Alternative Vote

Alternative Vote


Overview: Under alternative vote (AV), each riding elects one Member of Parliament (MP). Voters rank candidates in order of preference. The winning candidate must have the support of a majority of voters in the riding, if necessary via a transfer of votes from eliminated candidates.

What family does it belong to?

Where is it used today? It is used for national legislative elections in two countries: Australia and Papua New Guinea.

How does the system work for voters? Voters rank the candidates running in their riding (i.e., first choice, second choice and so on). Systems may require that the voter rank some or all candidates, or may allow the voter to choose only their top candidate.

How are the ballots counted? If a candidate has a majority of first choice votes in a riding, they are declared the winner. If no one has a majority, the last place candidate is eliminated, and their votes are reallocated to the voters’ next choice on the ballot. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes.

What do ridings look like? Ridings would look the same as they do now, with one MP elected in each of Canada’s 338 electoral districts.

How are Parliament and government formed? How is the prime minister selected? If one party wins a majority of seats, it forms the government, with its party leader as prime minister. If no party wins a majority, the prime minister at dissolution may try to form either a minority or coalition government. If they cannot, the governor general will invite the leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons to try. With AV, parties can win a majority of seats in Parliament with less than 50% of the popular national vote, even though individual MPs must receive 50% of votes in their riding to win. This is because of the winner-take-all nature of the riding level contests. The victorious party can win a large number of seats by a narrow margin while being defeated in many others by a large margin.

Also known as: AV; supplementary vote; instant run-off; preferential voting; ranked-choice voting

What does it mean…

For campaigning? Campaigning is split between the national race focussed on the party leaders and the 338 local races in ridings across the country. While the national party office closely controls the election strategy and the party leader attracts significant media attention, local candidates can still shape their own campaigns. They have considerable incentive to go door to door and get to know their constituents and the local media, particularly in close races. Additionally, independent candidates who are unaffiliated with a party can mount campaigns in ridings (though they are rarely successful). AV encourages inclusive campaign strategies, as there are incentives for parties and candidates to appeal to a broad a range of voters in order to get second and third choice votes from voters whose first choice goes to other candidates.

2. For vote choice? If voters know that their first choice is likely to be eliminated and that their vote will shift to their next choice on the ballot, they are likely to give considerable thought to their second and third choice votes.

3. For local representation? AV has local representatives for each constituency. The winner of the riding is the voice in Parliament for everyone in the riding, regardless of how they voted. At least 50% of voters in each riding will have a representative whom they supported as their first, second or some subsequent choice. It can be difficult for candidates from smaller parties to amass that breadth of support. As a result, voters that identify with smaller parties might feel they do not have an MP who effectively represents their point of view.

4. For parties in Parliament? Parliament would likely be dominated by a small number of large parties. Popular regionally-based parties may also win seats. Smaller parties with dispersed support would have difficulty winning a specific riding to send an MP to Ottawa. AV allows similar parties to coexist, which may result in coalition governments of like-minded parties.

The significant influence of the party leader on local electoral success often helps to strengthen party discipline among MPs within a party.

Increasing diversity in Parliament depends on more women, visible minorities and other diverse Canadians running and winning the local party nomination—a process managed internally by political parties. 

5. For governing? Many forms of government are possible under AV. A single-party majority or a coalition of like-minded parties may form a majority government. Such governments can usually enact legislation without difficulty. As with all systems, the prime minister still needs to maintain the support of MPs in his or her own party on confidence motions such as the budget or the speech from the throne. Opposition parties have little influence in a majority situation. When no single party or like-minded coalition holds more than half of seats, the result is a minority government. Opposition parties have more influence on the governing party under these circumstances. This is because they can threaten to withhold support for confidence motions such as the budget or the speech from the throne.

What would the ballot look like?


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