote might give that candidate/team 5 points, a #2 vote might be worth 3 points, etc. The points are added up to determine the overall team rankings. Not a bad system when the voters are very knowledgeable and very objective. Not a great system for public elections, because the stakes are so much higher, and people tend to be strong supporters of their favorite candidates.

Winner Take All systems
Systems in which 50.1% of the voters can win 100% of the representation. These systems, by definition, are unproportional, the very opposite of Proportional Representation. Examples are plurality elections and runoff elections, the two most common types of election systems used in the United States.