About the DemoChoice Web Poll

What's the basic idea?
DemoChoice web polls are designed to produce satisfactory representation for everyone, where any majority of representatives was elected by a majority of voters.

If your favorite candidate has too few votes to win, your vote will be transferred to your next favorite, if possible.

If your favorite candidate has more than enough votes, some ballots may be partially transferred so that all winners represent roughly equal numbers of voters.

What is DemoChoice for?
In a democracy worthy of the name, everyone's voice is heard (or represented with their explicit consent), and decisions require at least majority support: more people should support an idea than oppose it.

If you elect your representatives by majority vote, and they make decisions by majority vote, a small group can overrule the will of almost 75% of voters - and up to half of all voters don't even have representatives who will express their protest.

Usually we (Americans) elect people by "most votes wins" instead of majority, so it can be even worse. And worse than that, the people in power can group you with others who will vote against your favorite - they can decide which voters gain representation. No wonder so many people have lost faith and don't bother to vote: this approach miserably fails to meet our goals.

But it can be done! DemoChoice gives you the freedom to express your preferences in detail among many viable choices, and then counts your votes in a way that pursues the democratic goals noted above. It can usually accommodate almost everyone. As a result, voting actually becomes a fun, positive, and rewarding experience!

How does DemoChoice pursue its goals?
DemoChoice attempts to assign everybody to their favorite representative. To make this work, a few adjustments need to be made.
  • Not all candidates can win.

    There are usually (and hopefully) more candidates than offices, so voters for candidates with the fewest votes must choose their next favorite.

  • Representatives should have equal support.

    (This doesn't apply to single-winner elections.) Because representatives have equal voting power, they should each represent an equal number of voters, in order to satisfy the first goal listed above. In pursuit of this, if a candidate receives more than enough votes to get elected, the extra votes will be counted toward their next favorite candidate instead.

How are the results tallied?
It's easiest to understand this by just watching how the votes move on the results pages, but here are the detailed rules for the count.
  1. In each round, each ballot not assigned to an elected candidate is assigned to its highest-ranked continuing candidate. (A "continuing" candidate is one who has not yet been elected or eliminated.)
  2. If no continuing candidates are ranked on a ballot, it is assigned to its highest-ranked elected candidate, if any, or otherwise counted as a vote for "none of these" continuing candidates.
  3. If any continuing candidates have a number of votes exceeding the threshold (defined below), they are declared elected.
  4. If the number of continuing candidates does not exceed the number to be elected, all of them are declared elected. To finish the process and arrange so that each winner represents the same number of voters, a final series of transfers is made (by the usual procedure below) from the candidate with the most votes to candidates with less than a seat's worth of votes. This transfer is performed for each candidate with more that that number.
  5. If any candidates have a number of votes exceeding the threshold, the candidate(s) elected in the earliest round, and then the candidate with the most votes among those, is identified. Some ballots assigned to this candidate are split into a fraction (defined below) that stays assigned to that candidate and a fraction that will count toward continuing candidates in subsequent rounds. Only the ballots most recently assigned to the candidate in the round in which s/he won, and only those that have a valid next choice, are subject to splitting.
  6. If no candidates exceeded the threshold in this round, and there are continuing candidates, the last-place candidate is eliminated.
  7. This process repeats until it is finished.

If the election is an "instant runoff" for a single winner, rule 5 has no effect, and the process stops immediately if any candidate reaches the threshold.

Hey! This is too complicated!
The rules behind DemoChoice appear complex, but only because they put nearly all of the electoral controls within reach of the voter. With currently used methods, the outcome of most elections is determined primarily by political consultants who use sophisticated computer algorithms and large databases to manipulate district boundaries and reduce competition. Casting a DemoChoice vote is straightforward, but with current methods, voters must fret over strategy to avoid wasting their vote on a loser or on someone who would win anyway. Don't give up!
How many votes does a candidate need to win?
A candidate is guaranteed victory if his or her number of votes exceeds the minimum it could be without making it possible for too many candidates to win (that would be a majority in the case of a single-winner election). If each elected candidate achieves this, then a majority of the people elected represents a majority of the voting public.
The formula for the threshold is:
threshold = total votes

# winners + 1
So if 100 votes were cast:
SeatsVotes needed
1more than 50
2more than 33 1/3
3more than 25
4more than 20

Votes for "none of these" are not included here.

It is possible for candidates to win without reaching the threshold if they are the only ones left. This is especially likely if a large number of ballots end up with all of their choices eliminated. In instant runoff (single-winner) elections, the threshold is traditionally recalculated in every round, excluding ballots with all choices eliminated from the total number of votes. This way, there are always two candidates left in the final round.

Once all winners are chosen, DemoChoice "raises the bar" and requires that each winner have the same number of votes, equal to the number of votes divided by the number of seats, again not including votes for "none of these".

In a multi-winner election, how do you choose which votes stay assigned to a winner?
There are several ways to do this, depending on the situation. They can be randomly chosen, or chosen based on the distance between the winner's home precinct and the voters' precincts.

DemoChoice assigns all ballots that counted for the winner in prior rounds. Among ballots that were newly assigned in the winning round, a fraction of each of ballot is redistributed to their next choices. This fraction is equal to the fraction of those votes above the threshold:

total votes - threshold

recently cast ballots

This ensures that all winners represent constituencies of similar size, and that people don't avoid voting for popular candidates, thinking that they will get elected anyway. It follows the first-come-first-serve rule to reduce the number of ballots that are split into fractions.

What happens if there is a tie?
Ties are not a very significant issue in public elections, because the number of ballots is large and ties are statistically rare. However, in a demonstration poll like this, they can happen frequently. Here, they are broken by comparing votes in successively previous rounds, or by random lot if that fails.
Is this the same as Instant Runoff Voting?
Yes, if there is one winner. This method works well for electing mayors, governors, or presidents. The multi-winner version should be used for boards, councils, and legislatures. This gives more people representation than the usual method of dividing voters into districts and using single-winner elections in each.
How well does it work?
DemoChoice can routinely assign more than 90 percent of voters to representatives they support. This usually means that a decision by a majority of representatives reflects the will of a majority of voters. Winners receive nearly equal shares of votes, so that each vote corresponds to a nearly equal amount of legislative power. Each representative has the unanimous support of his/her voters. Voters have a large number of options because there is no appreciable 'spoiler' or 'vote-splitting' effect to scare away candidates. See for yourself by looking at the results pages on the DemoChoice site!
Where did you get this newfangled idea?
This method of voting was first proposed in 1821, within a generation of adoption of the US Constitution. Similar methods were proposed independently in the US, Britain, and Denmark, and were used in a few public and private elections in that century. John Stuart Mill, the most well-known scholar on the theory of representative government, tried unsuccessfully to enact it when he served in the House of Commons. Australia and Ireland have used this method since the early 20th century. New Zealand, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have adopted it more recently.

About two dozen US cities including New York and Cincinnati elected their city councils this way in the first half of the 20th century. It was very effective, but the principle of an equal voice for all was ahead of its time - women had only just been allowed to vote, and this was well before the civil rights movement - so it was repealed in almost all cases. The only remaining case is Cambridge, MA. In 2002, San Francisco adopted instant runoffs to determine a majority winner for mayor and other offices, followed by a few cities across the bay: Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro. Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, are among other cities adopting instant runoffs since then. In 2018, the first statewide instant runoffs were held for gubernatorial and US House partisan primary elections.

Let's do this in our local, state, and federal governments!
If you are interested in promoting this method of voting, FairVote can provide more information and help you find like-minded people. Also, browse the DemoChoice library.
How can I print (or save) the results?
To print the bar charts, you may need to change your browser settings to enable printing of background colors. For example, in Microsoft Internet Explorer, choose "internet options" from the "tools" menu, go to the "advanced" tab, and check the "print background colors and images" box. If the dotted threshold line doesn't print, add "&thickdot=on" (without the quotes) to the page's web address.

If the poll has a large number of candidates, the results may be broken into pages. To disable this in order to save or print results, use "&page=0" (no quotes) in the page's web address.

Why didn't the totals change after I voted?
They did - try pressing your browser's 'Refresh' button.
I still don't get it!
We want to make sure that everyone who uses this site leaves with a comfortable understanding of how it works. Please feel free to ask a question. Our library has many links to other explanations and discussions where you can learn more.
What do you do with my email address in a private poll?
Your email address will be used to send a confirmation of your vote. In the rare event that your vote is not properly recorded, you may be contacted. Voter address information is not used for any other purpose.
Send us your feedback!
DemoChoice is an ongoing project, and user feedback is an essential part of it. Everybody has a slightly different experience and it helps to hear what parts you found illuminating and what parts you found confusing or cumbersome. Please share your thoughts!


Steve Willett created the first web-based instant runoff poll in 2000, as an interface to ChoicePlus Pro. DemoChoice evolved from this into its own project. Steve and the Center for Voting and Democracy (now FairVote) helped provide web space for the first two years. Many others have provided helpful advice and encouragement. Further comments would be appreciated.