European Elections: How does the D’Hondt election method work?

Members of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (Polish: KOD) and member of the Polish opposition parties during a 'European Walk' on the occasion of Poland's 15th anniversary of...

The European Parliamentary Elections will use the D’Hondt system on May 23.

The British electorate will head to the polls on Thursday (May 23rd) to vote in the European Parliamentary Elections.

There are 12 electoral regions in the United Kingdom; one each in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and nine in England.

Voters will be able to select which party they want representing them in the European parliament. But this election system is not the First Past the Post method we are used to in General Elections.

For 11 of the 12 regions (Northern Ireland uses Single Transferrable Vote), the D'Hondt method will be used to allocate seats to MEPs. But how does this work?

How does the D'Hondt system work?


On the ballot paper, there will be a list of parties and each party will provide a list of candidates - the number of candidates depends on the number of seats available.

In London, for example, there are eight seats available. So each party will provide a list of eight candidates, ranked in order of preference. As a voter, you do not get to choose which individual candidate you want. Instead, you put a cross in the box of the party you would like to vote for. You only have one vote.

After all of the votes are cast, the D'Hondt system kicks in. This is a type of proportional representation and it decides how the seats are allocated.

The first round is simple: the party with the most overall votes will win the first seat in the European Parliament. This seat goes to the primary candidate on the party's list.

Then, in the second round, it starts to get complicated. The D'Hondt system uses a formula to calculate how each round works: the party's total overall votes received divided by the number of seats they already have plus one.

So, in the second round, the party with the most overall votes (who won the first round) will have their number halved: the total number of seats being one, then plus one as per the formula, and this makes two.

Unless the leading party has more than double the votes of the second-place party, the second seat would go to the primary candidate of the second-place party.

Then, in the third round, their number would be halved (the second-place party would have one seat plus one = two). If a party wins another seat, their number would be divided by three (two seats won plus one = three) and so on until all the seats have been allocated.

Example election

This may seem a bit complicated to take in at first. So, to elucidate, I will illustrate how the election works with a hypothetical vote, using made-up party names.

In this example, there will be six seats to contest in the European Parliamentary Elections. Therefore, each party would provide a list of six candidates ranked in order of preference.

The results are as follows:

  1. Orange: 300,000 votes
  2. Pink: 220,000 votes
  3. Yellow: 180,000 votes
  4. Purple: 120,000 votes
  5. Grey: 80,000 votes

Round One (Orange with 1 seat)

D'Hondt table 1

After the first round of votes, the Orange party's primary candidate takes the first seat as an MEP.

Round Two (Orange 1, Pink 1)


D'Hondt table 2

Then, for the second round, the Orange party has its total votes (300,000) halved as per the formula (300,000 divided by one seat plus one). This means it has 150,000 votes for round two. And consequently, the Pink party (220,000) wins the second seat.

Round Three (Orange 1, Pink 1, Yellow 1)

D'Hondt table 3

Orange and Pink both have one seat each. This means their third round tallies are 150,000 and  110,000 respectively (the formula accounts for their total votes divided by their one seat and plus one).

This allows the Yellow party, which still has its 180,000 votes intact, to win the third seat in the European Parliament.

Round Four (Orange 2, Pink 1, Yellow 1)

D'Hondt table 4

Yellow joins Orange and Pink in having their votes halved because they have one seat (and then the formula adds one).

This leaves Orange (150,000), Pink (110,000), Yellow (90,000), Purple (120,000) and Grey (80,000). So in the fourth round, Orange wins its second seat. This will go to the second candidate on its list.

Round Five (Orange 2, Pink 1, Yellow 1, Purple 1)

D'Hondt table 5

Orange now has two seats so its original tally is divided by three. Its two seats plus one equals three so the initial number of 300,000 votes is now 100,000 for round five.

This puts the fifth round count at: Orange (100,000), Pink (110,000), Yellow (90,000), Purple (120,000) and Grey (80,000). Purple, with 120,000 votes, wins its first seat in round five as the D'Hondt formula puts them on top

Round Six (Orange 2, Pink 2, Yellow 1, Purple 1)

D'Hondt table 6

For the final round, Purple has its total votes halved. This leaves the same numbers as round five apart from Purple, which now has 60,000 votes.

This means that Pink, with 110,000 votes, wins round six and its second candidate gets a seat in the European Parliament. The Grey party finishes with no seats as its tally of 80,000 was too low. The six seats are allocated as follows: two each to Orange and Pink; one each to Yellow and Purple.

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