There are many voting and election methods. The procedure may well determine the outcome. Generally, it seems fair that the majority should decide. In a ballot when there are three candidates, it can easily happen that no candidate receives the support of the majority. In such a case the rules can be such that the candidate who receives the most votes is the winner (First Past the Post). However, it can happen, for example if A receives 45%, B 30% and C 25%, that the majority of the voters want A least. Sometimes, if no single candidate receives 50%, a second round is held, this time between the two who received the most votes in the first. But is this a fair rule?
In the example above, the second round of voting would be between A and B, with C out of the running. But if all those who voted for A preferred C to B, C would beat B in a contest between the two of them. In the same way, if all those who voted for B preferred C to A, then C would win in a straight competition against A. Thus it might happen that C “ought” to be the winner, yet C is excluded by the rules of the voting method.
It is claimed that holding elections in two rounds gathers majority support for the eventual winner. In Iceland’s presidential elections in 1980 there were four candidates. The winner was elected with a third of the votes. Of course this result did not mean that two-thirds of the voters were actually opposed to the winner. The election showed which of them came first – among equals, it might be said. Can there be any objection to that? If, on the other hand, there is a second round of voting of this type, it can focus opposition against the winner and lead to a situation in which nearly half the voters have expressed themselves as being against their president.
Having an election in two rounds can lead to people voting not for the candidate they really think is best in the first round, but for one that they want to be sure will go through to the second. This means they are not expressing their real preferences. In fact, this often applies even in a single-round election, since people are tend to give their vote for one of the prominent candidates rather than waste it on an outsider.
Early on in the Icelandic presidential campaign in 1996, a number of prominent women started looking for a strong woman candidate to field. To increase the chances of a woman being elected, they wanted to avoid having more than one woman candidate; the same policy would have applied if people had wanted to ensure the election of a male candidate: they would have tried to ensure that only one man stood for election. This demonstrates how, under the current system, a small number of people can restrict the electorate’s field of choice long before they enter the polling booth. Under sequential choice, the fact of having two or three female candidates would not spoil the chances of a woman being elected president; nor would a plurality of male candidates mean that a man would be less likely to be elected. Voters who want a woman to win the election simply rank the female candidates above the men.
So much for theoretical examples of the use of sequential choice. Let us now examine some real examples in which sequential choice was not used but which nevertheless are instructive.