© 2019

Smarter Ballots

Electoral Realism and Reform

  • Offers a comparative overview of elections research on the US, UK, Australia, Spain, Ireland, etc

  • Translates the results of academic research on elections worldwide for non-specialist scholars

  • Provides specific recommendations for electoral reform in response to the insights of electoral constructivism


Part of the Elections, Voting, Technology book series (EVT)

About this book


This book presents a new democratic theory of election reform, using the tradition of political realism to interrogate and synthesize findings from global elections research and voting theory. In a world of democratic deficits and uncivil societies, political researchers and reformers should prioritize creating smarter ballots before smarter voters. Many democracies’ electoral systems impose a dilemma of disempowerment which traps voters between the twin dangers of vote-splitting and “lesser evil” choices, restricting individual expression while degrading systemic accountability. The application of innovative conceptual tools to comparative empirical analysis and previous experimental results reveals that ballot structure is crucial, but often overlooked, in sustaining this dilemma. Multi-mark ballot structures can resolve the dilemma of disempowerment by allowing voters to rank or grade multiple parties or candidates per contest, thereby furnishing democratic citizens with a broader array of options, finer tools of expression, and stronger powers of accountability. Innovative proposals for ranking and grading ballots in both multi-winner and single-winner contests, including referendums, are offered to provoke further experimentation and reform—a process that may help the cause of democratic elections’ relevance and survival.


Electoral Reform Multi-Mark Ballots Single-Mark Ballots Exclusive and Distributive Insput Ballot Experimentation Voting Methods Voting Systems Voting Disempowerment Multi-winner contests Single-winner contests Referendums Voting Theory Political Theory Election administration Comparative elections Ranked choice voting FPTP constructionism realism V.O. Key

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisianaLafayetteUSA

About the authors

J.S. Maloy is Professor and Kaliste Saloom Endowed Chair of Political Science at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, USA.

Bibliographic information


​“With the capacity of elections and referendums to resolve political issues increasingly questioned, Smarter Ballots asks whether this is the case and, if so, whether there is anything that can be done about it. It interrogates these issues through a sophisticated blend of political theory and empirical research and makes a powerful case for electoral reform that enables voters to express their preferences through ballot opportunities that do not confine them to mere approval or disapproval of the options but, rather, enable them to rank or grade these. This timely and accessible book is an important contribution to the literature on electoral system design and is very relevant to current political discussions about how to increase electoral accountability and policy responsiveness.” (Michael Gallagher, Professor of Comparative Politics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland)

“Election outcomes are not unmediated reflections of public opinion. The ballots that voters are able to cast, and the rules for counting the ballots, are just as important as voters’ preferences. Social choice theorists have pressed this point against populists who uncritically hold up election outcomes as if they were revelations of the ‘will of the people.’. But populists are not the only ones who, neglecting the importance of electoral structure, make unwarranted inferences from election outcomes. Maloy shows that democracy’s detractors would also do well to keep electoral structure in mind: bad electoral rules can make voters out to look more foolish than they actually are. Instead of wishing for smarter voters, we should try to design smarter ballots, which allow voters to express a greater range of judgments than simply which option they consider best. Anyone interested in the prospects of empowering voters through electoral reform will benefit from reading this book.” (Sean Ingham, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, USA)

“An impressive study of the democratic dilemmas that electoral systems impose, often restricting individual expression and reducing systemic accountability. Maloy provides a critical assessment of why giving voters the possibility of ranking parties or candidates may solve this dilemma. The reader is guided through possible reform options with a compelling conceptual framework and rigorous evaluation of observational evidence, as well as original election simulations. The lessons we learn by reading this book apply equally well to the conduct of referendums, with innovative proposals for designing multi-option referendums. Political researchers and reformers will want to add this book to their reading list.”(Carolina Plescia, Assistant Professor of Government, University of Vienna, Austria)