On Thursday, the UK will vote in our first referendum since the seventies. We will get to decide whether we switch our electoral system from first past the post to the alternative vote method.
First Past The Post
Our current system is very simple. People vote for one candidate, and whichever candidate gets the most votes overall wins. There is no minimum number or percentage of votes required to win, so it is perfectly possible (and indeed, very common) to win with less than a majority of votes.
‘AV’ is the challenger. Under this voting method, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. You can rank all the candidates, or only some. If you only want one of the candidates to win, you rank that person number one and do not rank their rivals. When the votes are counted, everyone’s first preference votes are counted initially. If one candidate wins more than half of all votes, that’s it, they win. If no-one does, the lowest vote getter is eliminated. The ballots of those who voted for that person as their first preference are examined and their second preference votes are distributed.
If, after this, there is still no candidate who has won more than 50% of the vote, the next lowest vote winner is eliminated and their second preference votes distributed, and so on until someone gets 50%.
So what are the arguments? The BBC has asked the campaigns to put forward the 5 best arguments to support their view. To my mind, here are the strongest from each side:
- It will cost millions of pounds to implement
- It may lead to politicians being driven to the middle to appeal to as many people as possible
In Favour of AV
- It means politicians will have to do what the majority of the country wants if they want to be re-elected
- Victorious candidates are likely to be those on which most constituents can agree
- If you would be happy with one of several candidates being elected, you don’t have to choose, which may reduce tactical voting.
What has annoyed me the most about this campaign is the assertion that AV is ‘complicated’. More complicated than First Past The Post, to be sure, but all the voter really needs to know is that instead of putting a cross in the box next to your favoured candidate’s name, you put numbers to rank them in order. The most irritating thing is that ‘complicated’ is really a polite way of saying ‘You’re too stupid to understand this.’
I’m voting yes, although it looks like the no campaign will win.
What about you? Have you made up your mind? If not, here are some useful links:
No2AV campaign website: http://www.no2av.org/
Yes to Fair Votes campaign: http://www.yestofairervotes.org/content/
The Electoral Commission’s unbiased booklet explaining how both systems work: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/PDF/England-accessible.pdf
Polling stations are open across the country tomorrow (5th May) from 7am to 10pm.