Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog




 In the year 2000, the flawed Electoral College system in America helped Bush to win presidential election against Gore despite losing popular vote.  In the year 2004,during Indian parliamentary election, the Congress party got 26% votes with 145 seats and a small party BSP got 5% votes with only 19 seats proving the fact that the Congress party got far more seats than voting percentage would suggest.  In the year 2005, during British parliamentary elections, the Labour party got 35.5 % votes with correspondingly far higher 55.2% seats in parliament. These figures are alarming and therefore I decided to post my comments to focus on this crucial issue.


I will discuss democracy/elections in the context of electing people’s representative to public office and not elections in school/college/corporate sector/sporting body etc.


Synonyms and Abbreviations:

Voter = elector

Political party = party

Legislative body (legislature)   = legislative assembly = parliament = upper/lower house (depending on nation/state)

MP = Member of Parliament; MLA = member of legislative assembly

EVM = electronic voting machine

Two round system (TRS) = second ballot = run off ballot

Plurality system = first past the post (FPTP) = winner takes all

Preferential vote = alternate vote (AV) = transferable vote = instant run off voting (IRV)

Proportional representation system (PRS) = quota preferential system

Score voting = range voting

SMC = single-member-constituency = single-member-electorate

MMC = multi-member-constituency = multi-member-electorate


Democracy derived from Greek language where demos mean people and kratos means power. Democracy means power to people whereby political government is carried out directly by people (direct democracy) or by elected representative of people (representative democracy). Referendum is an example of direct democracy where policy decision is taken by people directly as in Switzerland but the world has yet to see large working examples of direct democracy.

The essence of democracy is to ensure equality and freedom. Constitution in democracy supports and protects equality and freedom. Equality means equality before law, equality for power, equality of educational/employment opportunity etc and freedom means freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of press etc.

Branches of democracy like legislative branch, executive branch and judicial branch must maintain separation of power equally so that one branch does not become tyranny to destroy democracy. Also, adequate checks and balances must exist to maintain transparency, accountability and responsibility among democratic institutions. I do not consider media to be a part of democratic institutions.

The most essential process of democracy is the process of electing people’s representative who is empowered to rule to benefit people. The hallmark of democracy is majority rule but without responsible government, it is possible to oppress the dissenting individuals (minority) by tyranny of majority.


Criticisms of democracy:
1) Mob rule: Plato criticized democracy for mob-rule. According to him, dispensing equality to equals and unequals leads to disorder and he argued that the wisest man must lead the government. I do not totally disagree with Plato. One person one vote means each voter casts one vote and each person’s vote weighs same as any other vote. The electoral weight of every vote must also depend on voter’s integrity, knowledge and education. I find it very disturbing to know that my vote is same as a beggar’s vote or a rapist’s vote or an alcoholic’s vote.

2)  Mock democracy:  Many democracies including America have voting percentage less than 50% making it only mock democracy. Also, even though elections are conducted regularly, basics of democracy like freedom and equality are poorly developed in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

3)  Vote buying: I have seen in India how money and alcohol are distributed to allure voters to vote for a particular candidate. Also, caste/religion/language influences voting pattern in India. Also, government announces bad financial policies like scrapping of loans to farmers or selling kerosene subsidized to poor people; to allure them to vote for ruling party. Also, government takes undeserved credit for various things like good monsoon in India.

4)  Political instability:  People remember how government used be toppled repeatedly in various Indian states, Africa, Latin America and Italy. India is a classical example of post-poll alliances between parties who are ideologically poles apart and who fought against each other in election, and yet, they form alliance to grab power.

5)  It is wrong to assume that majority is always right.

6)  Crucial decisions are delayed and slow as it is difficult to get consensus on national issues.

7) Campaign finance is unresolved issue because private campaign finance leads to government policies in favour of individuals/corporations who financed election campaign of ruling party/winning candidate.

8)  People often vote for who they want rather than what they want.

9)  Politicians always try to get more votes no matter the merit of any issue.

10) Ideal political party does not exist that gives people what they want.


Election is defined as an act of electing candidates to hold public office by process of voting for any electoral constituency to endorse the will of people in a democracy.

Elections have 3 functions in a democracy.

1)  Electing people’s representative to the public office of president/prime minister/parliament/legislature.

2)  Choosing government.

3)  Conferring legitimacy on political system.


Electoral system means detailed constitutional arrangement and voting system that converts a vote into determining which individuals/political parties are elected to hold positions of power at national level or regional level. The electoral system must be fair, transparent and inclusive so that free and fair elections are conducted to depict true will of people. Regular elections help hold leaders and parties accountable for their performance and work as a link between the governed and the governor.


Factors which adversely affects free and fair elections:

1)  Un-informed electorate: This is due to lack of open public debate, lack of press freedom, free but corrupt press as in India, state propaganda, curtailed freedom of speech by state/media etc. America allows open public debate on TV between contenders for the post of president while Indian prime ministerial candidates are afraid of open public debate.

2)  Unfair rules:  Disqualifying opposition candidate, election manipulation, gerrimandering etc.

3)  Campaign interference:  Intimidation of voter/campaign worker/candidate, election violence, suppressing campaign speech/poster/broadcast etc.

4)  Tamper election mechanism:  Booth capture, bogus voting,  destroying voting secrecy, tampering with voting machine, fraudulent voting results, confuse a voter how to vote etc.


Let us assume that a country has overcome all the above mentioned factors in conducting a free and fair poll, yet, the election results do not reflect the will of people due to faulty electoral system in place. Different voting systems allow expression of different forms of vote casting and vote counting. In plurality voting, a voter casts vote for only one candidate but in preferential voting, a voter ranks various candidates in order of preference.


Election elects a legislative body at a national level or a regional level, consisting of multiple winners.  Multiple winning candidates can come from multiple single-member-constituencies (SMC) in a nation/region or from a single large multi-member-constituency (MMC).  For example, in Israel, entire parliament is elected using a single large MMC while in India/Britain/America/Canada, entire parliament is elected using multiple SMC and in Australia, lower house is elected using multiple SMC and upper house is elected using MMC.  Direct presidential election in America/France uses entire country as a single large SMC while their parliament uses multiple constituencies as multiple SMC.  ‘So a single winner election is always from SMC but multiple winner election could be either from multiple SMC or MMC’.


SMC means people of that electoral constituency vote to elect only one winning candidate (either head of state or member of legislative body) by FPTP system or majority system (vide infra).  The biggest drawback of SMC is that a candidate or party with 50.1 % votes can win the post of head of state or can win 100% seats in legislative body while a candidate or party with 49.9 % votes will not become head of state or may not get a single seat in legislative body with all their votes wasted. Also, SMC means gerrimandering is possible. Gerrimandering means deliberate adjusting the size and shape of electoral constituency to achieve desired outcome.


MMC means people of that electoral constituency vote to elect multiple members of legislative body simultaneously either by FPTP system or PRS (vide infra). MMC with PRS can overcome gerrimandering and gives proportional representation but at the cost of making representative remote from local interests as winning candidate may not have rapport/link with local population.


However, in a country like India with multiple SMC and FPTP system, a sitting MP, who could be a leader/minister over-nurture his constituency to strengthen rapport with local people to make his future re-election safe, often, at the cost of national interest. He/she may bring roads/railway/electricity to his/her constituency which otherwise would have gone to a more deserving constituency belonging to opposition party. This is especially true in developing countries where there is a resource crunch.


Also, in India, where out of 543 parliamentary seats in lower house, 120 seats are reserved for lower-caste Hindus from where upper-caste Hindu can not even contest election no matter the merit of a contesting candidate, making mockery of  the constitutional right of equality for power. Also, India is enacting a law to reserve 181 parliamentary seats exclusively for women where a man can not even contest an election.


In India, empowerment of women means a woman can fight election only against a woman and not against a man in these 181 reserved constituencies. In India, empowerment of socially backward people means they can fight election only against themselves and not against socially forward people in these 120 reserved constituencies. Cowardice is another name of reserving seats in legislative bodies in India.


So what is the best electoral system?   To answer this question, following questions need answers.

1)  Does voter have full choices of electing his/her representative?

2)  Whether voter has understood the electoral system?

3)  Does voter feels that his/her vote will be wasted?

4)  Does the chosen candidate/party reflect the will of people?

5)  Whether the electoral system chosen by a country suits the voting culture of its electorate?

6)  Should there be a compulsory and/or negative voting?

7)  Is it fair for a party to have majority in legislature despite having less than 50 % votes?

8)  Should percentage of votes of a party reflect in percentage of seats in parliament?

9)  It is ok to have a stable government without support of majority of people?

10)  Does a link between a voter and his/her representative a must for better governance or a voter may vote for a party irrespective of candidate?

11)   Does electoral system allow minority views to be heard in parliament?

12)  Does a complicated electoral system which will guarantee fair representation of people’s will in parliament be acceptable to people as it will be difficult to comprehend it?


All electoral experts say that till date, there is no best electoral system in the world but I am not disappointed.  211 countries use various electoral systems and also there are unused electoral systems.


Group 1) Plurality system (more votes than any other candidate) for SMC and MMC.

Group 2) Majority system (more than 50 % vote) for SMC

Group 3) Proportional representation system for MMC.

Group 4) Mixed system

Group 5) Approval system

Group 6) Score/range voting.

Group 7) Plus-minus voting.


Group 1) Plurality system or first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or winner takes all system.

It is used in America, Canada, Britain and India to elect lower houses by electing MP/MLA/representatives from multiple SMC as well as electing American president from single large SMC using Electoral College method. Its variations are used to elect candidates from MMC, also known as block voting, cumulative voting, single non-transferable vote etc.

In FPTP system, every voter registers a single vote for a candidate and the candidate who got most votes wins, no matter whatever may be the winning margin over runner-up and no matter winner having less than 50 % of all votes.  The parliament is formed with the leading party’s share of parliamentary seats and not share of popular vote. The focus is effective governance and not representing all minorities’ views. Even though unlikely, FPTP system becomes majority system when the winning candidate gets more than 50 % of votes.


Advantages of FPTP system:

1)  Easy to understand, speedy outcome, uncomplicated counting.

2)  Link between MP and voters established and voters can reject bad candidate even if party wants candidate to be elected.

3)  Preserves one person one vote principle.

4)  It gives more power to voters than party bosses.

Disadvantages of FPTP system:

1)  Winner takes all gives winner bonus phenomenon. In India, many candidates with 25 % votes get elected and majority view is unrepresented. Also, in a close race, a candidate with 49.9% votes can lose leaving 49.9 % voters unrepresented in government/legislature.

2)  Poor representation to substantial minority opinion in parliament. During British parliamentary election in year 2005, liberal democrats won 22 % votes but secured only 9 % seats in parliament.  In a country like India, religious minority’s poor representation in legislature/government may lead to religious extremism. Also, in a country like Sri Lanka, ethnic minority’s poor representation in legislature/government might have led to extremism.

3)  Waste votes are votes cast for losing candidate or for winning candidate in excess of number required for victory. FPTP system leads to excess waste votes which lead to gerrimandering and also poor voter turnout.

4)  Voter in order to avoid waste vote may be pressurized to vote for a compromise candidate or it may lead to tactical voting.

5)  It may elect government which does not have support of majority of electorate.

6)  Instead of issue based politics, it encourages voting pattern based on caste/religion/language.

7)  It promotes two party system.

8)  It encourages voter to vote against somebody rather than vote for somebody.

9)  A spoiler candidate may disturb election outcome overruling popular will by splitting votes. In American presidential election in the year 2000, Ralph Nader became spoiler candidate for Al Gore who lost to George W Bush.

10) It creates safe seat.

11)  It may give clean sweep results and electoral wipe out of opposition.

12)  Voter’s mind can be affected by media projection of leading contender.


Group 2) Majority system:

It requires the winning candidate to receive majority votes (more than 50 % of votes cast) to ensure election victory.  It can be used only in SMC. It is divided in two methods, two round system (TRS) and preferential vote.

TRS is also as second ballot or run-off ballot. The classical example is the election of French president. If during first FPTP ballot, no candidate receives majority votes, then, second ballot is held between the candidate who received most votes in the  first ballot with the runner-up in a ‘two candidate race’ and whoever wins with more than 50 % votes, wins the election.

Preferential vote: Also known as alternate vote (AV) or transferable vote or instant run-off vote (IRV)

The election of members of Australian lower house is a classical example. A voter is asked to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives more than 50 % votes in first preference, then, he/she is elected. But, if this does not happen as expected, then, the candidate with least first preference votes is eliminated and his/her votes are distributed to the remaining candidates as per the second preference. The process of removing candidates continues till winner gets majority votes.

Borda count and Condorcet methods are variations of preferential system used in SMC. In Borda count, every candidate gets certain points corresponding to the position in which he/she is ranked by a voter on a ballot paper and once all votes are counted, the candidate with maximum points wins. In Condorcet method, the winner Condorcet candidate must beat each of the other candidates in a run-off election. Borda count supports candidate who had broad consensus rather than majority and Condorcet method supports centrist-majority candidate but the method is very complex


Advantages of majority system:

1)  Easy to understand and speedy result.

2)  It prevents election of any candidate who lacks majority of electorate.

3)  Avoids election of any candidate on basis of small percentage of votes.

4)  Preferential voting is better than TRS as voter has to poll only once.

Disadvantages of majority system:

1)  TRS is expensive with lesser voter turnout and due to second ballot, voters may use first ballot as protest vote.

2)  Preferential system can elect least unfavoured rather than most popular candidate.

3)  Preferential system can be used only with ballot paper and not with current EVM.

4)  Majority system is also vulnerable to winner bonus phenomenon and vote waste.

5)  Results do not always reflect the will of people.

6)  It requires reasonable degree of literacy and numeracy to use preferential system effectively.


“Preferential voting is used only in SMC and its equivalent is PRS which is used only in MMC.”


Group 3) Proportional representation system (PRS):

 It is most prevalent system in various European and Latin American nations. It can be used only in MMC which could be a small MMC or large MMC district. PRS allocates seats to parties in legislature in proportion to the votes cast in election. The principle is that everyone has a right to fair representation in legislature. PRS is divided into Party List system and single transferable vote (STV).

Party List system can be closed/flexible/open depending on giving a voter an option to vote for party or party plus candidate.

STV system is used in Australian upper house where voters are required to rank candidates in order of preference just like preferential system. Candidates are elected once they get fixed quota of voting percentage.

Quota Formula for STV = ( v/(n+1)) + 1   where v is the number of votes caste and n is the number of candidates.


Advantages of PRS:

1)  Translates votes into seats accurately and also allows small party’s voice heard in parliament so that elected legislature is more representative than FPTP.

2)  Voter turnout is more 70 to 90% as voter has more choices.

3)  Two party system can become multiparty system.

4)  Election campaign is run on issues and money/muscle power as well as mud-slinging is reduced.

5)  More representation to women and minorities.

6)  Minimum cost of election.

7)  Bad electoral phenomena like winner’s bonus phenomenon, waste vote, gerrimandering and safe seat are reduced.

8)  One party dominance/tyranny is abolished.

Disadvantages of PRS:

1)  May promote coalition or unstable government.

2)  Excessive power in the hands of party bosses rather than candidates.

3)  Breakdown of link between a voter and MP in close-party-list PRS resulting in voter apathy as candidate chosen by party and not people.

4)  Small party may blackmail large party in government formation.

5)  May elect candidate from micro-party or extremist group.

6)   Compromise candidate may be eliminated first.

7)  Difficult for independent candidate to contest election.


Group 4) Mixed system:

It is a combination of FPTP, majority and proportional system to overcome disadvantages of these system. The election of German lower house (bundestag) is a classical example of mixed system.  Out of total parliamentary seats, 50 % are elected on the basis of multiple SMC by FPTP system and remaining 50 % seats elected from MMC by close-party-list PRS. Each voter votes twice, one vote for SMC by FPTP and another vote for MMC by PRS. It is also known as additional member system because extra-seat can be given to party under-represented in legislature.


Group 5) Approval voting:

 It is just like FPTP voting but instead of voting for a single candidate, a voter can vote for as many candidates as per his/her will without ranking them and casts no more than one vote for one candidate and all votes have equal weight and candidate with maximum votes wins. It is designed to elect most broadly acceptable candidate. It is used in UN to elect secretary general but not yet used in any country to elect legislature.


Advantages of approval voting:

1)   Winner candidate is most acceptable to people.

2)   Effects of negative campaign and spoiler candidate reduced.

3)   Voter turnout is more as voter has many choices.

4)  Simple and easily understandable method and can be used with EVM.

5)  It discourages 2 party system.

6)  No vote splitting.

Disadvantages of approval system:

1) The winner could be disliked by few and liked by few.

2)  The favourite candidate of majority may fail to get elected.

3)  It is dependent on voter tactics rather than voter preferences.


Group 6) Score voting (range voting):

 It allows a voter to judge all candidates with the help of score (for example, score between 0 to 9) and each vote consists of numerical scores for all contesting candidates and the winning candidate has highest total score from all votes. It is not used in any country for electing legislature but used in Olympic Games to score competitors by judges.


Advantages of score voting:

1)   It is using objective criteria for voting.

2)   Voter is giving quantitative information of all candidates.

3)   It discourages vote wasting, gerrimandering, cloning, two party system etc.

4)   Winning candidate is beating all other candidates in one to one race.

5)   EVM can be programmed for it.

Disadvantages of score voting:

1)  Aggressive opinion holder may prevail over mild opinion holder.

2)  Many voters are not intelligent enough to score candidates by merit.


Group 7) Plus-minus voting:

 This is my novel concept. It is just like  FPTP system but every voter casts a plus vote for a candidate whom he/she wishes to elect and at the same time casts a minus vote for a candidate whom he/she intensely dislike. Election is not only about electing a good person but also about rejecting a bad person. A bad candidate may receive many plus votes due to vote buying as common in India, but many good voters will cast minus votes for bad candidate so that total votes for bad candidate are reduced,  reducing the possibility of victory of a  bad candidate. The supporters of bad candidate may also cast minus votes for good candidates but it will be split among good candidates making minus votes for good candidate weaker than minus votes for bad candidate. This will increase voter turnout as voter has more choice. This will also reduce public anger against bad politicians as people can vent out anger by casting minus vote against bad candidate.



There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that worst electoral system is FPTP system which is practiced in many developed nations like America, Canada and Britain as well as largest democracy India.  I will be labeled imprudent if I call such countries as banana republic but I could not find a better word.  Also, undeserving candidates/parties elected by faulty electoral system which gave them the power in the first place; would continue to support and perpetuate faulty system to stay in power. However, I do not want to criticize constitution makers of these countries which allowed FPTP system in the first place but we have to move with time to improvise ourselves.  Also, besides best electoral system; personal honesty, commitment and responsibility by people’s representatives are very important in getting benefits of democracy to people.

Democracy Index is listing of 167 countries in the world on the five criteria of electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture; and it is scaled from 0 to 10 with highest score of 9.88 to Sweden and lowest score of 0.86 to North Korea.  Full democracies have scores between 8 to 10 and flawed democracies have scores between 6 to 7.9   Also, majority of developed nations have full democracies and majority of developing nations have flawed democracies.


Fixed term election means election is held on set date and incumbent politician/party/government can not change it.

Advantages of fixed term:

1)  There will be no uncertainty about when elections will be held.

2)  It removes unfair advantage to ruling prime minister to announce election date in such a way to manipulate events to secure safe re-election.

3)  It ensures proper balance between executive and legislature.

4) It protects majority government for full tenure to implement its policies.

5)  It reduces number of elections and costs of elections.

Disadvantages of fixed term:

1)  You can not dissolve parliament and go for fresh elections even if government has lost majority in house.

2)  Government will tailor people friendly policies in the election year to ensure safe re-election.

3)  Fixed term election does not necessarily mean good governance.




Negative voting means the voter does not want to vote for any candidate listed on ballot paper/EVM by rejecting all candidates. It exists in some European nations and it is officially counted.


Compulsory voting means a voter must attend a polling station on election day to cast his/her vote, no matter whether the voter spoils the ballot paper or press wrong button on voting machine. Correct terminology is compulsory voter turnout rather than voting. If eligible voter does not attend voting station, he/she is liable for punitive measures. Compulsory voting can be enforced or non-enforced. There are 32 countries with compulsory voting. It converts voting right of every citizen into voting duty. Ideally, compulsory voting must be combined with option of negative voting and if there is substantial negative voting, then, the election should be countermanded because objective of compulsory voting is to elect candidate with majority.

Advantages of compulsory voting:

1)  Due to increased voter turnout, it encourages formation of government representing majority of population.

2)  It prevents interference with access to vote and also prevents disenfranchisement of socially disadvantaged people.

3)  It makes people think about important issues.

4)  Democracy is government by people and therefore it is the responsibility of every citizen to elect their representative.

Disadvantages of compulsory voting:

1)   Any compulsion violates people’s liberty as voting is a right just like freedom of speech.

2)  People may vote randomly to avoid penalties resulting in donkey-vote which may be about 2 % which may affect the outcome in a close contest.

3)  Voter apathy in population can not be corrected by compulsory voting but by better electoral system, good governance and trust in political institutions.

4) Resources are wasted in knowing who did not vote and why.

5)  System advantages leftwing parties and disadvantages rightwing parties.


Defection means people’s representative elected by people for a specific party changes his/her allegiance to that party in favour of another party without facing re-election. Defection is usually done to grab power or money rather than voice of conscience.  However, it is also true that any MP/MLA has a fundamental right to support a particular view of another party if he/she feels that the view is in national interest but under such circumstance, it is better for MP/MLA to resign from legislature and party; and then support the view of another party.


Electronic voting machine (EVM) has advantage of avoiding the printing of millions of ballots, speedy results and absence of invalid votes. In India, in many constituencies, the invalid vote count is more than the winning margin between the winning candidate and the runner-up and therefore EVM reflects the will of people better than ballot paper. It is theoretically possible to hack EVM by computer hacker to steal votes. Every EVM should have a voter-verifiable ballot-paper print-out attachment so that after voting on it, the voter can see the print out and then put it in the ballot box which will help in recount in event of machine failure or allegation of EVM rigging.


Leaders and media of largest democracy India often criticize Indian people for fractured mandate. The truth is that faulty electoral system is the root cause of fractured mandate.  Also, Indian prime minister is holding nuclear button without ever facing people in any election.  Also, India is a unique country where I have seen many leaders contesting election from multiple seats to ensure safe return to parliament by hook or crook and in the process waste public money.  Also, in India, when chief minister goes to jail on corruption charges, his wife becomes the chief minister and the prime minister does not know where his murder-accused cabinet colleague is hiding and the governor is having sex with prostitutes and nepotism is democratically established.



1)   FPTP system is the worst electoral system and must be abandoned by all wise nations.


2)  The head of the state/ government must be elected directly by people using entire country/state as a single, large SMC. The process of electing prime minister as a head of the government from elected members of parliament as in Britain/India is unwise because there is no link/rapport between people and the prime minister; and a person unworthy of people’s will may become prime minister.


3)  Best system for electing the head of the state/ government is preferential system or its variant but more importantly, the runner-up must be given a high constitutional post in government/legislature.


4)  Best system for electing any legislative body is 50 % seats elected by approval system from multiple SMC and 50 % seats elected by open party list PRS or STV system from a single large MMC.


5) There should be a fixed term legislature with no more than 2 terms for any head of state/government.


6)  Any voter turnout less than 75 % in any election damages sanctity of election and reduces legitimacy of government/legislature.


7)  Developing country with flawed democracy is unlikely to become developed country until it becomes fully mature democracy.


Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

March 1, 2010


 The American government under President George W Bush bypassed the verdict of American Supreme Court in my favour under pretext of priorities and coincidentally, the Indian government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh bypassed the verdict of Indian Supreme Court in my favour under pretext of priorities. Ironically, both governments were elected by people.





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