Glossary of Electoral Terms

This glossary is designed for the use journalists, researchers, students and others who require information about the meaning of electoral terms. There are currently more than fifty entries and the glossary and more terms are still being added. If you require any further information on the subject of elections please contact us.

This glossary was last updated on 8 March 2009.


Alphabetical Index
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Geographical Index


A

Abstain

To abstain is to have no impact on the result of an election or vote. One way to abstain from an election is not to vote at all, another way to abstain is to deliberately spoil the ballot paper. In some elections there is an option on the ballot paper for voters who wish to cast an active vote of abstention.

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Accumulation voting

Accumulation voting is an alternative name for the Cumulative voting system used for multiple position elections.

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Additional member system

The Additional member system (AMS) is a voting system based on first past the post. Each voter casts one vote for a constituency candidate. The candidates who receive more votes than anyone else in their constituency are elected. Some additional candidates are also elected to make the system more proportional.

AMS is used to elect:

  • Member of the Scottish Parliament
  • Members of the Welsh Assembly
  • Members of the Greater London Assembly

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Alternative vote

Alternative vote (AV) is a voting system used to fill a single vacancy, where each voter lists the candidates in order of preference. At the first stage of the count the votes are sorted according to first preferences. If a candidate receives more than half of the votes cast he or she is deemed to be elected, otherwise the count continues to stage 2.

In stage 2 of the count the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and the votes of that candidate are transfered to their second preference (if any). If there is a candidate with more than half of total remaining votes that candidate is elected otherwise the count proceeds to stage 3. Stage 3 and later stages work in exactly the same way as stage 2, except that in some cases a vote cannot be transfered to a second preference as the second preference candidate has been excluded, the vote is instead transferred to the next available preference.

When voting under AV it is important to remember that a later preference will never count against an earlier preference.

AV is used to elect the President of the Republic of Ireland, in the UK AV is used to elect the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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Alternative vote plus

Alternative vote plus (AV+) is a voting system in which each constituency elects one representative using Alternative vote and extra representatives are elected to provide proportional representation.

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AMS

AMS is
the abbreviation
for Additional member system.

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Approval voting

Approval voting is a voting system in which each voter considers each candidate in turn and decides whether or not they approve of that candidate. The candidate with the most approvals (or votes) is the winner. Under approval voting a person who votes for one or two candidates is likely to have less of an impact on the election than someone who approves of about half of the candidates who are standing. A voter who votes for almost all the candidates in the election also likely to have less impact on the election than someone who votes for around half the candidates who are standing.

Approval voting is used to elect officers of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America.

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AV

AV is the abbreviation for Alternative vote.

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AV+

AV+ is the abbreviation for Alternative vote plus.

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Average voting

Average voting is another name for Range voting.

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B

Borda count is a voting system in which each voter lists the candidates in order of preference. Each candidate receives a certain number of points according to where they are on the list. The system is named after Jean-Charles de Borda who devised the system in 1781, although it is claimed he was proceeded by Nicholas of Cusa.

For example in an election with three candidates, the voter’s first choice candidate receives three points, the second choice candidate receives two points and the the voter’s third choice receives just one point.

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Britain

Britain is short for Great Britain the a geographical area consisting of England, Scotland and Wales. Great Britain and Northern Ireland together make up the United Kingdom.

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British Isles

The term ‘British Isles’ refers to a geographical are consisting of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Compare with Great Britain.

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C

Cardinal voting

Cardinal voting is another name for Range voting.

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Casual vacancy

A Casual vacancy is a vacancy which arises part way through a term of office. Casual vacancies can be caused by representatives resigning, dying or being removed from office by a vote of no confidence.

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Cumulative voting

Cumulative voting is a multiple-winner voting system in which each voter has a number of points which they can allocate amongst the candidates. The voter may give each candidate as many or as few points as (s)he wants, provided the voter does not exceed the total. The system sometimes described as Semi-proportional because an organised minority group(which exceeds a certain minimum size) can guarantee itself at least one representative regardless of the choices made by voters outside the group.

Cumulative voting is used by many large US companies since this is a legal requirement in many US states.

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D

D’Hondt method

The D’Hondt method is a voting system in which each voter selects one party to vote for and the seats are awarded on a proportional basis, as described below. The first seat is awarded to the party with the most votes. The second and subsequent seats are awarded to the party for which the following fraction is highest:

Number of votes / one more than the number of seats awarded to the party so far (the D’Hondt formula)

This process continues until all the seats have been filled.

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E

Electoral Reform Society

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) is an
organisation with around 2,000 members that campaigns for the use of single transferable vote in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The ERS is part of Make Votes Count.

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England

England is the only country in the United Kingdom United Kingdom not to have its own national parliament or assembly. The English are represented in the UK Parliament by MPs who are elected using first past the post. Most local authorities in England are elected using first past the post or multi-member first past the post. Members of the European Parliament are elected on a regional basis throughout England, using the D’Hondt method.
A number of English cities including London have directly elect their own Mayors using supplementary vote. The London Assembly is elected using the additional member system.

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ERS

ERS is the abbreviation for Electoral Reform Society.

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ERS97

ERS97 is a code which represents the Electoral Reform Society’s 1997 rules for conducting an election using single transferable vote.

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F

First past the post (FPP or FPTP)

First past the post is a voting system in which each voter chooses (votes for) a single candidate and the candidate with the most votes is deemed elected.

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FPP

FPP and FPTP are
abbreviations for first past the post.

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FPTP

FPTP and FPP are abbreviations for first past the post.

Franchise

The Franchise is the right to vote.

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G

GB

GB is the abbreviation for the geographical area; Great Britain. Great Britain and Northern Ireland together make up the United Kingdom.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing up constuency boundaries so as give one political party an unfair advantage in future elections. The first part of the work comes from the US Governor Elbridge Gerry who was accused of carrying out this practice, while the second part of the name comes from fact that a redrawn
constituency will often appear to be shaped like salamander.
Gerrymandering can be very effective under the first past the post system, however it is far less effective under proportional voting systems such as Single transferable vote and the Additional member system .

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Great Britain

Great Britain (GB) is the a geographical area consisting of England , Scotland and Wales . Great Britain and Northern Ireland together make up the United Kingdom.
See also British Isles .

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H

House of Lords

Members of the House of Lords are not elected by the British people,
most Lords are appointed but there are still a small number of hereditry life piers who have inherited their place in the Lords. When a vacancy arises as a result of the death of a hereditry life pier their place is usually
filled by an election using the method of alternative vote in which only piers from
the same party are permitted to vote.

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Hung Parliament

A Hung parliament is a parliament in which no single
political fils the majority of the seats in the parliament.

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I

Inquorate

Inquorate is the adjective which describes a meeting or democratic
process for which the quorum is not met.
Inquorate is the opposite of Quorate .

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Instant runoff voting

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is another name for
the alternative vote electoral system.

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Ireland

For Ireland see Republic of Ireland or
Northern Ireland.

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IRV

IRV is the abbreviation for
Instant runoff voting, which is another name for
the Alternative vote electoral system.

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J

Jenkins report

The Jenkins report was a report into the voting system
for UK General Elections published in October 1998. The Commission was asked to observe four key criteria when
evaluating voting systems:

  • The requirement for broad proportionality
  • The need for stable government
  • The extension of voter choice
  • The maintanence of a link between MPs and geographical areas

There are a number of voting systems which can reasonably be
said to meet these conditions, including:

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K

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L

London

London is the capital
city of England and of the United Kingdom.
London was one of the first cities in England to have a directly elected Mayor. The Mayor is elected using Supplementary vote and
held to account by the Greater London Assembly. The members of the
Assembly are elected
using the Additional member system .
A party cannot win a list seat unless
at least one of the following occurs:

  1. The party wins 5% or more of the total vote
  2. The party wins one or more constituency seats

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M

Make Votes Count

Make Votes Count (MVC) is a coalition of organisations campaigning
for electoral reform in the United Kingdom. MVC also has a number of active local branches around the UK such as
Make Votes Count in West Sussex

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Make Votes Count in West Sussex

Make Votes Count (MVC) in West Sussex is
a local group campaigning for electoral reform in West Sussex.

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N

NFP

NFP is an abbreviation for the ballot option
no futher preferences.

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No further preferences

No further preferences (NFP) is a ballot option offered in some elections where voters are encourage to list candidates in order of preference. Voters are told to list NFP when they are indifferent between the remaining candidates (or options). Listing NFP has the same effect as simply not listing any other candidates (or options). Listing NFP is not
the same as listing re-open nominations.

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Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a country in the North of the United Kingdom which borders the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland uses the method of Single transferable vote for its local and European Elections. STV is also used to elect Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly which is currently suspended. Northern Ireland in common with the rest of the UK, uses first past the post to elect Members of the UK Parliament.

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O

Ordinary vote

‘Ordinary vote’ is a name used to described a first preference vote in a supplementary vote election.

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P

Proportional Representation

Proxy voting is the process where a voter appoints another person (the proxy) who votes on their behalf, usually because the voter is expected to absent when polling is open.

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Q

Quorate

Quorate is the adjective which describes a meeting or democratic process for which the quorum is met. Quorate is the opposite of Inquorate .

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R

Range voting

Range Voting is a voting system where voters rank each candidate separately on a given scale (e.g on a scale of one to ten) and these rankings are used to determine the result. Usually the candidate with the highest (mean) average score is the winner.

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Re-open nominations

Re-open nominations (RON) is a ballot option used in many students’ unions
in the United Kingdom, usually in alternative vote or
single transferable vote elections. Listing RON as a first preference is not the same as abstaining. When a voter lists RON they are casting an active vote against all the candidates they have not yet listed. Compare with no further preferences.

In a first past the post election (for one vacancy) with RON, the candidate with the most votes wins unless RON has more votes in which case the position is declared vacant and nominations must later be re-opened.

In an alternative vote election with re-open nominations voters list RON after those candidates the voter feels are suitable for the position and before the candidates which the voter believes to be unsuitable for the position. For the purposes of the count RON is treated as though it is a candidate, if RON is elected then the position is declared vacant and
nominations must later be re-opened for that position.

In an STV election there two common ways of dealing with the re-open nomiminations option:

  1. RON is treated as an ordinary candidate, however if at any point RON is deemed elected all candidates that have not yet been deemed elected are excluded from the count and the count ends. Any positions which have not been filled at the end of the count are declared vacant and nominations must later be re-opened for these positions. This option can drastically reduce the proportionality of the election as a majority of voters can prevent any other voters from being represented.
  2. RON (also called RON(1) is treated as an ordinary candidate if however RON(1) is at any point deemed elected a
    second RON candidate called RON(2) is introduced, RON(2) will receive the surplus transfer from RON(1) if such a transfer is made and any transfers which RON(1) would have received were it still a continuing candidate. In the event that RON(2) is elected RON(3) is introduced will receive the surplus transfer from RON(2) if such a transfer is made and any transfers which RON(2) would have received were it still a continuing candidate, and so on. At the end of the count the positions to which the RON candidates were deemed elected are declared vacant and nominations must later be re-opened for these positions. Where an election is conducted using this method much of the proportionality of the election is preserved.

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Republic of Ireland (ROI)

The Republic of Ireland is a country in the West of Europe with strong historic links to the United Kingdom. Ireland elects its president using alternative vote and makes widespread use of single transferable vote in its local, national and European elections.

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ROI

ROI is an abbreviation for the
Republic of Ireland

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RON

RON is an abbreviation for the
Re-open nominations

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S

Scotland

Scotland is a country in the North of the United Kingdom with its own own national parliament which is elected using the additional member system. Scotland elects its MPs and councillors using first past the post, but from 2007 Scotland will conduct its local elections using the single transferable vote.

The D’Hondt method is used to elect the Scottish delegation in the European Parliament.

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Semi-proportional

Semi-proportional is an adjective used to describe a system which does not provide
proportional representation but has some of the properties common to those voting systems which do.

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Single Transferable Vote (STV)

Single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system in which each voter lists the candidates in order of preference. A candidate needs a certain number of votes in order to be elected. Candidates with very few votes are usually excluded and their votes are transferred according the second and subsequent preferences of those who voted for them. If a candidate is elected with more than the required number of votes a proportion of the votes they have received will usually be transferred after considering the preference order of the voters. The proportion of non-effective or ‘wasted votes’ is almost always lower under STV than under first past the post. STV treats supporters independent candidates and political party candidates in exactly the same way, unlike most other proportional voting systems.

STV is used for local and European elections in Northern Ireland and also to
elect the Northern Ireland Assembly (currently suspended). From 2007 STV will be used for all local elections in Scotland.

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STV

STV is an abbreviation for single transferable vote.

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Suffrage

Suffrage is the right to vote.

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Super vote

Super vote is another name for the single transferable vote voting system.

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Supplementary vote

Supplementary vote (SV) is a voting system used for single vacancy elections in which each voter indicates a first preference candidate(ordinary vote) and second preference (supplementary vote) candidate. At the first stage of the count the first preference candidate (ordinary vote) are counted if a candidate has more than half of the vote the that candidate is elected. If no candidate has a majority all but the top two candidates are excluded (except in the case of a tie where more candidates may be retained). In the second stage the votes cast for excluded candidates are transferred to their second preference unless they have already been excluded. The system is used to elect the Mayor of Mayor of London and several other directly mayors throughout England.

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SV

SV is the abbreviation for the Supplementary vote electoral system.

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T

Turnout

The Turnout is the number or proportion of people voting in an election or referendum.

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U

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK) is a nation in the West of Europe which
consists of England , Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Members of House of Commons (the lower house of the UK parlament) are elected using first past the post. Members of the House of Lords are not elected by the British people, most Lords are appointed but there are still a small number of hereditary life piers who have inherited their place in the Lords. The UK’s European Elections are carried out using the D’Hondt method except in Northern Ireland where single transferable vote is used. STV is also used to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly (currently suspended) while the Additional Member System is used to elect the Scotish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly.

Supplementary vote is used to elect the Mayor of London and all other directly
elected Mayors in England, other parts of the UK do not have directly elected Mayors. Local elections are conducted
using first past the post or block voting throughout England, Scotland and Wales, from 2007 however, Scotland will join Northern Ireland in using single transferable vote for local elections.

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V

Vote

A Vote (1) is a formal choice which a person or organisation makes in a democratic process such as an election or referendum.

A Vote (2) to cast a vote (1)

A Vote (3) the right to vote (2).
For example “Women fought hard to win the vote.

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W

Wales

Wales is a country in the East of the United Kingdom.
Wales has its own national assembly which is elected using the additional member system. Wales elects its MPs and councillors using first past the post. The D’Hondt method is used to elect the Welsh delegation in the European Parliament.

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X

X

‘X’ is the mark which voters are often asked to place next to the candidate or party they wish to vote for. See also: X-voting.

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X-voting

X-voting is another name for the First past the post voting system. The name comes from the fact that voters are often asked to place an ‘X‘ next to the candidate they wish to vote for in this system.

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