In English local elections, some wards have multiple members. For example, see the Wokingham Borough Council election, 2016 for Bulmershe and Whitegates.

Considering that English elections us a First Past the Post system, how do elections multi-member wards work? If there are N members elected for a ward, does it count as a very small unit of proportional representation, such that N candidates of the same party share a spot and I vote for the party list? Or is it the top N candidates that get a seat? If so, how many votes does each voter get — 1 or N? Or is it two simultaneous elections, as if there are two wards covering the same electorate, with two independent FPTP winners?

A Google Search for multi member wards shows plenty of results from Scotland and Wales, but those countries use preferential voting rather than first past the post (if I'm not mistaken).


3 Answers 3


In most (but not all) English councils with multi-member wards, the question of how to elect multiple councillors at once does not apply in the normal run of events, because only a third of members are up for election in any given year.

There will be three elections in each four-year cycle and each councillor will be elected for four years. For example, Wokingham had elections in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and will again hold elections in 2018. In a multi-member ward, the elections for the different seats will be in different years.

(This is fundamentally similar to the way elections to the US senate work, though the timing and frequency of the elections is different.)

Sometimes, obviously, it doesn't quite work out like this. If a councillor resigns or ward boundaries are changed it can be necessary to elect more than one councillor at the same time. In this case, if N councillors are being elected, each party will offer up N candidates and each voter will get N votes. The N candidates with the highest total vote tally will be elected. Wikipedia calls this Plurality-at-large voting.

  • 4
    I should note that all borough councils in London are elected all at once, not in thirds, and these also have multi-member wards.
    – Joe C
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 5:50
  • Thanks, I've put in a small correction ("but not all"). The split-into-thirds process is mostly found in district councils (and former district councils like Wokingham), I think?
    – Hedgehog
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 21:15
  • @Hedgehog That appears to be a roughly accurate summary assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/…
    – origimbo
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 21:37

All London borough councils are elected at once, and typically have 2 or 3 councillors per ward.

This is dealt with quite simply: voters have as many votes are there are councillors in that ward. So if there are 3 councillors, you get 3 votes.

It's still first-past-the-post, so your votes are not ranked. In this example, the 3 candidates with the highest number of votes are elected.

(Source: here, and personal experience.)

  • 1
    Given the horse racing history of the term 'first-past-the-post', you could almost call this kind of block voting 'place' voting.
    – origimbo
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 10:01


The system used for local elections in London boroughs is known as "bloc voting".

Each local government district (ward) is represented by 2-3 councillors. If there are 3 seats to be filled then each voter is entitled to mark 'X' beside up to 3 candidates on the ballot paper. The 3 candidates with the most votes are then elected.

It is known as bloc voting because:

  • The optimal strategy for a political party is to nominate as many candidates as there are seats to be filled.
  • Typically voters will cast all of their votes for the same party.
  • Typically the same party will win all of the seats in a given ward/district.

Wikipedia also refers to the system as "plurality at large" or the "multiple non-transferable vote". (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plurality-at-large_voting)

Bloc voting has all of the same flaws as the single-member district plurality system used for national elections in the US, UK and India.

It tends to produce highly disproportionate, semi-random results, and there is no guarantee that the party that wins the popular vote will actually be awarded the most seats in the government body being elected.

Under bloc voting the distortions of "first past the post" are actually aggravated because it is easier for a single party to win an unmerited landslide. And we see this in the many local councils in London that are dominated by massive single party super-majorities.

Staggered elections

Where multi-member wards are used outside of London staggered elections may be used, with one member elected at a time, in different years.

Potential for electoral reform

Advocates of retaining "first past the post" (plurality) voting for national elections tend to place great emphasis on the importance of single member districts as a way of preserving a special link between representatives and their voters.

But this argument obviously does not apply to the multi-member district system used for most local elections in England, which FPTP advocates seem to be quite content with.

Because the same multi-member wards could be retained without any redrawing of boundaries, the current system could be quite easily replaced with superior methods like PR-STV, or the semi-proportional single non-transferable vote (SNTV) system.

SNTV has the added advantage that it is very simple to explain and implement, and would not require changing to a new ranked ballot format.

On the other hand PR-STV is already used for local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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