Do the Rules to Select Rules Matter? An Experimental Analysis of Voting Rule Selection

Kaisa Herne, Ryan Kendall, Katri Sieberg, Maria Maunula

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


What factors influence the choice of electoral systems? How do
the rules to change the rules affect this choice? Can we predict what
coalitions will select which voting rules? In this paper we employ a
laboratory experiment that tests a special case of a model of electoral rules
selection (Benoit 2004), one in which there is no existing rule in place. In
the experiment, groups of subjects must select a voting rule (Plurality, Run-
off, or Borda) to be used in an election that ultimately determines their
earnings. We collect data on subjects’ choices and negotiation processes in
a computerized chat. We compare this data across two treatments which
vary the level of agreement required, either majority or unanimity, to select
the voting rule. We find that the negotiation process and subsequent choice
of voting rule depends on the meta-level agreement threshold rule. The
Plurality rule is selected more often when a majority is needed whereas the
Borda count rule is selected more often when unanimous agreement is required. We also find support for testable implications of the special case
in Benoit’s model: When only a majority is required, the model accurately
predicts the coalitions that form along with their selected voting rule. When
unanimity is required, negotiations and choices are more likely to focus on
fairness, equity, and maximizing total payoffs. In addition, negotiations and
subsequent choices under the unanimity rule are similar to subject behavior
when payoff-uncertainty is introduced.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-92
Number of pages37
JournalMunich Social Science Review, New Series
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • voting rule selection, majority rule, unanimity rule, laboratory experiment

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