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Just What Is the Alternative Vote System?

September 24, 2010 5:23 PM
Alternative Vote

AV can sound complicated, but it's simple when you know how it works

Next May there is a nationwide Referendum on changing the way we vote. Most people have little idea of how this voting system differs from the one we use at present which is called First-Past-The-Post.

So what is AV?

The Alternative Vote (AV) is very much like First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). Like FPTP, it is used to elect representatives for single-member constituencies, except that rather than simply marking one solitary 'X' on the ballot paper, the voter has the chance to rank the candidates on offer. The voter thus puts a '1' by their first-preference candidate and can continue, if they wish, to put a '2' by their second-preference and so on, until they don't care any more or they run out of names. In some AV elections, such as most Australian elections, electors are required to rank all candidates.

If a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes (more people put them as number one than all the rest combined), then they are elected. If no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. This process is repeated until someone gets over 50 per cent.

The case for AV :

  • All MPs would have the support of a majority of their constituents. Following the 2010 election two-thirds of MPs lacked majority support, the highest figure in British political history.
  • It retains the same constituencies, meaning no need to redraw boundaries, and no overt erosion of the constituency-MP link.
  • It more accurately reflects public opinion of extremist parties, who are unlikely to gain many second-preference votes.
  • Coalition governments are no more likely to arise under AV than under First-Past-the-Post.
  • It eliminates the need for tactical voting. Electors can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of wasting their vote.
  • It encourages candidates to chase second- and third-preferences, which lessens the need for negative campaigning (one doesn't want to alienate the supporters of another candidate whose second preferences one wants) and rewards broad-church policies.

The AV system is supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Electoral Reform Society. It sounds complicated but actually it's very easy.

AV in practice :

  • Leadership elections for Labour and Liberal Democrats
  • Elections for UK parliamentary officials including Select Committee Chairs.
  • Elections for the Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Australian House of Representatives.
  • Millions of people in membership organisations, businesses and trade unions in internal elections.
  • Most Student Union elections.
  • Irish Presidential election.
  • Numerous American City, Mayoral and district elections.