Sunday, 1 May 2011

Contesting the incontestable: No2AV/Yes2AV debate


It is undeniable that the Alternative Vote (AV) system produces a result that is different from first past the post (FPTP) in constituencies where there isn’t a clear favourite among that electorate.   That AV doesn’t favour (nationally) either of the main parties (as FPTP does) is to its credit because it levels the playing field on which parties with broad support can compete.

  • Voting to keep FPTP (because you don’t like AV or you would prefer Proportional Representation (PR) is saying to the government that you are not interested in electoral reform and support the current demonstrably unfair system
  • FPTP is unfair in a race with more than 2 candidates, because in nearly every election, the winning candidate will only gain the support of around a 1/3rd of the electorate that bothered to turn out. In FPTP a candidate wins with a minority. 


According to the Telegraph.. Twenty MPs from the new intake – ten Labour and ten Conservative – have listed ten incontestable objections to the Alternative Vote system.  (Telegraph points in Italics, my response in normal case)

  1. AV IS OBSCURE: Only three countries in the world use AV for their national elections: Fiji, Australia, and Papua New Guinea
    1. It is correct to say that AV is only in use for national elections by three countries, but even in the UK there are many different forms of alternative voting that take place for different ballots.  In that regard AV is not obscure, but actually favoured for some elections including the election of the conservative leader!
    2. The banality of this argument is obvious though… and one of principle, like saying that we shouldn’t have an NHS because other countries don’t.
  2. AV IS UNFAIR: Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.
    1. Alternative votes only come into play if there isn’t a candidate that passes 50% of the turnout in the constituency AND because their first preference is eliminated.
    2. I understand that there will be a threshold in which the votes for fringe parties will be reallocated in the event that none of the candidates reaches that 50% in the first place.
    3. This position assumes that those who might vote green or UKIP or even BNP would choose to show a preference for any other party than their own… or at least another one that might raise enough support across the constituency…  In the case of extremist politics, I think that’s highly unlikely.
    4. In reality everyone’s vote in AV is counted the same amount of times in the constituency until there is a clear winner. What changes is the allocation of the vote preference. (your principle vote for a labour candidate or a conservative one will most likely be counted in every round against your first choice candidate)
    5. In relation to the existing system, FPTP national elections are decided by a small number of marginal constituencies. All this proves is that with each proposed system there is some level of unfairness to some, the question is, is AV more fair than what we have now or less?
  3. AV IS UNEQUAL: AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another.
    1. No, AV treats someone’s second or third choice with a similar importance in the event that no clear winner is determined.
    2. The truth is under AV EVERY voter has an equal chance of influencing the result. – This cannot be said about FPTP.
    3. In FPTP, everyone who tactically votes is likely to be voting for who there 2nd ,3rd , 4th etc choice.
  4. AV IS ‘EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL’ THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM: So concluded the independent Royal Commission chaired by the senior Liberal Democrat Roy Jenkins in 1998.
    1. Though the Jenkins report suggested that AV could produce IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES even less proportional results than the current system, the recommendation was that the best system for Britain was AV+ where 80-85% of constituency members would be elected ordinarily through AV whilst the remaining 15-20% would be elected on a corrective top-up basis. But regardless, the general point is moot because neither AV nor FPTP claim to be proportional.
    2. AV isn’t proportional representation, nor does it claim to be.  It is simply a method of enabling more people’s vote to be ‘FOR’ a candidate or candidates, reducing the amount of wasted votes and enabling more people to be engaged with politics, and the result.
    3. The reality is that the result will reflect the choices people actually make.  In recent history the most likely outcome is more seats for Liberal Democrats. (if you consider the actual share of the vote nationally)
  5. AV IS ‘DISTURBINGLY UNPREDICTABLE’ – another warning from Roy Jenkins. Elections fought under AV would either wildly increase the majority of the winning party (e.g. Labour in 1997, the Tories in the 1980s) or create hung parliaments by giving the balance of power to the third party.
    1. This is nonsense.  With FPTP with more than 2 parties and electoral constituencies with massaged boundaries the only predictable thing about FPTP is that the result won’t reflect the will of the majority of the UK.
    2. The reality is that democracy, when allowed to be truly democratic, is unpredictable. I think that is a good thing, because it will return politics to issues.
  6. AV IS NOT WANTED – EVEN BY THE YES CAMPAIGN: Before the general election, Nick Clegg described AV as “a miserable little compromise” and the Electoral Reform Society said they did “not regard it as suitable for the election of a representative body, e.g. a parliament”.
    1. What is not wanted is AV to be the system that endures, but nearly all see AV as a stepping stone towards PR.   The likelihood is that if we don’t vote against FPTP by voting for AV, you will not get another chance to change the electoral system in the UK.
    2. If AV is not wanted, then that is what the outcome of the referendum should decide.  But I want it (over FPTP) and so do lots of others. So the general statement is not only incorrect, it is also premature.
  7. AV IS NO-ONE’S FIRST CHOICE: AV was not in the manifestos of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrats. Many people who want voting reform have spent years campaigning for proportional representation – which AV is not.
    1. The Liberals would prefer PR to be on the ballot paper. It isn’t.  Given that the only options are FPTP and AV, AV is the first choice.
    2. NO ONE voted for the coalition manifesto. That doesn’t mean the same as No one wants electoral reform 
    3. The referendum is on which is BETTER, not which one is perfect.  I can’t see that FPTP is better than AV.. though I can certainly see faults with both.
  8. AV IS COMPLEX: The Government will have to spend millions of pounds explaining to voters how AV works to prevent a fall in turnout at elections. In Australia, the only reason they have high turnout is because they made voting compulsory.
    1. This is a nonsense too.  In Australia after AV was introduced the turnout rose.. This was BEFORE they introduced compulsory voting.
    2. Anyone who can count to three can vote in AV. It takes no explaining.  Rank your preference 1st choice, 2nd, 3rd.
    3. I agree that voting should be compulsory (even if people only spoil their paper)  but with turnout being voluntary no-one really knows if it will increase or decrease.. wouldn’t it be interesting to try?
    4. My own view is that anything that rewards peoples action to vote is likely to encourage voting.
  9. AV IS EXPENSIVE: Under AV we won’t be able to count ballot papers by hand on election night if we want a quick, decisive election result. Local councils will have to purchase electronic counting machines that are very expensive and prone to malfunction.
    1. This has already been refuted.  Manual counting is not just possible, but possible in similar time. 
    2. Where there is a clear winner, the count will be exactly the same
    3. In the event of reallocation of votes, the second and third rounds will take much less time because only some votes are being reallocated.
    4. The benefit of electronic means of recording or counting the vote is a separate issue to be addressed whichever system of voting is used.
  10. AV IS NOT THE REFORM WE NEED: There are lots of genuine reforms which would go some way to restoring people’s trust in politics – but changing our voting system to AV is not one of them. That’s why it’s a shame that we’re about to spend £90 million and five months debating a system that nobody really wants.
    1. I agree that other reforms are needed. But that doesn’t mean this one isn’t needed, and this is the one before us on May 5th.
    2. Do you think it is likely that the Government will offer further reforms if we don’t turn out to vote?

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