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2011 UK Alternative Vote Referendum


Glen Quagmire

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I thought that this goes beyond the General Politics thread (like the general election one last year), and worth one on its own with a poll even if it is a bit low-key right now. I'll try and build up the facts and coverage here...

 

Head note: This is only the second time the UK has had a national referendum, the only previous national referendum was the EEC Membership vote in 1975.

 

What is the referendum about?

 

The referendum, to be held on 5th May, is a proposal to change the way MPs are elected to the House of commons. At present MPs are elected using a system informally called "First Past The Post" or FPTP (sometimes FPP) for short. The proposal is to change this to the method being called "Alternative Vote" or AV for short.

 

What is the difference between FPTP and AV?

 

Both methods elected a single representative to a constituency, but the method of doing so is different between FPTP and AV.

 

At present under FPTP, the representative is the candidate who achieves more votes than any other candidate on the ballot - they do not have to achieve a majority of votes cast.

 

Under AV, the representative is the candidate who achieves more votes than all the remaining candidates on the ballot that have not been excluded; it does not have to be 50%+1, as will be later explained.

 

How does the proposed system of AV work?

 

Under AV, instead of placing a cross or a tick beside just one candidate, a voter can list their preference of candidates that wish to represent them. Under this system, the voter who feels the candidate on the ballot paper would be the best representative places a "1" beside their name. The voter can then make additional hierarchal preferences - who they feel would be the next best representative can have a "2" put beside their name, the next one "3" and so on.

 

The AV method being proposed here does not mandate that a voter has to vote "down the list" or give every candidate a preference, as is the case in Australian federal elections. A voter may indicate as many or as few preferences as they wish, and a vote will be valid if the voter makes just a single "1" preference and no others.

 

Once polling has closed, counting can begin. Once the amount of ballot papers have been counted and that it tallys with the amount of voters who have cast votes from polling station records, counting then begins (round one) with the first preferences counted for all candidates (the same way that votes cast in a FPTP election are counted). If one candidate has more first preference votes than all other candidates on the ballot put together (this is where the 50%+1 comes in), then that candidate shall be deemed elected and no further counting is necessary.

 

If no candidate has more first preference votes that the remaining candidates put together, the next round of counting begins (round two) - the candidate in the first round of votes who attracted the fewest first preference votes is excluded or eliminated. The ballot papers of this candidate are then checked to see what the second preference of votes to other candidates were. The votes that were then cast as a first preference for the now excluded candidate are then "transferred" to other candidates accordingly.

 

At the end of round two, if one of the candidates has more votes than the remaining candidates put together, they will be deemed elected. If not, it is then on to the next round (round three) where the candidate who had the fewest amount of votes at the end of round two is eliminated, and their preferences are distributed. The distribution at this stage works out as follows...

 

  • The votes casting a "1" preference for the candidate eliminated after round two whose "2" preference is to a candidate still in round three will be distributed to those candidates.
  • The votes casting a "1" preference for the candidate eliminated after round two whose "2" preference is to the candidate who was eliminated after round one will be checked to see what candidate their "3" preference went to, and this will be distributed to those remaining candidates.
  • The votes casting a "1" preference for the candidate eliminated after round one whose "2" preference was to the candidate eliminated after round two will be checked to see what candidate their "3" preference went to, and this will be distributed to those remaining candidates.

 

After this, if a winner can still not be declared then, depending on the amount of candidates on the ballot paper, eliminations and rounds shall continue until one can be, this may go down to two candidates who have a final total after the third-placed candidates preferences have been distributed.

 

If all my candidates that I have given preference to are eliminated, what happens to my vote?

 

In this case, your vote is deemed "exhausted" as it cannot be distributed to another candidate and therefore cannot contribute to the totals of any of the remaining candidates. To prevent your vote from being potentially exhausted, you should vote "down the list" i.e. give a preference to all candidates. The jury is out as to wherever it is better for a voter to give a low preference to a candidate they do not want to see elected, or not give them a preference at all.

 

So why is it not 50%+1 despite the claim?

 

Because unlike the similar system in Australian Federal Elections which require you to vote down the list of candidates or it will not count, there is no guarantee under the proposed AV system for elections to the House of Commons that all votes cast will still be valid if a winner is not declared at the end of round one. Rather, as explained several times above, the winner is the candidate who has more votes than all others left put together that is the winner regardless of what round they win in as no other candidate can then catch him or her.

 

If a candidate I have given a first preference to is eliminated and I have a preference available to give to another candidate still in the running, does the distribution to this candidate carry the same weight as my first preference?

 

Yes. Your vote weight regardless of which candidate it has been preferenced to remains the same throughout the process, and only one candidate that hasn't been eliminated can hold that vote at any one time during the process. The exception is if your vote becomes exhausted and can't be transferred to any candidate still in the running.

 

Is AV Proportional Representation?

 

No. Unlike other forms of voting like the Single Transferable Vote, MMP, open/closed list etc. AV is not proportional i.e. it does not try and give a reasonable balance of ensuring that the number of seats in a governing body is roughly equal to the amount of votes cast to a party. There is in fact some scope that AV may be less proportional than FPTP in a few cases.

 

Are any elections currently carried out in the UK using the proposed AV method?

 

The AV method being proposed is currently used for most by-elections to local government seats in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In both countries, local government elections are normally carried out using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) which is a PR system where several seats are assigned to one constituency using preference voting whereas AV is preference voting to a single seat constituency. Since most by-elections under these systems only see one seat be available, that election becomes AV by default.

 

Does the AV system have any other names used elsewhere?

 

Other names include Instant Run-off Voting (IRV), or Optional Preference Voting.

 

That's all for now, but I'll try and add more to this thread on the run up to the day of the referendum, and I'll try and answer any questions posed that hasn't been done already. If I make a post on this thread formally regarding apart from this OP, they shall be in red like this, otherwise informal and my own opinions shall be as normal.

 

Glen.

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Here in Wales, we have the 'top up' system for Welsh Assembly Elections.

 

Basically, 40 of the 60 members are elected in the same way as Westminster i.e, 'First past the post'.

 

But 20 seats are slightly different. Wales is split into 5 regions, 'North' 'Mid and West, 'South Wales Central' 'South Wales East' and 'South Wales West'. This means there are 4 members for each region, which is a form of PR.

 

In my opinion, it's the best of both worlds. I like the old-fashioned way, but can see that a form of PR is also needed.

 

This way keeps the excitement of election night but also a form of fairer voting.

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After much though, I've decided to go for Option B.

 

As a lifelong proponent of PR, this whole thing sticks in my craw a bit.

 

But I'm happy that AV is more democratic than FPTP, even though it falls short of PR.

 

Anyone who has ever felt disenchanted by politics in this country, who feels that the two (or 3) main parties all feel the same and there's no real choice, should get out and vote YES to this referendum. A change to the voting system will encourage more small parties to start, and greatly increase their changes of election. It will destroy the cosy near-monopolies that Labour and Conservatives hold in so many constituencies around the country. It will make Parliament more accountable, and more representative.

 

If you feel that politics is fine, then vote NO or don't bother voting. Otherwise, if you want some real change, vote YES!

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A positive step taken towards PR I reckon;

 

Hopes of replacing the first-past-the-post voting system with the alternative vote (AV) have received a blow as Lord Owen, one of the founders of the Social Democratic party that went on to form the Liberal Democrats with the Liberal party, helped found a group opposed to AV in favour of "real reform".

 

The "No to AV, Yes to PR" campaign was formally announced on Friday in the Guardian's letters page, with the support of Owen, his fellow crossbench peer Lord Skidelsky, and other eminent figures including the Bishop of Blackburn, Nicholas Reade.

 

It is designed to attract those disaffected by the decision of the longstanding supporters of proportional representation

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Riiight. Well, you probably can't vote in this then.

 

 

I have sympathy with Lord Owen's position (haven't said that for a long time). But if his campaign is successful, he'll help keep the FPTP system in place. That can't be a good outcome for supporters of PR, surely?

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I have sympathy with Lord Owen's position (haven't said that for a long time). But if his campaign is successful, he'll help keep the FPTP system in place. That can't be a good outcome for supporters of PR, surely?

The problem is, if we go ahead and get the AV system in place, that won't be changing any time soon.

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I have sympathy with Lord Owen's position (haven't said that for a long time). But if his campaign is successful, he'll help keep the FPTP system in place. That can't be a good outcome for supporters of PR, surely?

The problem is, if we go ahead and get the AV system in place, that won't be changing any time soon.

 

Why not? Surely an AV system makes a referendum on PR further down the road more likely? Not straight away, but maybe in 10 years time once smaller parties have become established. I think under AV you might see more regional parties (akin to the SNP or Plaid Cymru) within England, and a few splinter groups from the Tories and Labour. The Greens and UKIP will probably become much larger, more influential parties too through defections from the Libs and the Tories respectively.

 

With all those smaller parties geting a few MPS, the impetus for full PR will only be strengthened.

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