Next week the UK has a referendum on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system, and deviate from First Past the Post (FPTP), for future parliamentary elections. Being careful to avoid stating my political stance, this is intended purely as a comment on AV.
As far as I am aware, I understand how it works, indicated quite nicely here. But I have an issue with misleading information and propaganda such as in this video [its title ‘Fail’ refers to the exam score, although maybe would have been more appropriate as the popular ‘hashtag’ towards its message as a whole].
Basically, with AV, if no candidate has 50% of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, with second choices being allocated to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate reaches 50% – theoretically giving them a majority. This was how the voting took place for the recent World Cup bid (see this article for details).
On the face of it, winning candidates could claim that they have more support than they do at present. But AV does NOT solve the problem of a Prime Minister being elected with less than half of the votes (as the video would suggest). Consider this situation, which (for ease of understanding) assumes 100% turn out, with only two parties*, and constituencies of equal size:
In constituency A, B and C, the candidate from Party X wins 51% of the votes. But in constituency D and E, the candidate from Party Y wins 52% of the votes. This would leave Party X gaining power as they won more constituencies, despite having received less votes than Party Y in total (with the ratio of votes from X to Y being 249:251). Clearly this difference would be exacerbated with party Y winning a greater percentage of votes in constituencies D and E. Furthermore, with more parties, constituencies of different sizes, and a more realistic turn out (which tends to be closer to 50%), the chance of having 50% of the population’s vote could be reduced even further.
Proportional Representation (PR) would be necessary to solve this particular problem – on which, I do have very strong views. I won’t state what they are, but the Bundestag, in Germany, and the Knesset, in Israel, are both based on PR.
On this basis, it might appear that this referendum is nothing more than political tit-for-tat, so I will end here before accidentally revealing my political viewpoint.
But, which way should I vote – for AV or not? And, more importantly, why?
*when only two parties are involved, AV is no different to FPTP, but the principle being demonstrated would still hold with three or more parties.
Update 27th April 2011:
Thanks to this article, I have now made up my mind which way I will be voting. And although the article is based on mathematics, my reasons are not.
Update 2nd May 2011:
Here is another argument for AV. Shame the scenario doesn’t apply to politics.