different electoral systems


Different Electoral Systems

In this document I aim to explain the mechanics of the various electoral systems in operation in the UK. Some further information will be provided later on the actual consequences of the different systems and on the general case for and against the current UK parliamentary election system.

Click here for a recent [2016] article from Democratic Audit on the Westminster FPTP system. Surely a must read!!

Click here for a useful slide share presentation from Aquinas Politics

 Click here for the LSE simple guide to voting systems

 Click here for a neat graphic explanation of the mechanics of FPTP, AV, AV+  and STV from the Guardian.

 Click here for detailed BBC coverage of the AV Referendum

  Click here  for brief explanations of alternative electoral systems from the Electoral Commission

 Click here for BBC on alternative Electoral systems

 Click here for the Electoral Reform Society web site containing many useful items.

 Click here for a review of UK voting systems since 1997 [UK Ministry of Justice published 2008]

 Click here for list of articles on electoral reform from the Conversation [5-6 articles refer to the UK]

Information on the May 2012, May 2013 , May 2014 and May 2016 local elections in England, the elections to the European  Parliament ,the London Mayor Elections  and the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the  Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly  appears  later in  this document. e electoral systems

1 Broad Classification of Electoral Systems

UK General Election System

This system is often known as the First past the Post system and sometimes described [inaccurately] as a majoritarian system. However it is more accurately described as a plurality system in that candidates simply need to gain more votes than any other candidate to win. They do not need to gain a majority of votes cast to win.

Eg. Constituency X: Labour 35%, Conservative 33%, Liberal 32%: Labour candidate is elected although 65% of voters voted again her/him


The Alternative Vote System

This system is a majoritarian system in that candidates gaining 50%+1 of first preference votes are elected. If no candidate achieves 50%+1 of first preference votes the bottom candidate is eliminated and the second preferences of the voters whose first preferences were for the eliminated candidate are redistributed to the remaining candidates . The process continues until one candidate has 50%+ of first and second preferences combined. This system is not currently in operation in the UK.   If it had been used in the 1997 UK General Election it has been estimated that the result would have been les proportional than under FPTP.


The Alternative Vote + System

This system was recommended for UK parliamentary elections by the Jenkins Commission on Electoral Reform. It combines elements of the Alternative Vote system and the Additional Member system and would generate slightly greater proportionality than the First Past the Post System. It has not been adopted in the UK


The Supplementary Vote  System

This system is used for the election of the London Mayor

See second table below for more details. Note that it is similar but not identical to the AV system.


The Party List System

This system is used in Great Britain [i.e. in the UK excluding Northern Ireland] for elections to the European Parliament

This is a proportional system although as with all other proportional systems it does not generate pure proportionality between votes cast and seats won

The Single Transferable Vote System [STV]

This system is used in all Northern Ireland elections except elections to the Westminster Parliament. It is used also in Scottish Local Government Elections

This is a proportional system although as with all other proportional systems it does not generate pure proportionality between votes cast and seats won

The Additional Member System.

Variations of the Additional Member System are used in elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly

The AMS system combines elements of the first past the post system and the party list system. It generates considerably greater proportionality than would be achieved by the first past the post system alone.

  1. Further Details of Alternative Electoral Systems

[It may be that a couple of numerical examples will help you to understand the use of the d’Hondt formula {Party List and Additional Member Systems} and the Droop statistic { STV}]

UK Electoral System

Fuller discussion as a separate topic

Alternative Vote System

See above

Alternative Vote + System

See above

Supplementary Vote System: Election of London Mayor
  • All voters have a ballot paper with 2 preferences.
  • If a candidate wins 50% +1 of first preference votes s/he is elected.
  • If not the 2 candidates with the most votes remain in the contest and all other candidates are eliminated.
  • The second preference votes of the eliminated candidates which are for the remaining top two candidates are allocated to them.
  • The candidate with the highest number of votes is elected even if s/he does not have an overall majority of votes cast




Party List System: European Parliament


  • European voters have been able to elect MEPs since 1979 in 5 yearly elections. Prior to the 1999 EP elections British MEPs were elected via FPTP but a Closed Regional Party List system was introduced similar to those used in France, Germany , Spain, Portugal and Greece. Several other EU countries use Open Regional Party List systems and N. Ireland and the Irish Republic use STV.
  • Mainland Britain: in 1999 11 multimember constituencies [9in England, 1 each in Scotland and Wales] elected 87 MEPs. In 2004 because of the accession of 10 new member states Mainland Britain elected 78 MEPs.
  • Voters have a single vote to cast for a political party or an independent candidate.
  • Seats are divided among parties according to the proportion of votes they achieved in each region and allocated to candidates on the regional lists in the order in which they were ranked by the political parties themselves.
  • Technically speaking the seats in each region are distributed according to the so-called d’ Hondt formula =votes for party divided by number of seats already won +1
  • Problem one: excessive influence for party leaders
  • Problem two: large multi-member constituencies may weaken links between MEP and constituents

Use the following link and find page 11 for Election Results 2004

Click here for detailed BBC coverage of the 2009 UK European Election Results. There is also some information on the European –wide results

Click here and here for BBC coverage of the 2014 European Election results


Single Transferable Vote System : Northern Ireland Elections other than to Westminster
  • Country divided into multi-member constituencies with 3-5 members per constituency. Parties may put up as many candidates as there are seats.
  • Voters  may rank all parties appearing on the ballot paper in order of preferences although in practice many will not rank all candidates
  • Voters can choose within parties as well as between parties. For example an individual might rank anti-war candidates in two parties highly rather than ranking 4 candidates in one party highly.
  • Seats are allocated using the Droop quota system in which the number of votes necessary to secure election is the total number of votes cast divided by the number of seats in the constituency +1 +1 additional vote. For example in a 4 member constituency a candidate requires 20% of the vote +1 vote to secure election
  • If a candidate gains an appropriate share of first preference votes s/he will be automatically elected.
  • The second preference votes of this candidate are redistributed to other candidates and these second preference votes may enable another candidate to reach the quota in which case their second preference votes will be redistributed.
  • Alternatively the bottom candidate is eliminated completely and their second preference votes are redistributed. The process continues until all constituency members have been elected.
  • It is a time consuming process but can be aided by computer and it generates greater proportionality than FPTP which is seen as particularly important in the context of N. Ireland Politics.
  • Northern Ireland Elections: Click here for BBC  Coverage
  • Click here for BBC coverage of the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly results.



Additional Member System : Scotland


  • 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament
  • 73 [=57%] elected in single member constituencies using FPTP; the remaining 56 MSPs [=43%] are top up additional members drawn from party lists.
  • Each voter has two votes…1 for a constituency MSP and 1 for a party or independent candidate in a multi-member region.
  • The additional members are chosen by the d’Hondt formula and the overall effect is to increase proportionality and secure more representation of smaller parties than would occur under FPTP.
  • However total proportionality is reduced because there are fewer additional members than constituency members elected via FPTP.
  • Power of party leaders may still appear excessive.
  • Less of a problem with MSP constituency links because many MSPs are elected in single member constituencies

Click here for BBC coverage of the 2007 Scottish Parliament Election Results

Click here for BBC discussion of Scottish Electoral System and predictions of the 2011 election results

Click here for BBC coverage of the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election in which the SNP gained an overall majority.  Click here   for  Observer coverage of the implications of this result. See also further Observer links on Scotland , SNP and Alex Salmond

Click here for BBC coverage of 2016 Scottish Parliament in which the SNP won the largest number of seats but no overall majority

Additional Member System: Wales. Identical in principle to Scottish System  but numerically different


  • 60 Members of Welsh Assembly
  • 40 [66 2/3%] are chosen via FPTP in single member constituencies
  • 20[33 1/3%] are additional members selected from party lists to represent 5 multi-member constituencies
  • D’Hondt  system …and then as above

Use the following link and find pages 2-3 for Welsh Assembly  Election Results 2007

Click here for BBC coverage of the 2011 Welsh Assembly Results and here for some further coverage as Labour just fail to secure an overall majority

Click here for BBC coverage of the 2016 Welsh Assembly results


Additional Member System: Greater London Assembly: similar to SP and WA Elections
  • Greater London divided into 14 single member constituencies by merging 2 or 3 London boroughs as appropriate. Constituency members of the GLA are chosen by FPTP.
  • 11 additional GLA members are chosen from the party lists on basis of votes cast for the political parties across Greater London.
  • These Additional Member Seats are allocated via the d’Hondt  formula.

A party must reach a minimum of 5% of votes cast to secure any representation in the GLA…this reduces the likelihood that extremist candidates will secure election

Supplementary Vote System: London Mayor [see above]

Click here  and find pages 10 and 17 for summary points for the GLA and London Mayor elections of 2004

Click here for the results of the 2008 London Mayor Election and here for the 2008 London Assembly Election results.

Click here for BBC coverage of the results of the 2012 London Mayor Election  and the London Assembly Election

Click here for the result  of the 2016 London Mayor Election and here for the London Assembly results.

The May 3rd 2012 Local Election Results: Various Links.


Click here   [and scroll down a little] for BBC coverage of May 3rd Local Council elections in England , Scotland and Wales, London Mayoralty and London Assembly elections .

Click here for brief explanations from the Electoral Commission of alternative electoral systems used in the above elections.

Click here for Channel 4 coverage of Local Election results

Click here for overall Guardian coverage of Local Election results and here for a particularly useful article

Click here for Independent coverage of Local Election results

Click here for overall Daily Telegraph coverage of Local Election results and here for a particularly useful article

The May 2013 Local Election Results: Various Links

The BBC coverage of Local Elections 2013 May 3rd

Guardian coverage of Local Elections 2013

The May 2014 Local Election Results: Various Links

Click here for Local Council Election Results May 22nd 2014 [BBC]

Click here for Guardian coverage of Local Elections 2014

 Click here for trends in provisional national vote share based on May Local Elections [Political Betting] May 2014

Click here for BBC coverage of Local Elections 2016