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Voting methods

Voting is a crucial part of the PB process - whether that's done in a single event, multiple events or remotely. This page looks at different methods of voting and their pros and cons.

The Yes/No vote

The Yes/No vote is the simplest form of voting and the method favoured for elections.  Voters either select 'yes' or 'no'  to a project and those with majority 'yes' votes get the money.

The benefits of this model are:

  • It's easy to explain to voters and it's easy to understand

  • It is already a common way of voting - tried and tested technique

  • There can be any number of projects on the list - the process doesn't limit the numbers

  • Votes can be taken at a number of different places or over a period of time and then aggregated

  • It's easy to use electronic equipment with only 2 options

  • There is no penalty from opting out of a vote on any single project

  • A good option when considering projects singly, rather than grouped together

The disadvantages are:

  • It's easy to co-erce or persuade people to a particular way for a particular project - and to 'rig' the votes

  • The options are limited to either/or there is no way of expressing a preference or rank

  • The process could be problematic if more or less projects get majority 'yes' votes than the pot of money allows. This is less problematic if fewer projects are voted 'yes' than the money allows - as the process could be repeated to allocate the remaining amount of money - however this could put strain on resources


We recommend you consider this method:

  • If you are concerned about voters ability to understand more complex voting systems
  • If you want a tried and tested, well known method
  • If you don't want to group projects for voting
  • If you want to use an electronic voting system
  • You are not particularly concerned about t block voting or rigging votes or you don't think it's a particular issue for the community

The preference vote

This vote is currently the preferred option for PB voting.  Voters assign an arbitrary number to each project based on how much they like the project.  It is different from ranking (see below) as more than one project can be assigned the same number.  Numbers chosen are often between 1-5 or 1-10 with 5 or 10 being 'really like it a lot' and 1 being  'don't like it at all'.   The votes are then added up and the projects put in rank order depending on the total number of aggregate votes.  Projects are then allocated funding in rank order until the funding runs out.

The advantages of this method are:

  • Voters can express a preference - rather than just a single choice.  

  • Voters aren't restricted to expressing a single high or low preference or rank

  • There is no limit on the number of projects that can be included in the process (although there is a tendency to block the projects together in groups and vote at the end of each grouping, so that it's easier for voters to remember all the projects when voting)

  • All the money can be allocated at the initial count and there's no issue of there being insufficient or too many funds

The disadvantages are:

  • Voters can be persuaded to vote the maximum number for a particular project - and block voters can be brought in to vote the maximum for that project only

  • Voters could be come confused with the number of preferences and choices available

  • The voting method is more complex than the yes/no method which requires a greater need to explain the voting method to voters

  • Depending on the number of choices available, electronic voting may not be a viable option

We recommend you consider this method:

  • If you want to provide voting with maximum voting/scoring options

  • If you want voters to express a preference but aren't confident they'll understand the ranking vote method

  • If you want to ensure all the money is allocated at the initial vote

  • If you consider that voting is seen to be simple and that everyone has a choice rather than a system that is designed to be 'absolutely fair'.

Here are a couple of templates produced by projects for voters using this method


Preference voting template



Preference voting template 2


The ranking vote


This method is also called the Modified Borda Count or Preferential Vote and is favoured in conflict situations where there is no simple resolution.  The method is favoured because it is considered the most 'fair' because most people get most of what they want and very few people don't get what they want.  However very few people get what they want the most.  It is also a more complicated system than either of the other two methods.

The method is to rank projects - so that 5 (for example, or the highest number of the total projects) is the 'most preferred' option and 1 is the 'least preferred'.  Numbers can only be used once (which is where is differs from preference voting) and the projects are ranked using the numbers.  Voters can opt out of voting for one or more projects but then the highest 'most preferred' score is reduced by the number of projects omitted.  For example, if the highest rank is 5, but I only vote for 3 projects, the highest rank I can give a project is 3.  If I only vote for one project, I can only score it a '1'.  This way it's always fair and avoids single or block voting.

It's also considered fair because whilst it might be easy to persuade people to vote 'yes' or '10' or to only vote for a single project for the other two methods - this methods dissuades voters from taking such a stance as it reduces their voting leverage.  People who are trying to rig a vote may know what people will choose as their first choice but it will be harder to predict their second and third and so on.

It is generally recommended that smaller groups of projects are ranked - more than about 10 projects and it becomes difficult for voters to rank projects meaningfully.  So either the number of projects should be reduced or projects should be grouped together for voting.  When the scores are aggregated the total number of projects from all the groups can be ranked.

The voting scores are then added up and the aggregated total is applied to the projects.  As with the preference vote, these are then ranked in order and money is allocated until the funds run out.

Because of the ranking system often, the choices in 2nd and 3rd preference come out as being the highest scoring because although it may only be a few or no people's first choice they may well be many people's second or third choice whereas first and last choices may be more highly contested.  This way most people get most of what they want, and why it's considered fair.


The advantages of this method are:

  • It's a very fair system and it's hard to successfully rig or block vote

  • It discourages single or reduced number of projects voting

  • Even when the system is fully interrogated, it still comes out as being fairer - so that it is easy to show as being fair and transparent and avoids issues of foul play or community tensions

  • Most people get most of what they want - true preferences are shown

  • All the money can be allocated at once - without issues of too little or too much money


The disadvantages are:

  • The method is much more complex than the other voting methods and will need to be explained carefully to voters

  • Voters must see/hear all the projects before they can rank them

  • If there are a large number of projects they will need to be pre-grouped before voting or the number of projects reduced.


We recommend you consider this method:

  • You want a completely fair system

  • You are concerned about block voting or vote rigging that could be divisive in the community

  • You have a potentially confrontational or conflict community situation or are concerned that one may arise

  • You are confident that voters will understand the system

  • You have a smaller number of projects

  • You want to allocate all the money at the initial vote

  • You want to use electronic voting systems

 For more information on this method click here or visit


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Copyright 2007, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. Ruth. (2009, March 10). Voting methods. Retrieved April 07, 2011, from Participatory Budgeting Unit Web site: All Rights Reserved.
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