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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action



Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.  Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882 -1945

Multi-voting is not democracy. It is democracy revisited, and revisited, and revisited. In the United States democratic system we elected George W. Bush president with a minority of the vote. Not just because of the Electoral College but because of a more complex issue, the lack of multi-voting. In 1999, during the presidential election there were many candidates. For the sake of this discussion, let's narrow and simplify the field to just three.

George W. Bush - Republican
AI Gore- Democrat
Ralph Nader - Green

At the conclusion of the election, when the popular vote was counted George W. Bush was elected president with a minority of the vote. The Electoral College which he had a majority of the vote, is where the president is really elected. But suppose voters had been given the choice of only two candidates

George W. Bush - Republican
AI Gore - Democrat

Might we speculate that those tree hugging, environment loving, clean air sniffing Greens would vote for

George W. Bush - Republican (Identified with big business big oil)
AI Gore - Democrat (an easily identifiable environmental candidate)

If the United States practiced multi-voting, history might well be different, and AI Gore would almost certainly be president.

Multi-voting is a simple process that allows voters to change their vote as the options narrow.

Suppose you were in a class where you were going to have a reception with dessert. The dessert selection committee has narrowed the selections available to ten choices. All of the choices are the same price and now you and the class are being asked to choose the favorite dessert from the following list.

Dessert Possibilities:

Chocolate Ice Cream                           Vanilla Ice Cream
Strawberries and Cream                       Cheese Cake
Chocolate Brownies                             Fortune Cookies
Lemon Meringue Pie                            Candy Bar
Fresh Fruit Salad                                 Popcorn

Traditional voting

"Ok class, we are now going to vote on our dessert selection. Everyone should pick her favorite dessert from the following list. Susan, you write down the votes as I count them."

The votes are cast and counted and the tally looks like this .....

Chocolate Ice Cream 2
Vanilla Ice Cream 3
Strawberries and Cream 3
Cheese Cake 3
Chocolate Brownies 5
Fortune Cookies 1
Lemon Meringue Pie 3
Candy Bar 2
Fresh Fruit Salad 6
Popcorn 1

Total Students 29

"Well class, fresh fruit salad wins. Bon Appetite!"

You voted for lemon meringue pie, but a larger number of the class votes for fresh fruit salad.

Are you happy? NO!

Do you feel included? NO!

Do you feel ownership in the selection? NO!

Do you want fruit salad? NO!

No! Not me, nor 23 other people!

Let's try it again, but this time we will use a much better and slightly different democratic process called multi-voting.


"Ok class, we are now going to vote on our dessert selection.  Everyone pick his or her six favorite dessert from the following list.  No one may vote more than once for any one dessert.  Susan, you write downthe votes as I count them."

The votes are cast and tallied and the score sheet looks like this .....
Vote #1
Chocolate Ice Cream  2
Strawberries and Cream  10
Chocolate Brownies  37
Lemon Meringue Pie  35
Fresh Fruit Salad  6
Vanilla Ice Cream  44
Cheese Cake  16
Fortune Cookies  4
Candy Bar  12
Popcorn  8

29 students x 6 votes = 174 cast

"OK class, now we are going to narrow our choices to the top three desserts and you each get to vote twice."

Votes are cast and tallied....
Vote #2
Vanilla Ice Cream  25
Chocolate Brownies  6
Lemon Meringue Pie  27

29 students x 2 votes = 58 votes cast

"OK class, now we are going to narrow our choices to the top two desserts and you get to vote twice."

Votes are cast and tallies....
Vote #3
Vanilla Ice Cream  24
Chocolate Brownies  18
Lemon Meringue Pie  16

29 students x 2 votes = 58  votes cast

"OK class, now we are going to narrow our choices to the final dessert and you each get to vote once."

Vote #4
Vanilla Ice Cream  20
Chocolate Brownies  9

29 students x 1 vote = 29 votes cast

"OK class, we will have vanilla ice cream for our dessert."

(Well, I didn't win but at least I have more of a feeling of inclusion, ownership, because at the beginning it was one of my choices, and I like vanilla ice cream too!)

Of course, truth be told, I didn't get my second choice either, but there is more of a feeling of being on a winning side, and chances are the winner was a choice of all the students at one time or another. Using this kind of consensus building vote the results often look different at the end of a multi-vote than it did with a single vote.

Do you remember which dessert won the first vote?


Yup, and it didn't even make it to the playoff vote or the finals!

To make it easier to try multi-voting to reach group consensus we have included a step-by-step formula to help you through your first few multi-votes. After the first few times you have used the guide and become comfortable with the process we can vary the formula in any number of ways. Multi-voting is a good way to build inclusion, consensus, ownership and it has win-win scenario. There are no losers.


Step #1 Identify and List the issues or topics to be voted on.

Step #2 Assign a number of votes per person (About 60% of the number of issues)
# votes/person ____________.  Voters write down their vote before voting begins.

Step #3 Each person silently raises his or her hand to vote when the name of the issue is read.  Vote is recorded next to the issue name listed above.

Step #4 the list is narrowed to about 40% of the origianl list. (The top 40&)

Step #5 Assign a number of votes per person. (About 33% of the number of issues)
# votes/person _____________.  Voters write down their vote before voting begins.

Step #6 Each person silently raises his or her hand to vote when the name of the issue is read.  Vote is recorded next to the issue name listed above.

Step #7 List is narrowed down to the final top 3 choices.

Step #8 Everyone gets two choices, each person silently raises their hand to vote when the issue name is read.  Vote jis recorded next to the issue name listed above.

Step #9 Everyone wins, or at least comes in second!

Conclusion: Multi-voting, builds consensus, ownership, and inclusion.  It demonstrates respect, and it is much easier to do than it is to describe.

Here are a few other final points on voting, multi-voting and secret ballots, presented in the context of the principles of belonging and self actualization by a familiar educational guru, Abraham Maslow (1958).

Need to Belong? - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow came up with the theory of self-actualization.  He argued that people were naturally motivated to achieve or self-actualize if their needs were met.  He identified a hierarchy of needs shown below.  A sense of belonging is one of the four basic and deficit needs.  If these needs are not met we feel it.  If we get enough, we don't notice it.  Maslow believed that we don't feel hunger or thirst until we are hungry or thirsty.  Maslow thought the same was true of belonging.  However once we feel esteem and self-actualization we are always seeking more.

Self Actualization

Esteem Needs

Love and Belonging Needs

Safety and Security Needs

Physiological Needs

Whether you think that Maslow was on the right track or not, there is little doubt that everyone and especially children have a real need to belong and to be loved and valued.

Children need to belong, and it is often that need makes them so susceptible to peer pressure. Sex, drugs, gangs, and other opportunities to belong can often be painful and negative experiences for children. If we are going to encourage our children to have less stress in their lives and to have a more fully- developed sense of who they are-confident and capable individuals, then we must be careful to protect their sense of belonging. Voting can either enhance or impede a student's feeling of self-worth. "By the strength of my vote I can join or be excluded from a group of friends or desired friends. With my vote I can stand alone, or I can join others."

In order to get the greatest value from voting, we as a democratic, individual, idea loving nation encourage the use of the secret ballot. Within the privacy of a voting booth people are more inclined to vote their conscience knowing that their conscience will be secret. Many of us might be encouraged to vote differently if we were required to raise our hand in public to show our thoughts.

"Viva la secret ballot!"

But a secret ballot may not work in a multi-vote. It may take too long and make the process unwieldy. Most of the time, the multiple opportunities to vote that occur in the multi- voting process encourages honesty as everyone can agree some of the time and still belong. There are however, two things you can do to improve the process and get a more honest vote tally.

The first thing to do is to consider having everyone vote at the same time.

"All right class we are going to vote for your three favorite desserts. At the count of three everyone who would vote for vanilla raise your hands.

One, two, three.... OK Susan, count the votes."

Doing a simultaneous vote encourages honesty and discourages students from looking about the room to see how friends' or friend "wanna-bes" are voting.

Never use public or open voting for a discussion of issues that are strongly held, personal, or potentially embarrassing. If you want to poll a group on these types of issues, always, always use a secret ballot type of voting process.

A second voting trick to use is the "Yes, No, Pass" option.

By simply showing a hand with the thumb up, thumb down or finger out, we indicate our vote. This is a quick way to collect information from students about consensus. Do not use this option instead of a secret ballot or when it may be a close or sensitive issue being voted.

The "Yes, No, Pass" option works very well for quickly measuring the sentiment of the group. It is not an accurate measure for group feeling, nor is it good for discussion types of questions and issues. But it does provide an opportunity for the facilitator to determine how the group is reacting to the discussion or the conversation.

"So class how many of you are satisfied with the choice of vanilla ice cream as our dessert? On the count of three we are all going to vote using our right hands. Ready? One, two, three."

Once you have tried and practice multi-voting and "Yes, No, Pass" in a classroom, it will become a regular part of the student I teacher communications techniques. Students have asked in classes for the opportunity to multi-vote to measure class feelings. Students enjoy multi-voting. They enjoy being asked for their opinions and having their opinions valued.

Hmm, sounds like self esteem building to me!

Maslow would be proud!

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