Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why Britain shouldn't adopt the Alternative Vote.

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine." Thomas Jefferson
On Thursday, the people of Britain get to vote in only their second referendum (and look how great the results of that first one turned out!)

They'll be deciding whether or not to scrap the current voting system – know as "first past the post" and adopt a system of proportional representation instead.

The differences between the two systems are largely in complexity.

In the existing system, candidates stand for election and the one with the most votes wins. All voters have to do is tick the box for their favorite candidate.

So my vote would look like this:
I support Mr. Conservative, so therefore tick his name to place my vote.

With proportional representation – the so-called AV or Alternative Vote – voters write a '1' in the box for their favorite candidate, and then are free to "rank" their alternative choices in order of preference (or not at all.) If their first choice candidate gets knocked out, their second choice votes get tallied and added to the scores of the remaining candidates. If their second choice gets knocked out, their third votes get tallied and so on.

So my vote would look like this:
My first choice would be Mr. Conservative, but if he didn't win I'd pick Ms. Lib Dem next and Ms. Green after that. I wouldn't support either Labor or the BNP with even a 4th or 5th place vote.

The logic behind AV is that it gives more than the two leading parties the opportunity to win by taking into account most people's second or third votes.

For example, in a constituency in which the Labor candidate got the most votes, those who voted for the candidate with the least votes would have their second choices added to the pile instead. Hypothetically, let's say it was the BNP candidate got knocked out – and most of those 'second choice' votes would be for the Conservative candidate, edging him above the Labor candidate with the most votes.

It's slightly complicated and involves an additional step in the voting process (ticking more than one box.) It also stands to significantly redefine which parties eventually get into power.

Which is, in all honesty, the reason the Lib Dems and smaller parties are so keen on it.

Currently, they are vastly outnumbered in parliament and they believe that AV would give them more of a shot at winning seats. Many in the Labor party – realizing that they're basically unelectable for the next decade – also support AV because most Lib Dems would put their second choice vote down as Labor rather than Conservative, and give Labor candidates who would have traditionally lost an election the boost in votes they'd need to win.

Which is why, after carefully considering the system, I don't support it.

Because essentially, it's being touted only by the parties who never win in the first place - so that they can cynically get seats in parliament that they don't deserve. Their motive? Democracy didn't work, so finagling the system might. It's basically a referendum to rig the ballot boxes and I don't think that's right.

I can understand supporters of minority parties who feel frustrated that their candidates never wins – but that's politics.

If your message doesn't appeal to enough people, it might be time to start rethinking it; rather than trying to change the system to get your way regardless.

1 comment:

MissImp said...

Hi Roland

I love you dearly (you know this already) but I need to point out a couple of things.

You refer to AV as "Proportional Representation". It's not. It's a majoratarian system, just like First Past The Post. It doesn't provide a proportional result - in fact on occasions it can distort the over all national vote share more than FPTP.

You also state that most Lib Dems would have Labour as second preference. Most polling shows that Lib Dem voters are pretty evenly split. In 1997 they were significantly more pro-Labour but last year that had reversed.

If you want to talk actual PR then that's great - because that's actually fair. If a party gets around 35% of the votes, they get around 35% of the seats. That, to my mind, is democracy, which would explain why every emerging democracy in the last couple of decades has rejected FPTP and opted for a more proportional system.

AV, however, isn't proportional. To many it's a step in the right direction, but it's a small step.