Sitting on the fence eventually gives you splinters. If you already know how the systems work but you aren’t voting yes, skip to the end.
Problems with our current system are numerous and varied. We probably can’t solve them all in a single change. Certainly I’d prefer proportional representation with Single Transferrable Vote, but that’s not on offer here. What’s on offer is a simple binary choice between First Past The Post (FPTP) and Alternative Vote (AV). Fortunately, that means the system by which we choose the voting system is fair - 2 choices makes FPTP and AV equivalent.
What is FPTP?
You pick the candidate you prefer. At least, that’s what you’re supposed to do. After the vote, the candidate with most votes gets in. In a close 3-way election, this can be as little as 34% of the vote. In a close 10-way election, it could be as little as e.g. 11%. Obviously, there aren’t very many 10-way close races. Those whose candidate doesn’t win often perceive their vote to be wasted, since it had no direct effect on the outcome.
What is AV?
You rank candidates 1, 2, 3, etc. until you no longer care about the order. At the end, if one candidate has >50% of the “1″ votes, they win. If that isn’t the case, the lower preference votes get used to top up their levels, but not until the last place candidate is removed from the running. This is important, as it makes certain that your later preferences cannot be used against your earlier ones. So, in AV the last place candidate’s ballots are redistributed according to their second preferences. If this pushes some candidate over the 50% line, they win. Otherwise, the process is repeated.
If you don’t understand how the counting works, it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that:
- When you vote, you get to pick a second choice and a third choice, etc. if you so choose
- In no circumstance can a later preference affect an earlier one.
- In some circumstances, your later preferences can make a difference to the final outcome.
Why is AV better?
- If you voted for the winner as your first choice, it’s exactly the same as FPTP - your vote is counted exactly once.
- If you didn’t vote for the winner, but you didn’t care about the rest, it’s exactly the same as FPTP - your vote is discarded.
- If you *do* have a second preference, tactical voting (e.g. a vote for Labour cos the Lib Dems can’t win in your constituency) is unnecessary - you can vote for your true preference, sure in the knowledge that if your second preference is required, it will be used. You still get a maximum of one vote that is counted. It may not be required, though.
Let’s look at some examples:
A constituency where Lab Lib and Con only stand:
Lab gets 40% of the votes. Con gets 45%. Lib gets 15%.
Now, it all hangs on the second preference of the 15% Lib voters. It’s therefore pretty likely that Lab will win here. FPTP would have had Con win. This means that similar parties would no longer be disadvantaged by separating voters.
A more comprehensive example:
Lab gets 34%, Con gets 34%, Lib gets 15%, Green gets 7%, BNP gets 6%, Independent candidate gets 4%.
No single minor group could be the kingmaker here. The FPTP answer is probably going to require a recount and a very slim victory for either Lab or Con. But it could be resolved before that were necessary with AV.
First, the independent candidate’s 2nd prefs are redistributed. Let’s say they all go to the Green party. Green now has 11%.
Now, the BNP votes get redistributed. Let’s say they all go to the Tories. Now we have Lab 34%, Con 40%, Lib 15%, Green 11%.
I’m going to divide the possibilities here.
a) Green gets redistributed. By now some of these are onto their third preference, and some people haven’t given one. So let’s say only 10% instead of 11% get reallocated, because that 1% put Independent 1, Green 2, and then nothing else. So that 1% is lost. Yes, lost votes can still happen in AV. The rest of the Greens voted for the Lib Dems. Lab 34%, Con 40%, Lib 25%.
Lib dems are redistributed, but many of those greens didn’t want Lab or Con so they left it. So only 20% goes to Lab, but it still pushes them over the line, Lab win.
b) Green gets redistributed. All their votes go to the Conservatives, because their logo is a tree. This makes the Conservatives win with 51%, and the Lib Dem votes are never counted. BTW, STV might fix this - it redistributes from top and bottom.
c) None of the Greens had a second/third preference. All their votes are discarded. All the Lib Dem votes go to Labour - Lab have 49%, Con have 40%. I *think* in this situation the Con votes are redistributed, and then if *none* of them voted Labour as a second, presumably the election has no clear winner? Or do Labour default win?
I’m unclear on this very unlikely point.(See comment 4 - Labour win) Even this unlikely outcome is only as bad as FPTP in the same situation.
Still, AV gives you the chance that a second preference might be counted. This is inversely proportional to the chance of your first choice getting in. What I would suggest is that you put all your preferences in, as that maximises your chance of being counted. Australia mandates this, but they also mandate voting, and that’s an argument for another day.
One of the main problems of FPTP is that tactical voting is sometimes the logical thing to do. Tactical voting is where your preferred choice is unlikely to win, which under FPTP is a wasted vote. What you end up doing is voting for your second choice if they are one of the big 2, which still wastes your real preference and perpetuates a 2-party system. The whole system expects there will be 2 major parties — look at how the House of Commons is laid out! The idea is that this creates a strong government who can get lots of bills passed (non-majority wins can lead to a large majority of seats), but I’d rather have a representative government. Change should be difficult if over half the country is against it.
The Tories are against AV. This is because it offers them no advantage and may reduce their voter share. The Lib Dems are for AV, because it gives them a huge advantage. Labour are for AV, I hope because it’s actually a fairer system. Please vote for a fairer system by saying Yes to AV on 5th May. This isn’t about party politics, it’s about making the system better represent what all the voters want.
To those who are so jaded by politics that they don’t see the point:
We can actually fix one reason that you don’t think your vote is worth giving. It’s small, but it’s a start and it’s in the right direction.
As to the arguments against AV, Here are some myths about AV debunked. The only reason I can see to keep FPTP is if your party will lose from AV and you’d rather your party win unfairly than lose (more) fairly. That, or you’d rather the wrong party was in charge than that no single party had a majority. Let me know if, after checking out the myths, you have others.