A nice, non-divisive topic for my first
past the post. For those not living on the British Isles, talk of a certain upcoming wedding has no doubt drowned out any stories concerning the first ever referendum on changing the electoral system used in general elections. In case you don’t already know, the proposal is to shift from the current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system to the Alternative Vote (or instant-runoff voting, as seemingly the rest of the world know it).
Predictably, there are well-assembled forces behind both the yes and no campaigns. Unfortunately however, the arguments for both sides are rapidly descending to the level of monkeys throwing shit at each other (albeit with more threats of getting lawyers involved).
Among all this it is difficult to discern actual arguments for and against the AV system. For some reason, both the yes and no campaign websites list only three reasons why they are correct. Let’s start by pointing out the flaws with the no arguments.
AV is costly. The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns.
No, it isn’t. As Chris Huhne has pointed out, Australia has managed to do the counting manually for eighty years. I’m sure we can just about cope. As for voter education campaigns, I can only assume they refer to teaching people how to write down the numbers 1 to 3 on a piece of paper. Is it really that difficult?
AV is complex and unfair. The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected.
This argument, along with any other that says under FPTP the “majority” candidate wins, conveniently forgets that the definition of a majority is over 50% – precisely what is required under AV! The second or third candidate can only win if a majority of people want them to be elected. People don’t have to give any more than one preference, so to say that the “third” candidate is the winner is simply misleading.
AV is a politician’s fix. AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power.
A similar argument, one which is equally spurious, could be made by switching AV with FPTP in the above text. There is really no substance to this point.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the yes campaign is that the points they list is that they don’t point out the true benefits of AV. Such as the eradication of tactical voting. Conveniently, this point is conveniently explained in the latest video by the no campaign:
At around 3:06 one gentleman, who apparently has not actually taken part in a general election, makes the point:
The person you vote for first is gonna be the one you’re most passionate about, but then the second one’s gonna be more tactical.
Perhaps a yes campaign member snuck into the editing room to add this pro-AV point into the video. As an example, under the current system a passionate vote for your Favourite Party is prevented by you playing it safe and opting for a tactical vote for your Reluctant Preference to prevent the Party You Really Don’t Like from winning. So this gentleman would rather step over his preferred vote, and stick his cross next to the safe option, all while enjoying the bitter taste in his mouth? AV lets people vote for the smaller parties that they were too afraid to back under FPTP.
Finally, I feel I should tackle the argument that AV would allow extremest parties to gain seats. Really? I’m not entirely sure that someone whose pencil is hovering over the box next to the BNP will opt for a tactical vote – would they really see a big difference between their seat being won by the Reds or the Blues? If a person is going to vote for an extreme party they will do so under any system.
Given the choice between FPTP and AV, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. The only real difference between the systems is that under AV you actually need to get a majority to be elected. Being able to get to vote for who you really want is the cherry on top of the AV gateau. Unless you don’t like cherries of course. Or gateau. I’m afraid you’ll have to make up your own metaphor.