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Western society, and to an increasing amount, the rest of the world, depends on the voting method of decision-making.

Various levels of government including federal, state, and local elections rely on plurality voting, whereby one person equals one vote.   While some will argue that a benevolent autocrat provides a fairer form of governance, most democracies rely on a multi-level system for its checks and balances.  For example, tripartite arrangements normally allow separate voting for the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.  Democracies frequently refer to this method as “Plurality Voting.”  Experience shows that voting leads to lower quality decisions.

Why Voting Leads to Bigger Numbers but Lower Quality Decisions

Voting Leads to Winners and Losers

There are other methods of voting, to avoid lower quality decisions, and arguably none of them are as effective as consensus based decision-making.  Note for example . . .

Approval Voting

Method:  Voters are provided one vote for each option they deem acceptable.

Examples:  Numerous not-for-profit organizations use Approval Voting to select their board of directors and officers.

Results:  The approach does little to distinguish between acceptable options and outstanding options.  Results have been known to be highly erratic.

Borda Count

Method:  Voters ordinate all options from top to bottom, where more is better.  With ten options, the best is assigned a value of ten while the least favorite is assigned a value of one.  The highest score wins.

Examples:  The method used by the Associated Press for its college football and basketball rankings.

Results:  The favorite method of promoters for voting, unfortunately does little to help distinguish the mid-range and lower tier options.  As voters know less or become more ambivalent (eg, fourth versus fifth), final tallies can become quite skewed.

Cumulative Voting

Method:  Voters are assigned a batch of votes (ie, units of value).  They distribute them across the options as they see fit.  With a batch of ten votes for example, you may assign seven votes to your favorite and three to your second favorite.

Examples:  Texas and Arkansas use this method in some legal jurisdictions along with some corporate board rooms.

Results:  There are bound to be winners and losers—much gaming is involved when, for example, your second favorite is more likely to be the victor, yet for each unit assigned to your second choice, reduces the chances of your first choice being selected.  Reportedly, many “second favorites” win with this method (see the Abilene Paradox).

Electoral College

Method:  Winners of the presidential election in each state get all of the pre-assigned electoral votes (equal to the number of seats in Congress), regardless of the margin of victory.

Examples:  Only in America, where most states assign their marginal winners, all of their electoral votes.

Results:  Since it is possible to “win” the popular vote but “lose” the election, some have suggested that the Supreme Court of America will rule on its legality.  Look at the Gore versus Bush election in 2000.

Instant Runoff

Method:  Voters rank their options and if the top pick does not generate a simple majority (ie, greater than 50 percent), the option with the fewest votes is dropped, and members vote again until a winner emerges.

Examples:  Jurisdictions worldwide, from Australia to San Francisco rely on this method.

Results:  While arguable a stronger method than simple “Plurality Voting”, mathematical models have shown that sub-optimal (ie, initially secondary or tertiary options) options rise faster than the primary option and frequently “win”.

Our FAST alumni have experienced the weakness of voting with the Goethe demonstration during class.  Unlike consensus building that yields a win-win result, voting represents bigger numbers, not better decisions.  Plus, there is always a loser.


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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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