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Voting is a method for a group such as a meeting or an electorate to make a decision or express an opinion—often following discussions, debates, or election campaigns. It is often found in democracies.
Representative democracies discern the will of the people by a common voting procedure:
In a representative democracy, voting commonly implies election: a way for an electorate to select among candidates for office. In politics voting is the method by which the electorate of a democracy appoints representatives in its government.
A vote is an individual's act of voting, by which he or she expresses support or preference for a certain motion (for example, a proposed resolution), a certain candidate, a selection of candidates, or a political party. With a secret ballot to protect voters' political privacy, voting generally takes place at a polling station. The act of voting is voluntary in some countries; whereas some countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium and Brazil, have compulsory voting systems.
Different voting systems use different types of vote. Suppose that the options in some election are Alice, Bob, Charlie, Daniel, and Emily and they are all vying for the same position:
In a voting system that uses a single vote, the voter selects his or her most preferred candidate. "Plurality voting systems" use single votes.
A development on the single vote system is to have two-round elections, or repeat first-past-the-post. However, the winner must win by 50% plus one, called a simple majority. If subsequent votes must be used, often a candidate, the one with the fewest votes or anyone who wants to move their support to another candidate, is removed from the ballot.
An alternative to the Two-round voting system is the single round Preferential voting system (Also referred to as Alternative vote or Instant run-off) as used in Australia, Ireland and some states in the USA. Voters rank each candidate in order of preference (1,2,3 etc). Votes are distributed to each candidate according to the preferences allocated. If no single candidate has 50% or more votes then the candidate with the least votes is excluded and their votes redistributed according to the voters nominated order of preference. The process repeating itself until a candidate has 50% or more votes. The system is designed to produce the same result as an exhaustive ballot but using only a single round of voting.
In a voting system that uses a multiple vote, the voter can vote for any subset of the alternatives. So, a voter might vote for Alice, Bob, and Charlie, rejecting Daniel and Emily. Approval voting uses such multiple votes.
In a voting system that uses a ranked vote, the voter has to rank the alternatives in order of preference. For example, they might vote for Bob in first place, then Emily, then Alice, then Daniel, and finally Charlie. Preferential voting systems, such as those famously used in Australia, use a ranked vote.
In a voting system that uses a scored vote (or range vote), the voter gives each alternative a number between one and ten (the upper and lower bounds may vary). See range voting.
Some "multiple-winner" systems may have a single vote or one vote per elector per available position. In such a case the elector could vote for Bob and Charlie on a ballot with two votes. These types of systems can use ranked or unranked voting, and are often used for at-large positions such as on some city councils.
Results may lead at best to confusion, at worst to violence and even civil war, in the case of political rivals. Many alternatives may fall in the latitude of indifference—they are neither accepted nor rejected. Avoiding the choice that the most people strongly reject may sometimes be at least as important as choosing the one that they most favor. There are social choice theory definitions of seemingly reasonable criteria that are a measure of the fairness of certain aspects of voting, including non-dictatorship, unrestricted domain, non-imposition, Pareto efficiency, and independence of irrelevant alternatives but Arrow's impossibility theorem states that no voting system can meet all these standards.
In South Africa, there is a strong presence of anti-voting campaigns by poor citizens. They make the structural argument that no political party truly represents them. For instance, this resulted in the "No Land! No House! No Vote!" Campaign which becomes very prominent each time the country holds elections. The campaign is prominent among three of South Africa's largest social movements: the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and the Landless Peoples Movement. Other social movements in other parts of the world also have similar campaigns or non-voting preferences. These include the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and various Anarchist oriented movements.
Modern political science has questioned whether average citizens have sufficient political information to cast meaningful votes. A series of studies coming out of the University of Michigan in the 1950s and 1960s argued that voters lack a basic understanding of current issues, the liberal–conservative ideological dimension, and the relative idealogical dilemma.