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Blog Archive

Strengths and weaknesses

Submitted by editor on Fri, 07/01/2011 – 15:17


Alternative Vote (AV) and first past the post (fptp) share one weakness. Neither reflects people’s votes proportionately. Sometimes AV and sometimes fptp can be more proportionate. It depends on the voting pattern which varies between elections, so proportionality is not an issue in comparing them.

Some of us would like a proportionate system and some wouldn’t, but it is not an option in the referendum so it isn’t an issue in the referendum. Those who would like a proportionate system certainly won’t get it by voting to keep fptp.

Fptp is the simplest and cheapest system, which some people may regard as strengths but AV supporters point out that AV is not complicated or expensive and it is more important to have a more effective and fair system than to have the simplest and cheapest. If simplicity and cheapness were the most important factors, we’d do away with elections altogether and settle for a dictatorship!

AV is perfectly simple if you can count. You just put numbers against the candidates in order of preference (if you want to) instead of putting an “X” against one of them. The Irish and Scottish already vote that way. However, you can still use a single “X” if you really find it too much to vote 1, 2, 3.

A weakness of fptp is that an MP can be elected even when more than half the voters have voted against him or her. A strength of AV is that a candidate needs more than half the votes in the last stage of counting to win. This is obviously more democratic and better for voters but it is also better for MPs because it strengthens their mandate.

Another weakness of fptp is that voters have to vote as though all the candidates except one were equally bad. A strength of AV is that it allows voters to rank candidates realistically and gradually from their first to last choices.

Yet another weakness of fptp is that many voters are forced to choose between (a) voting sincerely for the candidate they would like to win even though they know they are wasting their vote and (b) voting negatively for someone just to keep someone else out. A strength of AV is that voters can vote sincerely for the candidate they would really like to win and then give later preferences to their 2nd and 3rd choices etc so their votes need not be wasted if the first choice is eliminated.

On a straight comparison, AV is undoubtedly, better for voters and democracy than fptp is.

The No campaign’s misleading claims

Submitted by editor on Thu, 06/01/2011 – 12:57

The No campaign claimed on 4 January that supporters of fringe parties could “end up having their vote counted five or six time” with AV.

Wrong! If you ask for plaice and the shop doesn’t have any, you may ask for cod instead. If they don’t have that either, you may choose haddock but, at the end of the day, you get only one piece of fish – an alternative piece. You have only one vote with AV – an Alternative Vote – but you have a much better chance that your vote can count than with first past the post.

The No campaign also claimed that AV was expensive.

Wrong again! Because counting by AV would take a little longer than first past the post in some constituencies, it may cost a little more, but that hardly makes it expensive. A little more expense is worth paying for a better and fairer system.

The No campaign has criticized AV for not being proportionate, but a proportionate system would probably cost more than AV would. If cost is to be a major criterion, perhaps the No campaign would like to abolish elections like Hitler did. That would be the cheapest option.

Labour hypocrisy

Submitted by editor on Fri, 31/12/2010 – 11:21

The No campaign has claimed that 114 Labour MPs opposed AV.

As the Labour Yes Campaign said, “It is a shame that some Labour MPs who so recently stood on a manifesto supporting a referendum on the alternative vote have chosen short-term tactical gain above the long term interests of the voters and the Labour party.”

Another “No” to No!

Submitted by editor on Mon, 10/01/2011 – 22:37.

Labour yes – – announced today that Albert Owen MP, Labour MP for Ynys Môn, who was trumpeted by the No campaign as one of their supporters, now supports a Yes vote in the AV referendum.

No mistake

Submitted by editor on Fri, 07/01/2011 – 11:33.

The No campaign wrongly included Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman in its list of Labour MPs who support them. Far from supporting the No campaign, he is actively campaigning for a Yes victory. “There’s no doubt that it’s time to have a radical re-think of how we elect MPs in this country,” he said. “I will be joining the campaign for AV and I will be voting for it.”

AV explained

Submitted by editor on Mon, 27/12/2010 – 23:09

Although our explanation of AV – “How to vote by Alternative Vote (AV)” – is clear, we recommend you to visit… if you would like to see The Guardian’s very good graphic illustration.

Our only criticism of it is that it goes on to mention that “AV plus” is a variation of it that would provide proportionality. Although that is true so far as it goes, AV+ is an artificial system to try to make a non-proportional system proportional as between parties.

It would be far simpler and more effective to merge groups of about five single-member constituencies together to elect five MPs together by the same numbering system as AV. As well as providing party proportionality, this system (STV) can provide proportionality between any other groupings that matter to voters; e.g., pro and anti EU or men and women. It can also provide voters with a choice of candidates within parties. Voters could use this to replace MPs who had abused the expenses system without voting against their own parties.

56% support AV!

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Mon, 27/12/2010 – 15:55


“The Independent” reported on 17 December that 56% support AV while only 44% support first past the post.

An ICM Research survey for the Electoral Reform Society found that 56 per cent of people favour the alternative vote (AV), in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, while only 44 per cent want to retain the existing first-past-the-post system. You should visit… for more details of this encouraging news. Support for AV is especially strong in the 25 – 34 age group, where it rises to 75%.

The news is most encouraging at this early stage of the campaign, so long as we don’t become complacent. In my experience on the streets near home, most people don’t know anything about AV but, when it is explained to them, they support it. So we need to explain it to more people and we have only 129 days left.

ERS finds new use for AV

Submitted by editor on Mon, 06/12/2010 – 21:34


The Electoral Reform Society is to use AV for postal voting on resolutions and amendments for its annual meetings. Its Council (the governing body) decided this on 4 December following a proposal by its President, Bishop Colin Buchanan.

The “candidates” will be the original resolution, the resolution as amended by each amendment separately, the resolution as amended by every permutation of the amendments and none of these (i.e. rejection of the resolution and all the amendments).

The Bishop explained, “Once even one amendment is proposed to a resolution, there are in principle three possible outcomes: (i) the original motion unamended, (ii) the motion as amended, (iii) the rejection of the motion. The ranking of these three in a preferential order provides a scientific and secure reading of the mind of the majority. With more amendments, and consequentially more possible outcomes, the process is even advantageous in precluding results not wanted by the majority.”

USA experience of AV

Submitted by editor on Sun, 05/12/2010 – 23:05


We call it the Alternative Vote (AV) in the UK. In the USA it is known as instant runoff or ranked choice voting (RCV).

Election 2010 was a remarkable one for the instant runoff voting form of ranked choice voting (RCV). As reported in the New York Times, RCV’s first use in Oakland (CA) was a major factor in the first-ever election of an Asian American woman to be mayor of a major American city. Heavily outspent, Jean Quan trailed by 9% in first choices. She surged into the lead in the ranked-choice tally, however, thanks to the fact that she had reached out effectively to more Oakland voters than her top opponent. RCV also changed first-round outcomes in nearby San Leandro and San Francisco and avoided a runoff in Berkeley.

Maine’s largest city, Portland, adopted RCV for its mayoral elections starting in 2011, and its controversial race for governor was won with less than 50% for the 6th time in its last 7 such elections – a non-majority outcome also reflected in more than a dozen races for the US Senate and state governorships nationally. The Portland Press Herald suggests its time for a new politics, with RCV being featured as what could contribute to such a change.

In another state with a string of non-majority statewide election winners, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune also backed RCV.

Finally, more than 1.9 million voters in North Carolina cast RCV ballots in the nation’s first-ever statewide general election with RCV — more ballots were cast in the RCV election than most other races for the same kind of office. Leading state papers are calling for extending it to more elections.

UK voters will have the opportunity on 5 May 2011 to choose this system to elect MPs in future.

“Devastating” switch from STV

Submitted by editor on Tue, 23/11/2010 – 19:32


Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the death of Lord Craigavon (formerly James Craig), Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister and a Unionist.

Not unexpectedly, a debate in the Assembly to commemorate his death revealed different views of him from Nationalist/Republican politicians and Unionists but I note, and regret, that he was responsible in his first five years of office for switching voting from STV to first past the post to give the Unionist community an exaggerated majority and this undoubtedly contributed to the province’s subsequent turmoil.

As Colin McDevitt (SDLP) said in the Assembly debate, “That had a devastating impact, not only on the ability of both communities to be adequately and properly represented in the emerging Northern Ireland state. It also had a devastating — many would argue fatal — impact on labour politics in this region, which served neither Catholic nor unionist….”

Straw supports AV

Submitted by editor on Sat, 20/11/2010 – 11:23


Jack Straw confirmed this week that he will campaign for AV in the referendum.

Small change, big effect

Submitted by editor on Sat, 20/11/2010 – 10:26


The BBC has reported Lord McNally as saying that the electoral reform bill is a “minor adjustment” which is about “getting the wrinkles out of our system”. I think that just about sums it up.

Of course I would prefer a proportionate voting system, but that’s not on offer in the referendum next May. If we are to continue to elect one MP for each constituency, let’s do it the best way possible and that’s AV, not first past the post.

Under first past the post, most MPs are elected by fewer than half the votes. In other words, more of their constituents vote against them than for them. AV would change that. It would be a small change with a big effect to deal with a major problem.

Curiously, “No” campaigners complain that AV is not proportionate and yet they would have us keep the old, discredited first past the post system, which is also not proportionate! The word “hypocritical” springs to mind.



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