Wasted vote

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In electoral systems, a wasted vote is any vote which is not for an elected candidate or, more broadly, a vote that does not help to elect a candidate. The narrower meaning includes lost votes, being only those votes which are for a losing candidate or party. The broader definition of wasted votes includes excess votes, namely votes for winning candidates in excess of the minimum needed to win. [1]


Wasted votes are the basis of the efficiency gap measure of gerrymandering, where voters are grouped into electoral districts in such a way as to increase the wasted votes of one political faction and decrease the wasted votes of the other. The efficiency gap has been called the most scrutinized method of measuring gerrymandering. [2]

In case of proportional representation, the wasted votes are also called unrepresented votes . Here representatives are elected at least in rough proportion to voter preferences, resulting in generally fewer wasted votes than in plurality voting. [3] However, electoral thresholds for access to proportional representation can also produce wasted votes, with notable cases reaching double-digits, including two cases over 45%. This waste is calculated by adding the percentage votes of lists below the de jure threshold often set at 5%. This does not include the waste produced by de facto thresholds, or district magnitude, which is higher the fewer seats there are.

Even more broadly, a vote is said to be qualitatively wasted in the judgment of the voter when their vote has been needlessly added to a candidate who is less valued than a more valued and available candidate. [4]

Rationale for wasted votes concept

An electoral system which reduces the number of wasted votes can be considered desirable on grounds of fairness or on the more pragmatic basis that a voter who feels their vote has made no difference may feel detached from their government or lose confidence in the democratic process. The term "wasted vote" is especially used by advocates of systems like Evaluative Proportional Representation (EPR) in Section 5.5.5 in Proportional Representation, approval voting, the single transferable vote, two round systems or instant-runoff voting which purport to reduce the numbers of such votes. Evaluative Proportional Representation not only wastes no votes quantitatively, it also claims to remove the needless qualitative wasting of votes. Each EPR voter is invited to grade each of the candidate's suitability for office as either Excellent (ideal), Very Good, Good, Acceptable, Poor, or Reject (entirely unsuitable). Each citizen is assured that their one vote will proportionately increase the voting power of the elected member of the legislature who received either their highest grade, remaining highest grade, or proxy vote.

The term may be considered pejorative by opponents of such systems. Their arguments may either suggest that in any voting system each vote is wasted (unless the result is decided by a single vote), or that no vote is wasted as each one sends a political signal which will be taken into account in preparation for the subsequent election.

In election campaigns, a leading candidate may appeal to voters who support a less-popular candidate to vote instead for the leading candidate for tactical reasons, on the basis that a vote for their preferred candidate is likely to be wasted. In some electoral systems, it may be plausible for less-popular candidates to make similar appeals to supporters of more-popular candidates. In a plurality voting system, the popular term "wasted vote", used non-technically, does not usually apply to votes for the second-placed candidate, but rather to votes for candidates finishing third or lower. This is a reflection of Duverger's Law, i.e. the institutionalisation of a two-party system.

Example calculations of wasted votes

Consider an election where candidates A, B and C receive 6000, 3100 and 701 votes respectively.

If this is a plurality voting election for a single seat, Candidate A has a plurality of votes and is therefore elected. The wasted votes are:

If the same votes for A, B and C are cast in a d'Hondt method election for 12 seats, then the seats are split 8-4-0 for A-B-C. The wasted votes are:

A majority of votes are always wasted (in the wider sense) in a single-seat plurality election, unless there are exactly two candidates and the margin of victory is exactly one vote. Multi-seat constituencies reduce the number of wasted votes as long as proportional representation is used. (When used with winner-take-all systems, as with the US Electoral College, multi-member constituencies may see the wasted vote reach or exceed 50%).

See also

Related Research Articles

Plurality voting is an electoral system in which a candidate, or candidates, who poll more than any other counterpart, are elected. In a system based on single-member districts, it elects just one member per district and may be called first-past-the-post (FPTP), single-choice voting, simple plurality or relative/simple majority. In a system based on multi-seat districts, it elects multiple candidates in a district and may be referred to as winner-takes-all, block voting or plurality block voting. The system is still used to elect members of a legislative assembly or executive officers in only a handful of countries in the world. It is used in most elections in the United States, the lower house in India, elections to the British House of Commons and English local elections in the United Kingdom, France and federal and provincial elections in Canada.

Gerrymandering Manipulation of electoral district borders to favor certain outcomes of an election

In representative democracies, gerrymandering is the political manipulation of electoral district boundaries with the intent of creating undue advantage for a party, group, or socio-economic class within the constituency. The manipulation may consist of "cracking" or "packing".

Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. The concept applies mainly to geographical and political divisions of the electorate. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result—not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation require the use of multiple-member voting districts. PR systems that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to use districts with large numbers of seats, as large as a province or an entire nation.

Single transferable vote Proportional representation voting system

Single transferable vote (STV) is a multi-winner electoral system in which voters cast single votes in the form of ranked-choice ballots. Voters have the option to rank candidates and their vote may be transferred according to their preferences, if their preferred candidate is eliminated, so that their vote still counts.

In political science, Duverger's law holds that single-ballot plurality-rule elections structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system. The discovery of this tendency is attributed to Maurice Duverger, a French sociologist who observed the effect and recorded it in several papers published in the 1950s and 1960s. In the course of further research, other political scientists began calling the effect a "law" or principle.

Single non-transferable vote or SNTV is an electoral system used in multi-member districts. It is a generalization of first-past-the-post, applied to multi-member districts. Unlike single-winner First past the post, in SNTV multiple members are elected in each district. Unlike block voting, where each voter casts multiple votes, under SNTV each voter casts just one vote. The combination of single voting and multi-member districts produces mixed representation and thus proportional representation or semi-proportional representation at the district level.

First-past-the-post voting Plurality voting method

In a first-past-the-post electoral system ; formally called single-member plurality voting (SMP) when used in single-member districts, or (informally) choose-one voting in contrast to ranked voting or score voting), voters cast their vote for a candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. FPTP is a plurality voting method, and is primarily used in systems that use single-member electoral divisions. FPTP is used as the primary form of allocating seats for legislative elections in about a third of the world's countries, mostly in the English-speaking world. The phrase is a metaphor from British horse racing, where there is a post at the finish line.

Parallel voting is a type of mixed electoral system in which representatives are voted into a single chamber using two or more different systems, most often first-past-the-post voting (FPTP) with party-list proportional representation (PR). It is the most common form of mixed member majoritarian representation (MMM), which is why these terms are often used synonymously with each other. In some countries, parallel voting is known as the supplementary member (SM) system, while in academic literature it is sometimes called the superposition method within mixed systems.

An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral area, circumscription, or electorate, is a subdivision of a larger state created to provide its population with representation in the larger state's legislative body. That body, or the state's constitution or a body established for that purpose, determines each district's boundaries and whether each will be represented by a single member or multiple members. Generally, only voters (constituents) who reside within the district are permitted to vote in an election held there. District representatives may be elected by a first-past-the-post system, a proportional representative system, or another voting method. They may be selected by a direct election under universal suffrage, an indirect election, or another form of suffrage.

There are a number of complications and issues surrounding the application and use of single transferable vote proportional representation that form the basis of discussions between its advocates and detractors.

Plurality block voting, also known as plurality-at-large voting, block vote or block voting (BV) is a non-proportional voting system for electing representatives in multi-member electoral districts. Each voter casts multiple votes and multiple winners are elected in single contest to serve the district. Block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead the usual result is that where the candidates divide into parties, the most popular party in the district sees its full slate of candidates elected in a seemingly landslide victory.

Direct representation or proxy representation is a form of representative democracy where voters can vote for any candidate in the land, and each representative's vote is weighted in proportion to the number of citizens who have chosen that candidate to represent them. This is in contrast to other conventional forms of representative democracy, such as the winner-take-all system, where the winner of a plurality of votes in a given district, party or other grouping of voters, goes on to represent all voters in that group, or the proportional representation system where the number of representatives allotted to each party or political faction is roughly in proportion to the number of voters supporting each faction.

Electoral system Method by which voters make a choice between options

An electoral system or voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and referendums are conducted and how their results are determined. Political electoral systems are organized by governments, while non-political elections may take place in business, non-profit organisations and informal organisations. These rules govern all aspects of the voting process: when elections occur, who is allowed to vote, who can stand as a candidate, how ballots are marked and cast, how the ballots are counted, how votes translate into the election outcome, limits on campaign spending, and other factors that can affect the result. Political electoral systems are defined by constitutions and electoral laws, are typically conducted by election commissions, and can use multiple types of elections for different offices.

Gerrymandering in the United States Setting electoral district boundaries to favor specific political interests in legislative bodies

Gerrymandering in the United States has been used to increase the power of a political party. Gerrymandering is the practice of setting boundaries of electoral districts to favor specific political interests within legislative bodies, often resulting in districts with convoluted, winding boundaries rather than compact areas. The term "gerrymandering" was coined after a review of Massachusetts's redistricting maps of 1812 set by Governor Elbridge Gerry noted that one of the districts looked like a salamander.

Dual-member proportional representation (DMP), also known as dual-member mixed proportional, is an electoral system designed to produce proportional election results across a region by electing two representatives in each of the region’s districts. The first seat in every district is awarded to the candidate who receives the most votes, similar to first-past-the-post voting (FPTP). The second seat is awarded to one of the remaining district candidates so that proportionality is achieved across the region, using a calculation that aims to award parties their seats in the districts where they had their strongest performances.

The efficiency gap is a measure devised by University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee in 2014. This statistic has been used to quantitatively assess the effect of gerrymandering, the assigning of voters to electoral districts in such a way as to increase the number of districts won by one political party at the expense of another. It has been called the most scrutinized method of measuring gerrymandering. The heart of the computation is to add up, over all electoral districts, the wasted votes of each party's candidates. The efficiency gap is the difference between the two parties' wasted votes, divided by the total number of votes. Stephanopoulos and McGhee argued that in a non-partisan redistricting with two roughly equally popular parties, the efficiency gap would be zero, with an equal number of wasted votes from either party. If the gap exceeded 7%, then Stephanopoulos and McGhee argued that this could ensure the party with fewer wasted votes would be able to control the state for the duration of the validity of the district map.

The mixed single vote (MSV) or positive vote transfer system (PVT) is a mixed-member electoral system, where voters cast a single vote in an election, which used both for electing a local candidate and as a vote for a party affiliated with that candidate according to the rules of the electoral system. Unlike the more widespread mixed proportional and mixed majoritarian systems where voters cast two votes, split-ticket voting is either not possible or not allowed in MSV.

The mixed ballot transferable vote (MBTV) refers to a type of vote linkage-based mixed-member electoral system where a group of members are elected on local (lower) tier, for example in single-member districts (SMDs). Other members are elected on a compensatory national (upper) tier from a list and voters cast a single ballot where they may indicate their preferences separately.

Mixed member majoritarian representation (MMM) is type of a mixed electoral system combining majoritarian and proportional methods, where the disproportional results of the majoritarian side of the system prevail over the proportional component. Mixed member majoritarian system are therefore also as a type of semi-proportional representation, and are usually contrasted with mixed-member proportional representation, which provide proportional representation via compensation ("top-up").

The unrepresented vote is considered the total amount of voters not represented by any party sitting in the legislature in the case of proportional representation. In contrast, the related concept of wasted votes generally applies to plurality voting, which generally has a higher percentage of wasted votes. The unrepresented vote is calculated as:


  1. Stephanopoulos, Nicholas; McGhee, Eric (2014). "Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap". University of Chicago Law Review. 82: 831–900. SSRN   2457468. Wasted votes and efficiency gap are defined pp. 850–852.
  2. McGhee, Eric (2020). "Partisan Gerrymandering and Political Science". Annual Review of Political Science. 23: 171–185. doi: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-060118-045351 .
  3. Kenig, Ofer (January 26, 2015). "The Electoral Threshold, Wasted Votes, and Proportionality". Israel Democracy Institute. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  4. Bosworth, Stephen; Corr, Ander & Leonard, Stevan (July 8, 2019). "Legislatures Elected by Evaluative Proportional Representation (EPR): an Algorithm; Endnote 8". Journal of Political Risk. 7 (8). Retrieved August 19, 2019.


  1. Petry, Eric. "How the Efficiency Gap Works" (PDF). www.brennancenter.org. Retrieved August 22, 2021.