The Bucklin Voting System

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Bucklin voting is a class of voting systems that can be used for single-member and multi-member districts. It is named after its original promoter, James W. Bucklin of Grand Junction, Colorado, and is also known as the Grand Junction system.

How it works

Voters are allowed rank the candidates in order of preference (first, second, third, etc.). First choice votes are first counted. If one candidate has a majority, that candidate wins. Otherwise the second choices are added to the first choices. Again, if a candidate with a majority vote is found, the winner is the candidate with the most votes accumulated. The subsequent tier of preferences are added until either a candidate has a majority, or the rankings are exhausted.

U.S. Cities where it was adopted

Date adopted City Population in 1910
1910 Spokane, WA 104,402
1911 Pueblo, CO 44,395
1912 New Iberia, LA 7,499
1913 Duluth, MN 78,466
1913 Denver, CO 213,381
1913 Colorado Springs, CO 29,078
1913 Portland, OR 207,214
1912 Nashua, NH 26,005
1913 Cleveland, OH 860,663
1913 La Grande, OR 4,843
1913 Fort Collins, CO 8,210
1913 St Petersburg, FL 4,127
1913 Cadillac, MI 8,375
1914 Vineland, NJ 5,282
1914 Ridgewood, NJ 5,416
1914 Nutley, NJ 6,009
1914 Millville, NJ 12,541
1914 Long Branch, NJ 13,298
1914 Phillipsburg, NJ 13,903
1914 Union, NJ 21,023
1914 Orange, NJ 29,630
1914 Atlantic City, NJ 46,150
1914 Passaic, NJ 54,773
1914 Trenton, NJ 96,815
1914 Columbus, OH 181,548
1914 Jersey City, NJ 267,779
1915 Asbury Park, NJ 10,150
1915 Irvington, NJ 11,877
1915 Now Brunswick, NJ 23,388
1915 Bayonne, NJ 55,545
1915 Hoboken, NJ 70,324
1915 Paterson, NJ 125,600
1915 Portland Water District, Maine
(Portland and South Portland)
66,042
1916 Montclair, NJ 21,550
1916 Newton, MA 39,806
1916 San Francisco, CA 416,912
1917 Gloucester, MA
1917 Newark, NJ
1917 Santa Monica, CA

Criticisms

Some criticisms of the Bucklin system were analyzed in a 1915 article titled “The Preferential, Non-Partisan Ballot“, written by Mayo Fesler, Secretary of the Civic League of Cleveland.

The opponents of the preferential ballot usually aim four objections against it, namely:
(a) It is too complicated for the average elector to vote intelligently.
(b) It confuses the counting and takes too much time to secure returns.
(c) The average voter nullifies the system by not exercising his second or other choices.

Second choice votes

Fesler cites a number of results which contradict this assessment.

buckin results 1

bucklin results 2

Fesler elaborates.

Third charge-—“Do the voters exercise the right of a second or third choice?” Here again experience is the only answer. In the two states above mentioned, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the people were unacquainted with the principle involved and where only first and second choices were to be expressed, the people, it seems, did not in any considerable number exercise the second choice. But in the cities where the full preferential system was adopted by a vote of the people after an educational campaign, the number of second and other choices has been large. In Spokane, Washington, in the first election in 1911, 35% of the voters cast second choice votes; in 1913, 54%, and in 1915, 61%. In the one election in Duluth in 1913, 65% cast second choice votes, and 82% cast other choice votes for mayor. In Portland, Oregon, in the first election, 51% voted second choice and 35% voted a third choice.

In the first election for mayor in Cleveland, there were only three candidates, and only two of these were given general consideration; the third, the Socialist candidate, was a negligible quantity, so that the preferential ballot was not really given a fair test. Yet 27% of the voters expressed second and other choices. In wards where there were six or more candidates for the council the second and other choice votes amounted to from 40% to 47% of the total vote cast. In one ward where there were nine candidates, the second and other choice votes totaled 56% of the total.

In the last election in Cleveland, there were six candidates for mayor. A total of 103,229 first choice, 33,585 second choice, and 15,404 third choice votes was cast. The second and other choices which determined the election reached 47% of the total. In the wards the average of second and other choice votes was approximately 51% of the first choice. In Columbus 59% cast second choice and 71% cast other choices.

These figures from the several cities, it seems to me, refute the charge that the voter does not use the second choice votes. When the voters are aroused they do not fail to use this additional instrument for regulating the choice of competent officials. If they do not use it, then the voting is the same as under the single choice. If they do use it, they have more fully and completely expressed their opinion. Experience shows that the percentage of second and other choice votes cast has generally increased with each election. It is an effective tool to have in reserve for exceptional occasions, especially when its non-use does not retard the ordinary method of selecting public officials.

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