Geographic Open List/Delegated (GOLD) voting

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NOTE: this method is largely superceded by PLACE voting, a similar but simpler method which lacks the "open list" aspect.

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 riding or constituency) per seat being elected and that each candidate has publicly declared their preference ratings for the other candidates ("if I don't win, then I want the votes I hold to be split among the candidates I rate A; then, when they are all eliminated, among those I rate B; etc."). Precisely one representative per area (riding, riding, or constituency) will win.

Here are the rules. Items in italics are mere explanations or justifications; the rules themselves are only the non-italic portions.

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 split equally among the remaining candidates from your chosen party (that is, the party of your first choice).
    • This is the default if you vote for a local, non-independent candidate.
    • This option is also called "partisan" transfer.
    • 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 ratings for the other candidates. If the candidate is no longer in the running, these votes will be split equally among the remaining candidates at the original candidate's highest remaining rating level.
    • There are 6 rating levels: "endorsed", "accepted", or "rejected" for same-party candidates, then those same 3 levels for other-party candidates. To help discourage "funnel candidates" who exist only to give votes to one other candidate, there must be at least 2 candidates at each rating level that's used at all.
    • 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.
    • Candidate X is eliminated unless they fulfill one of the following criteria. (In all cases, "local" means "from the same riding".)
      • First place locally: X has more votes from a given riding than any other candidate.
      • Second place locally and more than half of first: X has more votes from a given riding than all but one other candidate, and at least half as many as that one.
      • In top 50% locally and more than 1/3 of first: In some riding, the local votes for candidates who have more than X add up to less than 50% of all the local votes, and X has at least 1/3 the local votes in that riding as the top candidate there.
      • First place semi-locally: They have more total (local and non-local) votes than any other local candidate, and at least half as many local votes as any other local candidate.
    • If a candidate was kept due to being first or second place, or part of the top 50%, using votes from a riding where they weren't originally running, from this point on they are considered to be running in that riding.
    • 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.
    • In the rare case that several candidates from separate ridings reach a full quota at the same time, the one with the fewest local votes is elected first, to allow the others to possibly accumulate a bigger surplus before winning. In the even rarer case that more than one candidate from the same riding reach a full quota at the same time, the one with more local votes is elected.
  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.
    • If a candidate passed pre-elimination in multiple ridings, use the riding without a winner yet in which they're behind by the least.
    • This rule means that 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.

Once all winners are chosen, each winning party is responsible for assigning each riding they did not win to be "additional territory" of one of their winning representatives. Representatives are responsible to all citizens from their own riding, and also to hear petitions from their "additional territory". That means that if you are in the minority in your riding, you will still have a sympathetic representative to petition.

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 riding, 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.

Technical note: codes for "write-in" (non-local) candidates

One good way to allow "write-ins" of any non-local candidate would be for each candidate to have a unique numeric code. To "write in" a candidate, one could check boxes corresponding to their three-digit code, plus an additional box for their party. These codes could be assigned such that minor "mistakes" in a valid code, such as adding or subtracting one from any digit or transposing two adjacent digits, would lead to an invalid code, and one that was dissimilar to all other codes of candidates from the same party. In that way, minor ballot mistakes could be caught and even corrected. (The level of such error correction that is possible depends on the size of the states, but it could be quite good for all but the largest states using three-digit codes. The larger states could choose between a reduced potential for error correction, and using four-digit codes.)

Using such a mechanism, a voter could simply "write in" a party but not a specific candidate. This would be considered as a vote for an eliminated candidate for that party, using "partisan" transfer.