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Voting Systems and STV

Election ballot boxes

A voting system is how voters cast their vote on a ballot paper and then how it is counted, e.g. by marking a cross or numbers.
There are many different types of voting system used across the world. In elections in the UK the voting system used is dependent on the type of election.

For information about other voting system types please visit the Electoral Reform Society website

Regional List System

Members of the European Parliament (in the UK) are elected by a system of proportional representation called the Regional List System, using the pure d'Hondt formula. Each political party prepares a list of candidates ranked in order to match the number of seats to be filled in that region (Scotland is one region).

Once votes are counted, the first seat is allocated to the party or independent candidate with the highest number of votes. If an independent candidate is highest then the seat is allocated to that individual. If the seat has been allocated to a party it will go to the first candidate on that party’s list. That party’s total is then divided by two and the second seat is allocated to the next party or independent candidate with the highest number of votes. The process continues until all seats have been allocated.

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First Past the Post

First past the Post (FPTP) is the voting system that is used for UK Parliamentary and Scottish Parliamentary (Constituency) elections where there is only one member to be elected in a consistency.

To vote under FPTP, the voter simply puts a cross in a box next to one candidate that they wish to elect. The candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins.

FPTP is the second most widely used voting system in the world.

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Additional Member System

Additional Member System (AMS) is used to elect the regional members in the Scottish Parliament since 1999. This is the "2nd vote" in a Scottish Parliamentary election.

Voters select from a "party list" of candidates drawn up by each of the parties. The voter marks their preference by means of a cross, choosing to vote for a Party/Independent, not usually for an individual. The winning parties then select their members from the "list" of individuals under that party.

After the votes are counted, the proportion of votes that a party has is calculated. Each time a party gains enough votes to be allocated an additional seat, the candidate at the top of its list of candidates is elected.

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Single Transferable Vote (STV)

When is STV used?

The Single Transferable Vote (STV), a form of proportional representation, was used for the first time for the Local Government elections in May 2007.

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Why is STV used?

It is believed that STV and members elected under this voting system better represents the voter's preferences. Some benefits of using this system include: that give voters a choice of candidates within a party where more than one have stood and because STV lets voters list as many as like they of the candidates in order of choice, they never need to waste their votes or vote tactically. STV also motivates parties to contest all wards and constituencies during an election so they do not only concentrate on marginal seats.

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What is STV?

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a form of preferential voting in multi-member constituencies. Preferential voting means that instead of casting a single vote for a single candidate, a voter can express a list of preferences. Votes are made by putting a '1' in the column next to the voter's preferred candidate, a '2' beside their second favourite candidate and so on until they no longer wish to express a preference.

For more information about STV please visit the Electoral Reform Society's information about this voting system.

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How is STV counted?

In an STV election, to be elected a candidate must reach a minimum number of votes, called a quota. Any surplus votes are reallocated at a lesser proportion to those in 2nd preference. (i.e. If any candidate does not receive enough support to win a seat, that candidate's votes will be transferred to others according to voters' next preferences)

Scottish Local Government elections are counted using a system called the Weighted Inclusive Gregory Method which is prescribed in legislation.

Votes for multiple seats during a full election are counted by electronic scanner, in a recent local government by-election however where only one seat was being contested the votes were counted by hand.

Further information about this and other voting systems for other types of elections can be found in the links below.

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Which other countries use STV?

There are a number of other countries that use forms of STV to elect member which include:

  • Assembly, European and local government elections in Northern Ireland
  • All elections in Malta
  • Local Authorities in New Zealand
  • Most elections in Republic of Ireland
  • Senate of Australia
  • Canada

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More Information about STV

More information about STV can be found from

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