The Single Transferable Vote (STV)

STV is part of the large family of voting systems known collectively as proportional representation. STV is quite different, however, from such proportional representation arrangement like the "party list" system that is the norm in much of Europe. Under STV the ballot gives voters a choice among individual candidates rather than political parties. It asks voters to rank-order their preferences for various candidates and, within limits, have each vote contribute to the election of one of the voter's choices. 

The system is quite simple for the voter, who confronts a ballot with the names of a number of candidates and then simply numbers them in the order in which the voter prefers them. But the system involves considerable complexity in the subsequent counting -- and transferring -- of the various voter preferences. On this Web site are several descriptions, with varying degrees of detail, of how the STV process works. (See the section entitled The Rules of STV Elections in Malta).

STV was invented in the 19th century and found its first major advocate in John Stuart Mill. Since then it has repeatedly been endorsed and promoted by various political reformers, prominent among them the Electoral Reform Society in Great Britain. As Michael Gallagher summarized it in the journal Representation (Winter 1996/97),

"Its proponents point principally to the power that it gives to the voters: to convey rich information about their preferences; to give primacy when voting on issues that cross party lines; to maximize their power to choose their representatives; or to influence the direction that their favoured party should take, by supporting particular candidates..." 

The actual adoption of STV, however, has been rather limited. For example, it has been used by some professional organizations; in some local elections in the U.S. and for some legislative elections in Australia. But there are only two countries that have used it for the election of their national legislatures: The Republics of Ireland and of Malta, both of them without interruption since the early 1920s.

There is a considerable scholarly literature on STV and some of the more useful works are included in a short selective bibliography. That bibliography covers printed materials on STV generally and Maltese elections in particular and some links to advocacy sites are included as well.