I’ve seen and heard an awful lot of stuff about tomorrow’s referendum on voting and to be honest a lot of it is the same-old, same-old. The main Yes and No campaigns seem to be more concerned with scaring us about the opposition than promoting their own case. In addition I’ve yet to see anyone describe what might actually happen in each case. So I’ve decided to have a go at it myself. I’m well aware that this might actually make things more confusing but I think you can handle it. You clever people.
First past the post (FPTP)
This is what we use now. Here’s a nice diagram of what NoToAV supporters suggest happens with FPTP.
Simple idea: count the votes and the one with the most wins. That sounds good but it’s not usually what happens. They’ve ignored things like tactical voting (voting against the candidate you don’t want) and the 30-40% of people who don’t vote at all. The end result is that the winner probably has the support of far fewer than half the people they represent (let alone a majority). Here’s a revised diagram.
The irony here is that with FPTP many people already vote for their second choice (represented by the red and yellow votes above) as they don’t think their first one has a chance (or they are not standing). So when the NoToAV campaign claim AV will let the second choice candidate win, they’re ignoring the fact that the current system does that already.
Alternate Vote (AV)
This is the competition. YesToAV campaigners suggest something like this will happen if we switch.
Another simple idea. You rank the candidates in order of preference and the winner is the one who eventually ends up with at least 51% of support. Except that’s also neatly avoiding some of the realities like the 30-40% of non-voters and the people who only put down one preference. Here’s a diagram showing what would probably happen.
So you see the winner is the one with at least 51% of the remaining votes not all the votes and certainly not all the people they represent. That said there is a greater chance that more voters prefer the winning candidate than with FPTP.
What to do?
I’m not trying to convince you to vote one way or another – make your own mind up but don’t fall for the campaign lines. Read up on both systems and work out which is best for you butdon’t just fall for the campaign leaflets. They are after all very biased.
That said it is difficult to write a piece like this and not have your own preference come through. For the record I do prefer AV over FPTP ( given the option I’d rather STV or another PR was on offer ). My reason is – I think – simple: I live in a very safe seat and AV would give me the chance of showing my preferred candidate that they have my support and yet still allow my preference between the two front runners to make a difference. I can see some of the benefits for FPTP in an ideal world but in truth we don’t live in one of those. What concerns me most is the way that these campaigns have been pushed as if letting the “wrong” system win would mean automatically letting the candidate or party you don’t want in as well. Both sides are claimimg the extreminst groups would have more chance under the other system. This is not true by the way. There’s no evidence to suggest that extremist groups would have a better chance under either system. Most commentators say that changing to AV would not have made much difference to recent elections so why would I want to make a change if it made no difference? I believe that over time AV (or better yet STV) could make a difference. After the election candidates would better know what kind of support they have among the electorate and could campaign and work to increase that support. Rather than grow somewhat complacent each candidate would need to work to gain not only more first preference votes but increase their second preference ones too. In the end that sounds to me like prospective MPs would have to do something I rarely see or hear of: campaign on behalf of consttuents at times other than elections. It could also mean the candidate who is prepared to win the most support locally will win. This sounds better than the red, blue or yellow campaigning we have now.
Having said all of that I am concerned that this referendum coincides with local government elections and yet I have seen no local campaigning at all. It would appear that not one local candidate really wants my vote. Given that state of affairs I am beginning to see why so many people don’t even bother. So above all else this is a call to candidates in any election – don’t presume upon our votes – win them. Convince us. Not with scaremongering or bogey-men but with work and effort. You want me or my neighbours to vote for you, then show us what our vote is worth. Not with leaflets but with action and if you are going to send me leaflets or run billboard campaigns – make them a little more honest rather than marketing material. because if you don’t do those things then you will find an increase in the non-voters.
Update Although I said much of the AV stuff is same-old, same-old it’s nice to find that there are still some refreshing views out there. My friend Kneewax, for example, has a very interesting one with which I wholeheartedly agree.