How Exactly Are Our Votes Counted?

Call us if you know! (Kidding!)


If you’ve ever tried to explain to a foreign friend how elections work in the US, you know it gets complicated fast. After all, US elections don’t have the most straightforward rules. Two of our last three presidents have won while losing the popular vote (yay democracy?), meanwhile there are states that make voters go to the polls again if the winner doesn’t get above 50% of the total vote. In Maine voters can vote for more than one person in a general election but in California voters must choose one candidate among 20-30 in the primaries.


The more you look into it, the more you realize that the US is actually a lot of different places with a lot of different election systems, all of which are technically democratic but none of which count votes in quite the same way. 

This week we’re beginning a series to help you and your team better understand how votes in America are actually tabulated. It sounds technical, but it’s an incredibly important topic – your ability to cast a meaningful vote depends heavily on how that vote gets counted (and same goes for your team). Terms first-past-the-post, STV, ranked choice, and proportional representation sound complicated, but they’re actually fairly simple and worth knowing about.

Our goal is to demystify as much of the process as possible, so each post in this series will be linked below and you can check back here for updates if you don’t see our posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If there are any topics within the scope of this series that you want to make sure we cover, drop us a line at!

First up? The method most commonly in use nationwide:

The Plurality-Majority System, a.k.a. the First-Past-The-Post System