In open-list voting systems, voters are free to select any candidate they prefer on the party list.

The number of votes each candidate receives determines their rank within the list, and the higher the rank, the more likely to be elected.

So in theory, a political party can end up in an awkward situation where they win a significant number of seats, but their leader manages to not get elected due to insufficient votes. This would potentially trigger a leadership contest and possibly the collapse of the entire party platform.

So how do political parties under this system ensure their leader (and key figures) get into the Parliament?

  • 3
    Given party leaders are usually elected by a popular vote by party members they should have at least some confidence of picking up a bit significant personal vote share.
    – Jontia
    Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


They cannot guarantee that their leader will be the first person elected in their party. However, there are a few things they can do to improve those odds (though it's hard to quantify the effect these can have):

  • Placing them at the top of the list that appears on the ballot paper: people who are more interested in the party than the politician sometimes choose to simply mark their X beside the first name they see for that party on the ballot paper
  • Name recognition: if you recognise the name of the party leader but not any of the other candidates, then some people will vote for the person they know over those that they don't

In short, they rely more on psychology than they do on the voting system itself.

  • I'm surprised the tactics are that simple. Out of curiosity, are there any studies out there that suggest placing a candidate higher on the list will improve their odds of being elected? Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 17:42
  • @QuantumWalnut you mean something like this: sas.upenn.edu/~marcmere/workingpapers/BallotOrder.pdf
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 18:25
  • 1
    Ballot order effects are well known and are why on ballots, there is generally some randomization in how the order of candidates is determined. I think some jurisdictions change the order for different sub-jurisdictions as well.
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 18:26

More resources to the main candidates' campaigns.

In Brazil parties usually focus campaign resources on the main candidates they want to be elected and the lesser candidates are left with more limited resources for their campaigns, thus making harder for then to get votes. But that doesn't stop lesser candidates from getting more votes than main candidates and this issue happening.

In an extreme case, the party PRONA used to campaign heavily on their main candidate Enéas Carneiro, whom many people even believed to be their sole candidate and their party would get millions of votes mostly on him. This resulted in some of their trailing lesser candidates to be elected to the Brazilian parlament with only a few hundred votes.


Roll-over votes. Even if everyone decides to preference-pick different people, there will almost certainly be votes left over for the party once all the counting is done. Those votes will go towards whomever is at the top of the list and not yet elected.

So if you'd need 500 votes for a seat, and candidate #2 get 900, candidate #3 gets 600 and candidate #4 gets 50, then candidate #1, #2 and #3 will get into office; 2 and 3 with preference votes and 1 because the leftover votes for #2 and #3 will combine into enough for one additional seat, which goes to the person at the top of the list.

It's theoretically possibly that there's enough votes to elect exactly some preference candidates but not enough to elect the party leader, but this is highly unlikely. The only reasonable way this can happen is if the party gets exactly one seat, which goes to a preference candidate because practically all voters want that person explicitly and it's not enough voters that that candidate earns 2 seats.

That won't come up much, only for small (usually new) parties and I'd consider it a good case of "the people have spoken" regarding the party, their chosen leader, and who the people actually want to see in power.

  • 1
    Depends on the system though. E.g. in the Finnish system, the candidates on a given list are ranked for the results based on their individual votes. So if candidate #1 got 0 to 49 votes, candidate #4 with their 50 votes would be picked before candidate #1.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 14:51

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