First past the post

In a first past the post system, voters simply indicate (usually with a cross) the candidate that they prefer over all others. The system is used in the United Kingdom, among other places. The winning candidate is the person who gets most votes, regardless of whether or not that candidate wins a majority of votes. Consider the following result, taken from the seat of Melbourne at the 2010 federal election.

Seat of Melbourne, 2010 federal election
CandidateVotes (percent)
Georgina Pearson (Family First)1.6
Adam Bandt (Green)36.2
Joel Murray (Australian Sex Party)1.8
David Collyer (Australian Democrat)0.7
Penelope Green (Socialist Party of Australia)0.7
Cath Bowtell (Labor)38.1
Simon Olsen (Liberal)21.0

Under a first past the post system, the winner would have been Labor’s Cath Bowtell. Even though she only gained 38.1 percent of the total vote, much less than a majority, she won more votes than any other candidate.

Many commentators would argue that such an outcome would not be terribly democratic. A party winning electorates with 35 or even 40 percent of the vote could win government with much less than a majority of votes across the country. This happens regularly in the United Kingdom where first past the post counting is used. In 2015, for example, the British Conservative Party won a slim parliamentary majority and therefore government after winning just 37 percent of the nationwide vote.