Posts tagged electoral reform
2 May 2011
Just a reminder that, for me at least, May is the month for saying "Yes!"
And here is why I would recommend a "Yes!" vote in the alternative vote (AV) referendum this Thursday.
- Pretty much everything you've heard against AV is not true. It's not complicated, it's not expensive and it's not unfair, for example.
- AV will deal effectively with the problem of tactical voting. Currently, if you want your vote to count most effectively, you need to guess how everyone else will vote so you can figure out whether you need to vote for candidate A in order to prevent candidate B from winning, even though you'd ideally like candidate C to win. You won't need to do that kind of thing any more under AV. That is a Good Thing.
- AV will deal effectively with the problem of splitting the vote. Currently if there are two similar candidates, they might split the vote, meaning that neither of them wins, and a third candidate - a generally disliked candidate - wins instead. That won't happen under AV, which guarantees that a generally disliked candidate cannot win. That also is a Good Thing.
See the Electoral Commission website for details about the referendum and what AV is, and the Electoral Reform Society website for more about why AV is better than our current system, first past the post (FPTP).
26 Jan 2011
Since last week's voting flowchart I've been pondering whether tactical voting is sensible under AV. I don't think it is.
Under FPTP, tactical voting is not at all uncommon. If your favourite candidate isn't going to be one of the top two, your vote could be used to support whichever of the top two candidates you prefer.
Under AV, however, a tactical vote would be sensible only under the following circumstances:
- It's a close three-way contest.
- These three candidates lie along a clear spectrum (call it left, centre and right).
- Your favourite candidate is either the left or the right candidate.
- In the penultimate round the outcome will be as follows: the opposite candidate in the lead, then your candidate second, and the centre candidate third. And the next-preference votes of the centre candidate won't cause your candidate to win in the final round (in other words, the centre candidate is not much closer to your candidate than he/she is to the opposite candidate).
Now, none of this is particularly unrealistic, except point 4, which assumes a totally unrealistic level of knowledge. Having been in a three-way marginal constituency in the 2010 election, I can confidently predict that it will be pretty much impossible to predict the order of the candidates. All three of the main candidates were predicting different orders for the final outcome, based on opinion polls, historical voting patterns in the constituency, and the national situation (I think all three were wrong in their predictions!) and the more impartial onlookers were similarly divided. Tactical voting requires you to guess how everyone else will vote, and if that is not possible then neither is effective tactical voting.
But what if (for some reason) I think it is likely that all of the above conditions will be satisfied? I could either cast a "sincere" vote (remember that under AV you get to rank the candidates in order of preference):
- My candidate
- The centre candidate
- The opposite candidate
or I could cast a "tactical" vote, effectively deserting my candidate, and hoping that the centre candidate will defeat the opposite candidate:
- The centre candidate
- My candidate
- The opposite candidate
Then what might happen?
- Sincere vote, my candidate wins. Hoorah!
- Sincere vote, the opposite candidate wins, but a tactical vote would have given victory to the centre candidate. D'oh!
- Sincere vote, the opposite candidate wins, but a tactical vote would have made no difference.
- Sincere vote, the centre candidate wins.
- Tactical vote, the centre candidate wins against the opposite candidate. Hoorah!
- Tactical vote, the centre candidate wins against my candidate. D'oh!
- Tactical vote, the opposite candidate wins. Slight D'oh! (people looking at the counts of the votes will assume my candidate had less support than he/she really had)
- Tactical vote, my candidate wins. Hoorah! (but slight D'oh! as above)
So really it would be your call, based on how confident you are in your predictions for the order of the three candidates in the penultimate round, based on whether other supporters of your candidate will also vote tactically (your vote alone is unlikely to swing it), and based on how much weight you give to the various "Hoorah!" and "D'oh!" exclamations above. But once again, I seriously doubt that it would be possible to predict the outcomes sufficiently well to be able to cast a confident tactical vote.
So I stand by the flowchart: in AV you need simply to rank the candidates in order of preference then write these preferences on the ballot paper.
17 Jan 2011
I've been slightly bemused by claims that the Alternative Vote (AV) is more complicated than the voting system we currently endure in the UK, First Past The Post (FPTP). So I made a flowchart to show how to vote under each system. You can decide for yourself which is simpler. And (if you are eligible) on 5 May you can vote for whichever system you prefer to be used for UK General Elections, whether you vote "Yes" to introduce AV or "No" to keep FPTP.
4 Oct 2010
As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm strongly in favour of electoral reform, and given the choice between the Alternative Vote (AV) and First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), I would choose the AV any day. There are plenty of good reasons for that.
But those good reasons do not include the oft-repeated mantra that the AV guarantees that MPs "would have the support of a majority". It doesn't.
First, and most obviously, there is the matter of exhausted ballot papers; I was addressing that last time.
But another issue is what we mean by "support". When I put a cross (or a number) on a ballot paper, I am not thereby expressing support for a candidate. Rather, I am expressing a preference. I might loathe all umpteen of the candidates, but I still have a responsibility to use my vote for damage-limitation (unless I spoil the ballot paper as an act of protest, or shoot all of the candidates and force a by-election with fresh nominations). So the "support" I have for my first-choice candidate might simply be that I loathe all the other candidates more than I loathe him or her. That's hardly saying much.
So, under the AV, suppose that all of the voters assign preferences to all of the candidates, so that there are no exhausted ballot papers (unrealistic, but there's no good reason not to do this). Then the MP will indeed have the "support" of a majority of the voters. But we need to be clear exactly what majority "support" means.
It means that a majority of the voters dislike at least one of the unsuccessful candidates (including the second-place candidate) more than they dislike the successful candidate. Or that they like the successful candidate more than they like at least one of the unsuccessful candidates. Or that they have a preference for the successful candidate over at least one of the unsuccessful candidates.
But not that the successful candidate has majority "support"—unless it is possible simultaneously to hate someone and be their "supporter".
So I wouldn't use the "majority support" argument, except in this sense: that the AV explicitly prevents the least-favoured candidate from getting elected. FPTP leaves this as a very real possibility, through vote splitting, which opens the door for the likes of the BNP to be elected, even when the majority would rank them last in any sensible (preferential) voting system.
30 Sep 2010
The "Alternative Vote" is clearly a huge improvement on the "First Past The Post" system currently used to elect MPs in the UK, mainly (in my opinion) because it means I can simply write down my order of preference on the ballot paper, rather than having to second-guess how everyone else will vote and deciding to vote for my second-choice candidate in order to keep out my third-choice candidate, only to find that my first-choice candidate fails to win by one vote.
So I'll be voting "Yes" in the referendum on 5 May 2011.
But it doesn't exactly help the cause when the main proponents push inaccurate claims such as this:
All MPs would have the support of a majority of their constituents
Choosing the Alternative Vote means when a winner crosses that finish line on Election Day they’ll have to bring the majority of voters with them.
Phil Walker does a nice job of explaining all this (it's quite simple really) and Wikipedia has a real example, in which the winner of a mayoral election in the US, held using the AV, had the support of 48.6% of the voters.
14 May 2010
Just read Is this the time for electoral reform? on Times Online, in which Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, says "Yes", and Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University of Hull and a Conservative peer, says "No". I want to comment on that word "No".
Those two simple letters encapsulate an argument that goes something like this. (1) The electorate would always prefer a single-party majority government to a minority or coalition government. (2) First-past-the-post (FPTP), our current electoral system, is more likely to produce a single-party majority government, and is therefore better at reflecting the will of the electorate.
In response to (1), is it really the case that the majority of voters in the last election would have preferred a majority Conservative government to what we currently have? That is the implication. Let's test it out. Let's ask a typical Lib Dem voter: "Given the choice between two alternatives, and only two alternatives, would you prefer a majority Conservative government or a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition?" The answer: "Coalition." Now here's a typical Labour voter: "Coalition." QED. The electorate would not always prefer a single-party majority government to a minority or coalition government.
In response to (2), if the chief advantage of FPTP is that it distorts the wishes of the electorate so as to produce a single-party government with an overall majority, then are proponents of FPTP open to considering alternative voting systems that similarly distort the wishes of the electorate? Why not have an STV election, with all of its advantages, and then selectively replace successful Liberal Democrat candidates with unsuccessful Conservative and/or Labour candidates? That would produce the same desired effect (a single-party majority government), and could be done in such a way as to overcome some of the undesirable outcomes of the last election, such as the following, from Ken Richie's piece:
On May 6 the Conservatives won only one of Scotland’s 59 seats. In the eastern region, Labour won only two of the 58 seats. Yet one in five Scots backed the Conservatives, and the same proportion of voters wanted Labour in the East of England. That’s what representative democracy means under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.
I think it's time for a change.