Geographic Open List/Delegated (GOLD) voting

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Geographic Open List/Delegated voting (GOLD voting) is a proportional voting method for electing legislators to a multi-seat body. Its main advantages are: simple ballots, minimal wasted votes, and "do no harm" (that is, it doesn't change FPTP outcomes unless they're non-proportional).

It assumes the voters have been divided up into one equal-population riding (aka district or constituency) per seat being elected and that each candidate has publicly declared their preference order for the other candidates ("if I don't win, then I want the votes I hold to go to her, then him, then him, etc."). Precisely one representative per area (district, riding, or constituency) will win.

Voters make two different choices in each race:

  1. Choose a candidate.
    • The ballot lists the candidates running locally, with their parties and their first three transfer preferences (explained below).
    • Voters may write in candidates from further away.
  2. Choose a transfer method for when your first choice is no longer in the running. There are 2 basic options:
    • Open list: Trust the voters of your chosen candidate’s party.
    • If your first choice is no longer in the running, your vote is transferred to the remaining candidates from your chosen party, in proportion to the number of direct votes they got.
    • This is the default if you vote for a local, non-independent candidate.
    • If every voter chose this option, this would be like an “open list” voting method; that is, seats would be divided proportionally by party, and go to the highest vote-getters within the party.
    • If you choose this option, your vote will never be transferred out of the party. Since independent candidates are considered to each be in a party by themselves, voters for those candidates should only choose this option if they do not want their vote to be transferred.
    • Delegated: Trust the candidate (that is, the pre-declared preferences of your chosen candidate.)
    • Each candidate must publicly pre-declare ordered preferences between the other candidates. If the candidate is no longer in the running, these votes will go to the highest remaining candidate on their pre-declared preference list.
    • This is the default if you vote for a non-local and/or independent candidate.
    • If a voter mistakenly marks both transfer methods, the default applies (as if they had chosen neither).

The basic vote-counting process has 5 steps (based on Single Transferrable Voting):

  1. Tally votes
    • Each ballot counts as 1 point for the chosen candidate.
  2. Eliminate candidates without enough support in their riding
    • The top candidate in each riding, counting local votes only, is never eliminated.
    • The second candidate in each riding, counting local votes only, is eliminated only if their local votes are fewer than half those of the top.
    • Others are eliminated by default, surviving only if their local votes are more than half those of the top AND their total direct votes (including non-local write-ins) are more than those of the top local candidate. (For this rule, "top" is counted by local votes only, but "those of" includes non-local votes.)
    • This makes sure that no riding is badly mis-represented just because a given party "deserves" more winners.
    • It also helps discourage voters from splintering into small single-issue parties. If a party can’t pass this threshold in even one riding, it won’t get seats. But those votes can still be transferred, so those voters can still be represented by a relatively sympathetic candidate from a slightly larger party.
  3. Find winners and transfer leftovers.
    • If V is the total number of valid (non-exhausted) votes, and S is the number of unfilled seats, then a “quota” is defined as Q=V/(S+1). This ensures that each full “quota” of voters will get a seat, with less than one “quota” of vote left unrepresented even though they still have a valid preference.
    • Any candidate with a full quota of votes at any time is elected. If their winning vote total is W>Q, then the leftover fraction (W-Q)/W of all of their votes is transferred.
    • Whenever a candidate wins, all other candidates from their riding are eliminated.
  4. Eliminate the candidate who's furthest behind in their riding and transfer votes
    • If a candidate's current full tally is 1000 votes (including local votes, direct write-ins, and transferred votes), and the top full tally of any remaining candidate in their riding is 2000, then they are 1000 behind in their riding.
    • The last remaining candidate in a riding is not eligible for elimination.
    • See above for the transfer methods a voter can choose.
  5. If there are still seats to fill, repeat from step 3.

Proportional or semiproportional?

GOLD voting is proportional in a two-party context. If there are more than two parties, though, it is only semiproportional; smaller parties without a clear regional character may get less than their proportional share. But if that happens, their votes will not be ignored; they will have a say on which of the larger parties gets more seats, and even on which candidates from that allied larger party win. Thus, a smaller party will be able to promote their issues by favoring those candidates who prioritize those issues. Also, if there are two competing party coalitions, with all voters choosing one of the alliances and all candidates preferring same-coalition candidates over opposite-coalition ones, then GOLD will be fully proportional between the two coalitions.

Note that other proportional voting methods sometimes are used with extra rules designed to stop fringe parties from winning seats. For instance, in the German mixed-member "proportional" method, a party that gets less than 5% or 2 direct seats does not get a proportional allotment of seats. Thus, technically speaking, even the German system is really only semiproportional, not truly proportional.


The advantages of this method are as follows. First, the advantages common to all proportional representation methods:

  • Equality: partisan gerrymandering is impossible, and each party gets its fair share of seats.
  • Representation: Almost all voters are truly represented; even if you are a minority in your district, your vote helps elect a candidate of a party you sympathize with.

This method also keeps all the strong points of the current voting system. (The current system is horrible in general, but it still has its strong points.)

  • Simplicity: you just choose one candidate, and the ballot is short.
  • Accountability: voters, not parties, choose who is elected.
  • Unity: discourages splinter parties, because candidates without a strong local base of support are eliminated up-front.
  • Geography: Everyone has a representative who lives relatively close to them.

Similar methods

OL/D voting: basically the same, but without the constraint of one candidate per riding, and with a slightly weaker elimination rule.

Proportional 3RD voting: a similar system, for a nonpartisan context without ridings.