Handbook of Social Choice and Voting

Handbook of Social Choice and Voting

Edited by Jac C. Heckelman and Nicholas R. Miller

This Handbook provides an overview of interdisciplinary research related to social choice and voting that is intended for a broad audience. Expert contributors from various fields present critical summaries of the existing literature, including intuitive explanations of technical terminology and well-known theorems, suggesting new directions for research.

Chapter 7: Supermajority rules

Keith L. Dougherty

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, public choice theory, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice


In the early twelfth century Catholic popes were elected by unanimity rule. The Catholic Church believed God had one will and unanimity rule was the only way the cardinals would find that will. However, disagreements over the proper person to serve as pope often produced turmoil. In several cases, the cardinals could not reach unanimous decisions, causing them to break into factions and elect two popes: a pope and an anti-pope. The frequency of such conflicts led Pope Alexander III (himself competing with an anti-pope) to abandon unanimity rule in 1179, in favor of a two-thirds rule. The lower threshold made it easier for the cardinals to elect a single pope representing a united church. Rather than reduce the threshold of affirmative votes further to, say, majority rule, in 1274 the Church locked the cardinals in conclave and did not let them out until they made a united decision. This placed the cost of indecision more squarely on the cardinals and inhibited their attempts to find kings to support them as dissident popes. Electing popes by two-thirds of the cardinals secluded in conclave remains the method used today (Colomer 2001).

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