Electoral System: Types & Key Factors

By Team ABJ

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The electoral system is a way for people in a country to choose their leaders and representatives through voting. It’s like a set of rules and processes that determine how elections work.

Imagine you and your friends are choosing a class representative. You can’t just shout out the name of your favorite friend and expect them to become the representative. Instead, you decide to use an electoral system.

In the electoral system, everyone gets a chance to vote. Each person casts their vote for the candidate they think would be the best representative. Once all the votes are collected, the candidate with the most votes becomes the class representative.

There are different types of electoral systems. Some systems focus on the candidate who gets the most votes overall, while others aim to make sure that the representation is fair and proportional to the votes received by each party or candidate.

For example, in a system called “First-Past-The-Post,” the candidate who receives the most votes wins, even if they didn’t get more than half of the votes. This system is simple, but it might not always reflect the preferences of the majority.

On the other hand, in a system called “Proportional Representation,” seats are allocated to different parties based on the proportion of votes they receive. This ensures that parties get representation according to their overall support.

The electoral system also considers factors like how constituencies are divided, how voters express their preferences on the ballot, and whether there are any minimum requirements for a party or candidate to gain representation.

Different countries have different electoral systems. Some use one type exclusively, while others combine elements from multiple systems. Each system has its own advantages and challenges, and there are ongoing discussions and movements to improve electoral systems for better representation and fairness.

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Types of Electoral System

Here are the different types of electoral systems:

Plurality/Majority Systems:

1. First-Past-The-Post (FPTP): In this system, the candidate who gets the most votes wins, even if they didn’t receive more than half of the votes. It’s like a race where the first person to cross the finish line wins.

2. Two-Round System: If no candidate receives a majority (more than half) of the votes in the first round, a second round is held between the top candidates. This allows voters to have a second chance to choose their preferred candidate.

Proportional Representation Systems:

1. List Proportional Representation (Party List): In this system, political parties present a list of candidates, and voters vote for a party. Seats are allocated to parties based on the proportion of votes they receive. It’s like dividing a pie based on how many people like each flavor.

2. Single Transferable Vote (STV): In this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. Candidates need a certain number of votes to get elected. If a candidate gets more votes than needed, their surplus votes are transferred to other candidates based on the voters’ preferences. It’s like a voting process with multiple rounds where preferences matter.

Mixed Systems:

1. Mixed Member Proportional (MMP): This system combines elements of both plurality/majority and proportional representation systems. Voters have two votes: one for a local candidate and another for a political party. Some seats are allocated based on local constituencies, while others are distributed proportionally to parties to ensure overall fairness.

Other Systems:

1. Limited Vote: Voters have fewer votes than the number of available seats. For example, if there are five seats, voters might only have three votes. This system requires voters to strategically choose their preferred candidates.

2. Alternative Vote (AV): Voters rank candidates in order of preference, similar to the single transferable vote system. However, instead of transferring surplus votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to other candidates based on voters’ preferences. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority.

Key Factors Influencing the Electoral Systems

1. Proportionality: Proportionality refers to how well the seats in a legislative body reflect the distribution of votes among political parties or candidates. It’s like making sure that the number of seats each party or candidate gets is roughly in line with the number of votes they receive. Different electoral systems have varying degrees of proportionality.

2. Districting: Districting involves dividing a country or region into smaller constituencies for representation purposes. These constituencies can be based on geographic areas or other factors. Districting affects how voters are grouped and how representatives are elected. It’s like dividing a classroom into study groups to ensure representation from different parts of the class.

3. Ballot Structure: Ballot structure refers to how voters express their preferences on the ballot. It can include options like marking a single candidate or ranking candidates in order of preference. The way voters mark their choices influences how votes are counted and candidates are elected.

4. Thresholds: Thresholds are minimum requirements for a party or candidate to gain representation. It means that a party or candidate needs to receive a certain percentage of votes to secure seats in a legislative body. Thresholds aim to prevent the fragmentation of representation by excluding parties with very low levels of support.

These factors play a significant role in shaping the electoral system of a country. They impact how votes are translated into seats, the diversity of representation, the relationship between voters and their representatives, and the stability of governments.

Different countries make different choices regarding these factors, resulting in diverse electoral systems. The specific combination of these factors can lead to variations in how elections are conducted and how representation is determined.

Advantages of Different Electoral Systems

Here are some advantages of different electoral systems:

1. Plurality/Majority Systems (e.g., First-Past-The-Post):

  • Simplicity and familiarity: Plurality systems are often straightforward to understand and implement, as they involve selecting the candidate with the most votes.
  • Strong and stable governments: Plurality systems tend to favor major parties, making it easier to form majority governments that can make decisive decisions.
  • Clear accountability to constituents: Voters can hold individual representatives directly accountable for their actions, as they represent specific geographical areas.

2. Proportional Representation Systems (e.g., List Proportional Representation, Single Transferable Vote):

  • Representation of diverse political views: Proportional systems aim to ensure that parties or candidates receive seats in proportion to their overall support, leading to greater representation for various political ideologies and minority groups.
  • Greater voter choice and satisfaction: Proportional systems often offer a broader range of candidates and parties to choose from, allowing voters to express their preferences more accurately.
  • Encouragement of coalition governments: Proportional systems frequently result in a distribution of seats that necessitates cooperation and negotiation between parties, leading to coalition governments that incorporate multiple perspectives.

3. Mixed Systems (e.g., Mixed Member Proportional):

  • The balance between local representation and proportionality: Mixed systems combine elements of plurality/majority systems and proportional representation, providing a balance between electing representatives from specific geographic areas and ensuring overall fairness in seat allocation.
  • Flexibility to adapt to specific country contexts: Mixed systems can be customized to suit the unique needs and circumstances of a particular country, allowing for adjustments in the distribution of seats based on local and national considerations.

Each electoral system has its own advantages and considerations. The choice of system depends on various factors, including a country’s political culture, historical context, and goals for representation and governance. It’s important to carefully assess these advantages and potential drawbacks when evaluating and selecting an electoral system.

Electoral System in India

In India, the electoral system used for national and state elections is primarily a variant of the Plurality/Majority System known as the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system.

1. Constituencies: India is divided into numerous electoral constituencies. Each constituency represents a specific geographic area and elects one representative to the Parliament (Lok Sabha) or State Legislative Assembly.

2. Candidates: Political parties nominate candidates to represent them in each constituency. Independent candidates can also contest elections.

3. Voting: Eligible voters in a constituency cast their vote to choose their preferred candidate. Voters mark their choice on the ballot paper using a specific symbol assigned to each candidate or party.

4. Majority Principle: In each constituency, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes is declared the winner. However, unlike some other FPTP systems, Indian elections do not require the winning candidate to secure an absolute majority (more than 50% of the votes). The candidate with the most votes, even if it’s less than half, wins the seat.

5. Party Representation: The political party to which the winning candidate belongs gets representation in the Parliament or State Legislative Assembly. This is based on the principle that the party with the most candidates winning seats forms the government or becomes the main opposition.

6. National Parties and Regional Parties: India has both national parties (parties with a presence across multiple states) and regional parties (parties operating primarily within specific states or regions). National parties contest elections in multiple constituencies, while regional parties focus on specific regions or states.

7. Election Commission: The Election Commission of India is an independent body responsible for conducting free and fair elections. It oversees the electoral process, voter registration, setting election dates, and ensuring adherence to election rules and regulations.

Electoral Systems in Europe

Europe has a diverse range of electoral systems across its countries. Here’s an overview of some electoral systems used in European countries:

1. United Kingdom:

  • Westminster System: The UK employs a variant of the Plurality/Majority System known as First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) for general elections to the House of Commons. The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins, regardless of whether they achieve an absolute majority.

2. Germany:

  • Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) System: Germany uses an MMP system for the Bundestag elections. Voters have two votes: one for a local candidate in their constituency and another for a political party. The overall composition of the Bundestag combines both directly elected constituency representatives and additional seats allocated to parties to achieve proportional representation.

3. France:

  • Two-Round System: France uses a Two-Round System for its presidential and legislative elections. If no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second round is held between the top two candidates. The candidate with the most votes in the second round wins.

4. Netherlands:

  • List Proportional Representation System: The Netherlands employs a List Proportional Representation system for parliamentary elections. Seats are allocated to parties based on the proportion of votes they receive, and parties present a list of candidates. There is a threshold requirement for parties to gain representation.

5. Sweden:

  • Proportional Representation System: Sweden utilizes a Proportional Representation system with a multi-party system. Seats in the parliament are allocated based on the proportion of votes each party receives. Sweden does not have a formal threshold for parties to gain representation.

6. Italy:

  • Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) System: Italy uses an MMP system, similar to Germany, for its general elections. Voters have two votes: one for a candidate in a single-member district and another for a political party. Additional seats are allocated to parties to achieve proportionality.

7. Ireland:

  • Single Transferable Vote (STV) System: Ireland employs the STV system for its general elections and most local elections. Voters rank candidates in order of preference, and seats are allocated based on transfers of surplus votes and preferences until candidates reach a specified quota.

Electoral System in the United States

In the United States, the electoral system primarily follows a plurality/majority system known as the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). However, it’s important to note that the electoral system can have variations at the state and local levels. Here’s an overview of the electoral system in the USA:

Presidential Elections:

  • Electoral College: The President and Vice President are elected indirectly through the Electoral College system. Each state is allocated a certain number of electors based on its representation in Congress (senators + representatives). Voters in each state cast their votes for a slate of electors representing their chosen presidential ticket. The candidate who wins the majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538) becomes the President.

Congressional Elections:

  • House of Representatives: Members of the House of Representatives are elected from single-member districts within each state. Candidates compete in these districts, and the candidate who receives the most votes in each district wins the seat.
  • Senate: Each state elects two senators, and they serve staggered six-year terms. Senate elections are held at different times, and voters in each state choose one senator per election.

State and Local Elections:

  • Governors and State Legislatures: State-level executive positions, such as governors, and state legislatures are typically elected using a modified version of the FPTP system. Candidates who receive the most votes in their respective districts or statewide win the election.
  • Local Offices: Elections for local offices, such as mayors, city council members, and county officials, can vary across different jurisdictions and states. Some local elections may also use FPTP, while others may employ alternative systems like ranked-choice voting or runoff elections.


What is an electoral system?

An electoral system is a set of rules and processes that determine how elections are conducted and representatives are chosen.

How does the electoral system affect the outcome of an election?

The electoral system influences how votes are counted, seats are allocated, and winners are determined, which can impact representation and the distribution of power.

What are the different types of electoral systems?

Common types include plurality/majority systems (e.g., First-Past-The-Post), proportional representation systems (e.g., List PR), and mixed systems (e.g., MMP).

How do electoral systems ensure fairness and representation?

Electoral systems strive to balance factors like proportionality, local representation, voter choice, and the avoidance of discrimination.

Can electoral systems be changed or reformed?

Yes, electoral systems can be reformed through legal and political processes to address shortcomings or adapt to evolving needs.

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