History and use of the Single Transferable Vote

History and use of the Single Transferable Vote

The history and usage of the Single Transferable Vote voting system has been a series of relatively modest periods of usage and disusage throughout the world, however today it is seeing increasing popularity and proposed implementation as a method of electoral reform. The Single Transferable Vote has been used in many different local, regional and national electoral systems, as well as in various other types of bodies, around the world.

Early history

The concept of transferable voting was first proposed by Thomas Wright Hill in 1821. The system remained unused in real elections until 1855, when Carl Andræ proposed a transferable vote system for elections in Denmark. Andræ's system was used in 1856 to elect the Danish Rigsdag, and by 1866 it was also adapted for indirect elections to the second chamber, the Landsting, until 1915.talk sect|Why has it been discarded?|(Why?)

Although he was not the first to propose a system of transferable votes, the English barrister Thomas Hare is generally credited with the conception of Single Transferable Voting, and he may have independently developed the idea in 1857. Hare's view was that STV should be a means of "making the exercise of the suffrage a step in the elevation of the individual character, whether it be found in the majority or the minority." In Hare's original STV system, he further proposed that electors should have the opportunity of discovering which candidate their vote had ultimately counted for, to improve their personal connection with voting.Lambert & Lakeman (1955). "Voting in democracies". London : Faber, pg. 245.]

The noted political essayist, John Stuart Mill, was a friend of Hare and an early proponent of STV, praising it in his essay "On Representation." His contemporary, Walter Bagehot, also praised the Hare system for allowing everyone to elect an MP, even ideological minorities, but also added that the Hare system would create more problems than it solved: " [the Hare system] is inconsistent with the extrinsic independence as well as the inherent moderation of a Parliament - two of the conditions we have seen, are essential to the bare possibility of parliamentary government."Bagehot, Walter. "English Constitution".]

STV spread through the British Empire, leading it to be sometimes known as "British Proportional Representation". In 1896, Andrew Inglis Clark was successful in persuading the Tasmanian House of Assembly to be the first parliament in the world elected by what became known as the "Hare-Clark system", named after himself and Thomas Hare.

In the twentieth century many refinements were made to Hare's original system, by scholars such as Droop, Meek, Warren and Tideman (see: Counting Single Transferable Votes for further details).

Use by country

Republic of Ireland

Proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote is used for all public elections in the Republic of Ireland, with the exception of single-winner elections (presidential elections and single-vacancy by-elections) which are conducted under Instant Run-off Voting (that is, an STV election in which there is only a single winner). The most important elections in the Republic are those to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament). The Dáil is directly elected from constituencies of between three and five seats. The Irish constitution specifies a minimum size of three seats and, although there is no maximum size, there have been no constituencies of more than five seats since 1947.

In the Senate, the weak upper house, six University seats are filled from two three-seat constituencies, while 43 vocational panel seats are filled on a restricted franchise from five panels of up to eleven seats. The panel election rules depart from true STV by requiring a minimum number of candidates to be elected from each of two sub-panels; [] in the 2007 Cultural and Educational Panel election Ann Ormonde was elected despite having fewer votes than Terence Slowey when Slowey was eliminated. [] []

STV is also used in local and European elections. In elections in the Republic voters are permitted to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish on the ballot paper. All direct elections and are counted by hand; an experiment using computer ballots in three constituencies in the 2002 general election was not repeated. All use the simple Hare method of surplus transfers, except for the Senate panels, which use the Gregory method.

STV is also widely used among private organisations, such as student unions.


STV was first used in Ireland in 1918, when the whole island was part of the United Kingdom. Although efforts to introduce STV across the UK had been abandoned, STV was adopted for use in local elections in Sligo in that year, as well to elect the two Members of Parliament returned by the University of Dublin constituency; STV was extended to all Irish local elections later. STV was then used in the Irish general elections of 1921, and subsequently adopted for all elections by the Irish Free State in 1922. Part of the reason for this was to ensure that the new state's Protestant minority received adequate representation in the legislature.

Initially 46% of Dáil members were elected from constituencies of seven, eight or nine seats, until 1935 when seven seats became the largest size. Since 1947 Dáil constituencies have been no larger than five seats. The First Seanad, the senate that existed during the Free State, was originally intended to be directly elected in a popular vote. However this plan was abandoned within a few years so that only one direct senatorial election was ever held. This occurred in 17 September 1925 when, in an event without historical or international parallel, the whole state voted as a single nineteen seat constituency. In the election the ballot paper listed of over seventy candidates, and the count took approximately two weeks to complete. The ultimate results, contrary to the results that might have occurred under a List PR system, strongly favoured non-party candidates.

Two attempts have been made by Fianna Fáil governments to abolish STV and replace it with the 'First Past the Post' plurality system. Both attempts were rejected by voters in referendums held in 1959 and again in 1968. In the past, gerrymandering was also attempted by several governments, in particular by varying the sizes (that is, the number of seats) of particular constituencies. This attempt backfired, however, in the 1977 general election when a larger than expected vote-swing caused a tipping effect resulting in disproportionate losses for the government. This botched attempt at Gerrymandering became known as the "Tullymander" after minister James Tully. Today constituencies are drawn up by an independent commission. Contrary to the common experience with proportional representation, single party (Fianna Fáil) governments were common in the Republic after the maximum constituency size was cut to five seats, holding power in 23 of the 33 years from 1948 to 1981. However since the 1981 general election coalitions have been the rule.


Australia uses two forms of STV, usually referred to within Australia as the "Hare-Clark System" and "Proportional Representation". Both systems require voters to rank several, or all, of the candidates on the ballot, reducing or eliminating the possibility of exhausted votes.

The "Hare-Clark System" is used in Tasmania's House of Assembly and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Legislative Assembly. This is essentially the system described above using the Droop quota (not the Hare quota), but candidates' placements, within the column for each party, are randomised by Robson Rotation rather than alphabetical. Casual vacancies are filled by countback.

"STV" or "proportional voting" is the system used in the Australian Senate and the Legislative Councils of New South Wales, Victoria (from 2006), Western Australia and South Australia. This system is counted in the same way as in Hare-Clark, but group voting tickets are used. Casual vacancies are usually chosen by a parliament, though they may be required by law or convention to select a nominee of the out-going member’s party.

Each form has its pros and cons. The Hare-Clark system with Robson Rotation is advocated on the grounds that the effect of 'donkey voting' is reduced because of the randomised ordering, and the absence of the group voting tickets creates more personal accountability. The alternative system is advocated on the grounds that informal voting (spoiled ballots) is reduced because only one number need be written; on the other hand, it greatly increases the potential for tactics by parties as they have direct control of a large percentage of the vote. In the Australian Senate elections, nearly 95% of voters use the group voting tickets instead of ranking their own preferences. As a result, the informal rate reduced from around 10 percent, to around three percent.

"See also: Australian electoral system, Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories."


British Columbia

In Canada, the province of British Columbia has experimented with alternate forms of balloting and has recently considered reforming its first-past-the-post system. Throughout the 1940s, the province had been governed by a coalition of the Conservative and Liberal parties. Neither party had sufficient electoral support to form government alone, and the coalition allowed these parties to keep the left-of-centre Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) out of power.

By the 1950s, the coalition had begun to fall apart, resulting in the Conservatives and Liberals having to run for office separately under their own party banners. However, in order to ensure that the CCF was prevented from taking power, one of the last acts of the coalition government was to introduce an alternative voting system (known today in the USA as instant-runoff voting), which was implemented for the 1952 general election.

Rather than voting for one candidate by marking an “x” on their ballots, electors would rank their choices for the candidates running in their constituency by placing numbers next to the names of the candidates on the ballot. If a candidate received a majority of votes cast, that candidate would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least number of votes was dropped and the second choices were allocated among the remaining candidates. This procedure would be repeated until a candidate received a majority of votes.

The unexpected result of using this voting method was the election of enough candidates of a new party, Social Credit (also known as “SoCreds”). This resulted in the SoCreds forming a minority government, with the CCF forming the official opposition. The Liberals were reduced to four members in the Legislature. The Conservatives (who changed their name to “Progressive Conservative” in tandem with their federal counterparts) were reduced to three.

The SoCred minority government lasted only nine months. The alternate voting system was again employed for the resulting general election. The result was a SoCred majority. During this term of office, the SoCreds abolished the new voting system and returned the province to the traditional voting system.talk sect|Why has it been discarded?|(Why?)

Electoral reform became an issue again in the 1990s, particularly after the NDP was re-elected in the 1996 election. While the NDP won a majority of seats, the opposition Liberals had won a larger share of the popular vote. After the Liberals won the 2001 election, they created the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform surprised many when it proposed an STV electoral model called BC-STV and recommended it to the electorate.Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. [http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public/news/2004/10/dmaclachlan-3_0410241345-701 "News release: Assembly's recommendation to B.C."] British Columbia, 24 October, 2004.] In the ensuing electoral reform referendum held on May 17, 2005, BC-STV achieved 57.7% Yes support. This did not give it the 60% province-wide support set by the government for the referendum outcome to be automatically binding, though the simple majorities in 77 ridings (of 79) far exceeded the 48 ridings that was also a requirement. Due to the evident support for electoral reform, the re-elected BC Liberal government announced in the Throne Speech on September 12 that the public of British Columbia would get a second referendum on STV in November 2008. This was later rescheduled: the second referendum on electoral reform will be held in conjunction with the May 12, 2009 provincial general election. In the interim, the Electoral Boundaries Commission has designed new boundaries for both FPTP and STV. Both supporting and opposing sides of the referendum campaign will receive government funding to help educate the public in time for the referendum.Bains, Camille. [http://www.canada.com/vancouver/bcvotes/story.html?id=f97e855b-598b-4d98-9aa9-c89d60adf242 "STV supporters press for electoral reform despite referendum defeat"] . "Canadian Press", May 18, 2005]

Other provinces

*Alberta: STV was used in the Calgary and Edmonton and Medicine Hat ridings of the province of Alberta from 1926 to 1955. All other electoral districts used instant-runoff voting. In 1955 all districts were changed to First Past the Post.
*Manitoba: Provincial elections in Manitoba were conducted partly by STV from the 1920s until 1958: the city of Winnipeg elected ten members in this manner. All other constituencies elected one member by instant-runoff voting. Civic elections in Winnipeg were also conducted by STV.


Under a bill before the Parliament of Canada, STV would be used for consultative elections of Senators. [http://www.parl.gc.ca/legisinfo/index.asp?Language=E&query=4899&Session=14&List=toc]


STV is not used for direct elections in India, but is used for the indirect election of most members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the federal parliament. The Rajya Sabha consists of 250 members: twelve are nominated by the President of India while the remainder are elected using STV by members of the legislatures of the states and the union territories. The number of members of the Rajya Sabha elected by each state and union territory is loosely proportionate to its population, such that, as of 2006, Bihar, with a population of 82 millions, is represented by 22 members, while Sikkim, with a population of 540,000 is represented by just one member.


STV applies for all elections in Malta. However, top-up seats (similar to the additional member system) may be added in the national parliament to ensure that a party with a majority of first-preference votes wins a majority of seats. This was a response to the controversial election in 1981 when the Nationalist Party won 51% of the first-preference vote but the Labour Party won a majority of the seats.Maltadata.com. [http://www.maltadata.com "Elections in Malta: The Single-Transferable-Vote System in Action, 1921 - 2004"] . Accessed Aug 11, 2005.] Some subsequently accused Labour of having gerrymandered the 5-seat constituencies: 8 had narrowly split 3:2 in its favour, while 5 had more widely split 3:2 in favour of the Nationalists. The top-up rule was also invoked in 1987 for the benefit of the Nationalists and in 1996 for the benefit of the Labour Party.

The Maltese electorate largely does not take advantage of the cross-party voting opportunities provided by STV. Almost all voters give preferences to all the candidates from one of the two major parties, but do not give preferences to candidates from the other party. Third parties, meanwhile, get minimal support. The effect of this voting pattern is similar to a tight two-party open list PR system simultaneously using STV within each party to decide its representatives whilst using the indicated first preference candidate's party as the voter's preferred party. Because of the transfer behaviour of the voters, each party can stand many more candidates than there are winners in total without being adversely affected. Strangely, some candidates stand and are elected in more than one constituency, leading to vacancies filled by countback.

New Zealand

In New Zealand STV is used in elections to small number of local authorities and in all elections for District Health Boards. The count is conducted using Meek's method. District Health Boards consist of a mixture of appointed and elected members. The vast majority of local authorities use plurality at large (bloc voting) instead of STV. Current use of STV was introduced by the Local Electoral Act 2001 and began with elections to local councils and District Health Boards in October 2004New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (2004). " [http://www.stv.govt.nz STV - It's simple to vote] ". Accessed Aug 11, 2005.]

During the twentieth century STV was used for elections to the Christchurch City Council in 1917, 1929, 1931 and 1933, and for Woolston Borough Council in 1917 and 1919. In business, Fonterra used STV for their Board of Directors and Shareholders' Council elections in 2002. The Local Electoral Act 2001 provided that STV was mandatory for District Health Board elections but offered local councils the choice of either staying with plurality at large or changing to STV. It also provided for a binding poll of voters in an area to be held to determine the which system would be used, either at the initiative of the council or by a citizen's initiative instigated by voters in an area. [http://www.localcouncils.govt.nz/LGIP.nsf/wpg_URL/About-Local-Government-Local-Government-Legislation-Local-Electoral-Act-2001?OpenDocument Guide to Local Electoral Act 2001] from [http://www.localcouncils.govt.nz LocalCouncils.govt.nz] ] In practice very few local authorities adopted STV under the Act's provisions, and in those that did the use of STV was plagued by poor explanations of the STV process, which often gave little more information than an algorithmic description of how to place a vote. This left the unfortunate impression among voters that STV was little more than a gratuitously complex equivalent to existing voting mechanisms. Nonetheless New Zealand made history by becoming the first country in the world to use the advanced Meek's method of STV.

In the 2004 elections 81 STV elections occurred, but two were not contested. Confusion was caused by the fact that some local elections included ballots for multiple local government bodies, some of which were conducted by single-winner plurality ('first past the post'), some by plurality at large, and some by STV. An example of the confusion among voters was one result from the 2007 elections, in which the first place went to blank or incomplete voting forms and the fourth place went to incorrectly filled-out forms. The actual candidates came in at places two and three Donnell, Hayden "Voters too tired to vote for health board", "Rodney Times", 30 October 2007] . Due to low voter turnout, the high number of spoilt votes and the long time taken for results to be declared, the Justice and Electoral Committee of the New Zealand Parliament has undertaken an inquiry into the use of STV in New Zealand.

United Kingdom

STV is not used for elections to the UK Parliament at Westminster but is used for all Assembly, European and local government elections in Northern Ireland, and for local elections in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, Assembly elections involve six-seat constituencies, while local elections currently use constituencies of between five and seven seats. For European elections Northern Ireland serves as a single three-seat constituency. Local elections in Scotland use constituencies of three or four seats. All official STV elections in the UK use the Gregory method of counting votes.

STV is also used by many private organisations. For example, it is used in many British university students' unions (and promoted by the National Union of Students as the fairest way of running elections), for all elections within the University of CambridgeCambridge University. [http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2003-04/weekly/5972/24.html "Review of arrangements for voting in University elections ... Report"] ] and for electing board members in The Co-operative Group.

As noted above, because it was invented by the Englishman Thomas Hare and has been used in many parts of the former British Empire, STV has in the past been referred to as "British proportional representation". Nonetheless it has never been used by more than a handful of constituencies in the British Parliament. In 1917, the Speaker's Conference in the United Kingdom advocated the adoption of STV for 211Dubious|date=March 2008 of the 569 constituencies in the UK, and instant-runoff voting for the rest. Although the House of Commons voted in favour of the proposals five times, the House of Lords continually rejected it until the nationwide effort was ultimately abandoned in parliament.cite book |url=http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm40/4090/volume-2/grps05.PDF |format=PDF |size=7 MB
title=Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System: Volume 2. Submissions from representative / campaigning groups
chapter=Electoral Reform Society: Working Paper Number One: A Brief History of Electoral Reform in the United Kingdom
pages=pg.2 |month=1998 |date=March |author=Electoral Reform Society |accessdate=2007-09-27
] [cite web |url=http://www.virginia.edu/politics/grad_program/print/NBarzachka.pdf |format=PDF |first=Nina |last=Barzachka
title= Explaining Electoral System Change: The Adoption of Proportional Representation in Belgium and Its Rejection in Great Britain
year=2003 |accessdate=2007-09-27 |publisher=University of Virginia |pages=pp.28–31
] Nonetheless in 1918 STV was adopted for the university constituencies of Cambridge, Oxford, Combined English Universities, Combined Scottish Universities and Dublin University; these constituencies continued to use STV until their abolition in 1950. STV was also introduced for local elections in the Irish county of Sligo in 1918, and extended to all Irish local government shortly afterwards.

In 1921 the UK government attempted to establish two home rule parliaments in Ireland–the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Parliament of Northern Ireland–with the Irish general elections of 1921, both of which were conducted using STV. The intention of using STV in Ireland was partly to ensure adequate representation for the Catholic minority in the North and the Protestant minority in the South. Southern Ireland seceded from the UK in 1921 but today, as the Republic of Ireland, continues to use STV for all of its elections. The Northern Ireland Parliament continued to use STV until the late 1920s when it switched to the first past the post plurality system. However STV was reintroduced there after the imposition of direct rule in 1973, and is now in use for all elections except those to Westminster.CAIN [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/election/electoralsystem.htm "Introduction to the Electoral System in Northern Ireland"] Accessed Sep 15, 2005.]

In Scotland, following the passage of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act on 23 June, 2004, all local governments have used STV to elect their councillors since 2007.Scottish Parliament (2004). [http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/bills/billsnotInProgress-s2/14LocalGovernance.htm "Local Governance (Scotland) Bill."] ] In Wales, the Richard Commission recommended in March 2004 changing the electoral system for the National Assembly for Wales to the Single Transferable Vote. However, in the white paper "Better Governance for Wales" published on 15 June, 2005, the UK Government, without giving reasons, rejected Richard's recommendation to change the electoral system.

United States

STV enjoyed some popularity in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. Twenty-two American cities have used STV for local elections, including Cincinnati, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio and Sacramento, California. New York City adopted STV in 1936 as a method for breaking the corrupt political machine of Tammany Hall dominating the city and used it for five elections in 1937 to 1945. Reform opponents regularly challenged STV after its successes. Only two of the first 24 repeal efforts in cities around the nation were successful, but after World War II, harsh campaigns against STV were successfully carried out after African-Americans and political minorities such as Communists and urban Republicans began winning seats, even though they only constituted a minority group in government. After STV's removal and subsequent reversion to FPTP in New York in 1947, the Democratic Party immediately regained near unanimous control of municipal elections with Tammany Hall quickly returning to political dominance until its ultimate downfall in the mid 1960s.Prosterman, Dan. [http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/history/public_history/PR/ STV in New York] . Accessed Aug 11, 2005.]

As of 2006, the only official governing bodies that use STV to elect representatives are the City Council and School Committee of Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, Minneapolis, Minnesota voted in 2006 to adopt STV for certain city elections starting in 2009, while Davis, California passed an advisory referendum to use STV for future city council elections. The community school boards of the City of New York used STV until the school boards themselves were abolished in 2002. The city of San Francisco in 1996 considered multimember STV in a referendum; this effort failed, with the city instead voting for district elections and, in 2002, adopting instant runoff voting. Cincinnati also narrowly failed to restore STV for city council elections in citizen initiatives in 1988 and 1991.

Single Transferable Voting has become increasingly used at American universities for student elections. As of 2005, the schools of Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Vassar, Reed, and Whitman all use STV, and several other universities are considering its adoption.

"See also: List of US cities that have used STV"


Many non-governmental organisations also use STV. Most Australian political parties, unions and peak business organisations use STV. All National Union of Students of the United Kingdom, Cambridge Union, and Oxford Union elections and those of their constituent members are under the system. It is used as well by ESIB – The National Unions of Students in Europe. It is used in several political parties for internal elections such as the British Liberal-Democrats and all the British Green Parties. It is also used to elect members of the General Synod of the Church of England. The UK Royal Statistical Society [http://www.rss.org.uk/main.asp?page=1107 Royal Statistical Society: Election Method for Council] ] uses STV with the Meek method to elect their council. Some Unitarian Church groups have used Single Transferable Vote to select projects for funding. The US-Based Pacifica Radio Network uses STV to elect its station governing boards.

The Object Management Group (OMG) uses STV for their Architecture Board (AB) elections.

The selection of nominees for Academy Awards is via an STV-like ballot of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Differences from STV are that voters may only rank five candidates, and that at least one first preference is required for a candidate to be successful. Selection of a winner from among the five nominees is done using plurality voting.]


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