Sunday, 22 August 2010

Yes to AV !

1) What is FPTP (first past the post)?

FPTP is the electoral system currently used in the UK when electing MPs. When people think of 'voting' so a group of people can choose a slngle option from a list of alternatives they are probably thinking of FPTP.

A list of candidates/options is presented, and each person allowed to vote (the electorate) is allowed to say which option they would most like to be selected (they vote), or they may decide to leave the choice to others and not express any preference so don't vote (they abstain).

2) What is AV (additional vote)?

Like FPTP a list of candidates is presented, like FPTP a voter can select the single candidate they want to win. However, the voter can also indicate which other candidate(s) they would prefer if their first choice candidate doesn't win!

The voter numbers any acceptible candidates in order - first choice with a '1', second choice (if any) with a '2' and so on.

When votes are counted, if no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes cast, then the worst performing candidate is removed from the poll and the votes are recounted - any one who had voted for the removed candidate will have their second preference (if any) counted instead. Again if no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes counted, the next worst performing candidate is also removed and the votes are counted again as before.

Eventually, as candidates are removed one by one, a remaining candidate will receive over 50% of the recounted votes and so 'wins'.

3) Why is FPTP being challenged at all? What is the 'problem' that is supposed to need solving?

Using FPTP with only two options is quite simple and straight forward - the option that the majority of voters select wins!

But with more than two options (like 3 or 4 different political parties), it is possible (and quite common) for the option that gets the most votes, doesn't actually have the support of the majority of voters.

i.e. with 3 parties if two get 33% of the vote each and the other gets 34% then the party with 34% wins even though they were supported by far less than half (50%) of the voters. You have a situation where 34% of the electorate 'beat' 66% of the electorate!

It can be argued that this is 'fair' because they are more popular than either of the other two, it can also be argued that it is 'unfair' because most people wanted someone else...

Because of this perceived 'unfairness' - tactical voting has become popular. In this case, where people don't want a particular candidate to win, they vote for whichever candidate is most likely to beat them (instead of the one the support most). They will do this even if there is another candidate that they would prefer to win. Voting for a candidate that is almost certainly going to lose is often called a 'wasted vote' even if it is the candidate that you most want to win. This situation puts pressure on people to vote for people they don't really want to win just to avoid someone else they like even less winning.

So despite the FPTP voting slip being very simple, the process people go through to choose who to vote for (not just policies, but whether or not their vote might be 'wasted' etc) is quite complex.

Tactical voting also means that their is no true record of the preferences of the people of the country - some votes will be for preferred parties/policies/people but many will be for non-preferred parties/policies/people just to try to stop even worse parties/policies/people from getting elected. It is impossible to separate the different types of vote out.

So the problems are:-
a) Questionable mandate of an MP with less than 50% of the vote.
b) Difficult decisions to be made over 'wasted votes'
c) Difficult decisions to be made over 'tactical voting'
d) No real record of the peoples preference

4) Does AV fix these problems?

a) Questionable mandate of an MP with less than 50% of the vote.
Once the worst candidates are removed, the winning candidate will have more than 50% of the votes counted - more of a mandate than 34% vs two candidates with 33%!

b) Difficult decisions to be made over 'wasted votes'
There are no 'wasted votes' - if your main candidate is knocked out, your next choice will be counted. Right up until a candidate has over 50% or the counted votes.

c) Difficult decisions to be made over 'tactical voting'
There is no way of voting 'tactially' voting for what you beleive in is the most likely way of getting your most prefereable MP, and of not getting the MP you don't want at all or prefer least.

d) No real record of the peoples preference
The first preference votes across the country will be a true reflection of peoples preferences. I beleive this is what most scares the old established parties! regardless of the election results and numbers of seats etc. We will have a clear and honest picture of what the people of the country really want - a picture that politicians cannot feign ignorance of.

5) What of PR (proportional representation)?

Well AV is not PR, but neither is FPTP. So PR is almost irrelevant to this argument. But, not toatally...

The first preference votes in AV are an unambiguous record of the preferences of the UK public! Following AV, implementing PR (if wanted) would not require any change to the voting system - we would know the proportions to be represented, so implementation of PR would be a change to the mechanics of the way parliament votes, no change to the way the public votes!

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