STV For Dummies

Most Uni elections use the STV (Single Transferable Vote) voting system. It is considered to be superior to other election methods as it reduces wasted votes and eliminates the idea that candidates can be ‘sure winners’ or ‘sure losers’. Here’s how it works.

The voting ballot contains all the candidates running for the position, and you (the voter) are asked to write down the numbers corresponding to your preferences. Intuitively, number 1 is your first preference, number 2 your second and so on. You don’t have to rank all candidates on the ballot; you can leave some spaces blank if you don’t want to support all of them. This also means that you can just write down number 1 for your favourite candidate and leave all other fields empty, but this defeats the purpose of STV, as you will see shortly.

Using more than one number on a voting ballot can feel like you’re voting for more than one candidate. However, this is not the case with STV. As its name implies, this system ensures that every voter casts only one vote, but things get more complicated when the votes are counted.

The counting works in several stages, usually called rounds. In round 1 all first preferences of all voters are counted, and the candidates are sorted according to the number of votes they got in the first round. Then the candidates that have more votes than a specific number called quota (mathematically determined for each round) go to the second round. The candidates that didn’t meet quota are eliminated from the counting, and their votes ‘are redistributed’. This means that if your first preference was a candidate who got eliminated, your second preference candidate will now get your vote in round 2. This still means your vote counts as one, but since your first preference candidate got eliminated, your vote is transferred to your second preference. All other rounds work analogously, so you can see why votes are not ‘wasted’.

But remember, as a voter all you really need to know is that you can support more candidates in an election even though your vote counts as one. This is, I believe, very useful to have in mind when there are a lot of candidates running for the same position, as it is the case with the upcoming Rector Elections. Make sure to read through all the candidates’ manifestos and have a think about the order of your preferences. The most important part, however, is to use your democratic power and vote.

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