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Preferential voting and political engineering: A comparative study

Reilly, B. (1997) Preferential voting and political engineering: A comparative study. The Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 35 (1). pp. 1-19.

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The preferential voting system used in Australia has received limited attention there in recent times, but considerably more interest internationally, where it is often known as the ‘alternative vote’. While the academic literature also usually refers to the ‘alternative vote’, this article will follow the local nomenclature of most of the countries cited — including Australia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka — where the terms ‘preferential vote’ and ‘preferential voting’ are invariably used. The article begins by giving a brief overview of the history of preferential voting in Australia (where it has been a feature of national elections to the House of Representatives since 1918) and the abortive attempts to introduce the system in Great Britain and New Zealand. It examines the ‘political engineering’ potential of the preferential vote, including the claims made for preferential voting with regard to the new South Africa and the robust debate on the merits of preferential electoral systems that has taken place in Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Fiji. It concludes by identifying a range of possible advantages that preferential voting may have in comparison to other majoritarian electoral systems such as first-past-the-post, particularly for divided societies.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Frank Cass, London; Taylor and Francis
Copyright: The author
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