The De Borda Institute

Based in Northern Ireland, De Borda promotes inclusive voting procedures in contentious elections

Director Peter Emerson beside a statue of Jean-Charles de Borda

The focus of the De Borda Institute is reform of voting procedures, enabling them to work for cohesion and compromise rather than division and confrontation. We promote the use of inclusive voting procedures, not just in elections, but primarily in decision-making: the Modified Borda Count, (MBC).

While electoral systems vary, decision-making rarely does. In business, law and in politics, people use (simple or weighted) majority votes. Multi-option voting is rare. Consensus voting is almost unheard of, although it is more inclusive and more democratic than the adversarial and dichotomous majority vote.

The de Borda Institute has not only looked at consensus based voting systems in Northern Ireland, but also promoted them abroad, both in 'stable' democracies and in divided societies. Altogether, they include Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Canada, China including Hong Kong and Taiwan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Montenegro, Namibia, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Uganda and USA.

Contributions to the Northern Ireland Peace Process

  • Bringing all sides in the Northern Ireland conflict together in a public meeting in 1986, still eight years before the cease-fire, and identifying their consensus.
  • Using an electronic count at another all-party conference in Belfast, in 1991. On this occasion, the Institute also had a Bosnian in attendance.
  • Organising an MBC social survey in 1998 as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
  • Publishing Defining Democracy (2012, Springer, Heidelberg), with two book launches, one in the House of Lords, the other in Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the President in the Republic of Ireland.
  • In 2013, the de Borda Institute made use of an MBC in China.
  • Three days before the Irish general election of 2016, (2016, Springer, Heidelberg), we launched From Majority Rule to Inclusive Politics in Dublin, to show how a parliament could elect an all-party power-sharing government of national unity.
  • Our latest work, Majority Voting as a Catalyst of Populism (2019, Springer, Heidelberg), was based on a mainly overland journey from Belfast to Beijing and beyond. 

Why the MBC matters

All the demonstrations of the MBC – in Ireland North and South, the UK, elsewhere in Europe including Russia, the United States and, as noted above, now in China – have all been successful. The MBC has also been used for real; the de Borda Institute recently persuaded Dublin City Council to use an MBC in a recent multi-option debate. This is the first time such a voting procedure has been used in an elected chamber, certainly in Ireland.

Sadly, the world persists in using majority votes, despite the fact that, “All the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (to quote Sarajevo's famous newspaper Oslobodjenje), and the same now applies to Ukraine.  And hence too the madness of Brexit.


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